The San Francisco 49ers are just over a month from their first practice of 2015 training camp. Once camp gets going, there will be daily media reports leading up to the preseason opener on August 15. That time will give us a better grasp on the depth chart, and which players have climbed onto the bubble.
As we approach training camp, we'll be assessing the roster in several ways. We'll start with this bubble watch post. We'll go position-by-position, and break down whether players are locks, strong bubble, weak bubble and longshots. The discussion for each article will not follow a specific format, but rather will focus on the more interesting aspects of the particular roster competition. In July, we'll follow this with a look at contract numbers for each position, and we'll close with a look at key questions facing each position.
Locks: Aldon Smith, Aaron Lynch, Eli Harold
Strong Bubble: Ahmad Brooks
Weak Bubble: Corey Lemonier
Longshots: Marcus Rush
The San Francisco 49ers have added significant depth to the outside linebacker position under Trent Baalke. The team drafted Aldon Smith in 2011, Corey Lemonier in 2013, Aaron Lynch in 2014, and Eli Harold in 2015. We know all about Smith, and we saw Aaron Lynch emerge in a big way last season.
In looking at the depth chart, I see any intrigue likely coming down to two players: Lemonier and Brooks. The 49ers got a strong rookie season from Lemonier, but he struggled in 2014. He says footwork was his big issue, and he spent the offseason workout program improving in that area.
On the other hand, there is the veteran Brooks. He remains a strong all-around option at OLB, but he also had attitude issues this past season. He was benched midway through one game, and did not play the following week. It sounds like he had a positive performance in OTAs and minicamp, but it remains to be seen how this will all shake out when training camp gets here. He could potentially be filling a Parys Haralson type role, playing the base defense, while Aaron Lynch and Eli Harold get more of the pass rush work. We don't know exactly how he will handle a potential decrease in snaps.
I look at the OLB bubble watch as essentially coming down to Brooks vs. Lemonier. Straight up, Brooks is the guy you keep. He is a versatile option, who can rush the passer, set the edge against the run, and drop into coverage. However, there are always cap considerations to keep in mind. If the team is pleased with Lynch's development, maybe they go with a Smith/Lynch starting duo. I don't expect that to happen at this point, but it is certainly possible.
My separation of Brooks and Lemonier into strong and weak bubble reflects my belief in the likelihood that Brooks sticks around. If he is traded or released, Lemonier moves up to strong bubble. As long as Brooks is around, however, Lemonier's roster chances are not good. Maybe the 49ers work a deal to move him elsewhere, maybe they release him. I don't know, but at this point I would be surprised if he was on the 49ers roster in 2015.