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49ers bubble watch: Inside linebackers feature competition next to NaVorro Bowman

The San Francisco 49ers have questions at almost every position while they work to figure out their 53-man roster. We’ll break down the bubble watch for each one. Today we look at the inside linebackers.

We’re nearing the end of another week without 49ers football. That’s something I suppose! We are a little over five weeks away from the start of training camp, so that’s a plus. With that in mind, we’re back for another round of the 49ers bubble watch.

Over the next week and a half, we’re going to take a look at each position, and what the bubble watch looks like. As we’ve done for many years now, the bubble watch breaks down to lock, strong bubble, weak bubble, and longshot. For some positions, we'll have multiple players listed at strong bubble, even though not all are likely to make the roster. But the idea is that they both stand a good shot, even if it is just one of them. Thus far, we have looked at quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, and outside linebackers. Today we look at the inside linebackers.

Lock: NaVorro Bowman, Gerald Hodges, Michael Wilhoite

Strong bubble: Ray-Ray Armstrong, Nick Bellore, Shayne Skov

Weak bubble: None

Longshot: Wynton McManis

We’re a full season removed from the NaVorro Bowman-Patrick Willis duo, and the competition continues to find a partner for Bowman. Michael Wilhoite was the established veteran who started out in the position. The 49ers acquired Gerald Hodges in a trade, and he moved into the starting lineup late in the season after Wilhoite suffered a season-ending high ankle sprain. The team claimed Ray-Ray Armstrong off waivers late in the season, and he played special teams to close out the year.

Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said during OTAs that the team had a three-way race for the second ILB spot. The team rotated Wilhoite, Hodges, and Armstrong throughout the offseason workout program. That certainly bodes well for the three of them, but I dropped Armstrong to strong bubble because of his past struggles. During his time with the Raiders, he was viewed as undisciplined. I think he probably makes the 49ers roster, but I would not be surprised if he was a roster cut. If Wilhoite and Hodges end up as the top two linebackers next to Bowman, Armstrong would likely find himself competing with Nick Bellore and Shayne Skov for roster spots. My guess is two of those three end up on the roster, but it’s hard to say for certain when it comes to special teams players.