It is not a simple task ranking out the many position battles the San Francisco 49ers will sort through in 2015 training camp. Whether we're talking talking wide receivers, cornerbacks, defensive line, running backs, or offensive line, there is importance across the board. And so, instead of ranking them, we're just going to go through them one at a time. Today, we look at the outside linebackers.
The 49ers might have no position deeper than outside linebacker. We will learn more about other positions over the next month, but as training camp kicks off, the team is in strong shape at OLB. The group will hopefully have Aldon Smith for the entire season, Ahmad Brooks might be a little more motivated than he seemed at times last year, Aaron Lynch is coming off a strong rookie campaign, Corey Lemonier might have figured out something to improve on last year's regression, and they added Eli Harold in the draft. Not too shabby.
Participants: Ahmad Brooks, Aaron Lynch, Eli Harold, Corey Lemonier, Marcus Rush
We know Aldon Smith will be getting a whole lot of work this year. The real question is who will be working opposite him, both in the base, and as a defensive end in the team's nickel defense. This could be a two-part answer, with the team looking at Ahmad Brooks as the 3-4 OLB, and then some combination of players as the nickel defensive end.
Brooks is likely the favorite as the returning veteran. While his penalties can be frustrating, he does a lot of things well. He can still rush the passer, he is solid dropping into coverage, and he can set the edge against the run. Aaron Lynch is coming off a dynamic rookie season in which he showed great skill as a pass rusher. He got a few opportunities to handle the run and drop into coverage when Brooks was being disciplined, and he was not too shabby in those aspects of the game.
Corey Lemonier returns for his third season, and says he figured out a footwork error that he thinks will help him rebound from last year's poor performance. And then there is Eli Harold. The team spent a third round pick on Harold, and he comes in with a chance to immediately impact the pass rush.
Prediction: I think Brooks remains the team's primary 3-4 OLB, and we see a combination of Lynch and Harold getting work at nickel defensive end. However, I also would not be surprised to see Lynch rotate in to some degree at the OLB position. The question is how much, and how soon.
It will also be interesting to see if they use a rotation to give Aldon Smith a breather at times. With this kind of pass rush depth, the team has the opportunity to keep their pass rush that much more fresh. Come the fourth quarter, that can be particularly valuable if the defense is spending significant chunks of time on the field.