When the San Francisco 49ers cut down their roster to the regular season limit of 53 player, there were few surprises. None stood out like the release of outside linebacker Marcus Rush, though.
Rush, 25, led the NFL in sacks during the preseason with six, and was similarly effective in the pass-rushing department last preseason. I wrote about how Rush should be on your radar then. This year, I wrote the same thing again.
You could say I’m a fan.
He was ranked first among all pass rushers by Pro Football Focus in the preseason. The 49ers aren’t exactly heavy at outside linebacker, and many felt that Rush was a solid candidate to make the 53-man roster. I agreed with this, though his release still isn’t surprising.
It’s not surprising for a number of reasons. It’s important to remember many things about Rush’s preseason performance, and I’m going to point these things out below.
Rush outworked his opponents
This sounds like a positive, and it is ... but it also highlights a major shortcoming. Other than rare bursts of Herculean strength, former 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith was known for his high motor that never ran out. Even when he was well past his prime and had to take fewer snaps, he still outworked his opponents on every snap.
Rush had that same relentlessness about him, and it’s a big part of why I liked him. Smith was my favorite 49ers player for a long time, and Rush had a lot of Smith in him.
But at outside linebacker, that’s not really enough. Rush is what you’d call an unpolished player, and through all of his preseason snaps — which I’ve watched several times — Rush simply doesn’t have an arsenal of pass-rushing moves at his disposal.
Chasing quarterbacks wasn’t his only job
You might have heard that outside linebackers do a lot more than chasing quarterbacks, and that’s true. They also have to cover passes and stop the run. Rush didn’t do much of either during the preseason.
That doesn’t sound bad at first because he wasn’t asked to cover passes. But he was certainly asked to stop the run, and that he simply didn’t do.
Rush struggled to disengage from blockers, wasn’t able to track the ball well once it got away from him and completely bit on misdirection and counter plays. Pro Football Focus saw the same thing I did, and they ranked him 143rd out of 152 eligible edge defenders against the run.
First rushing the passer and 143rd against the run. PFF rankings are not the be-all, end-all, but they echo what I saw with my own eyes.
Hey, it was the preseason
The preseason is important for a number of reasons. It definitely shouldn’t last four games, and it definitely isn’t a good fill-in for regular season or playoff football. But it’s still the preseason, and the fact remains that a good portion of the football played will be played by people who won’t ever see a regular season roster, let alone a starting role.
Rush played most of his snaps against backups and backups of backups. He was outworking guys who were in the same position as him, and unfortunately, that’s where the two subheadings above take on a real significance.
He won’t be able to outwork a Joe Thomas. He won’t be able to stop an Adrian Peterson. Those are the best players at those positions, certainly, but they’re merely examples. Rush didn’t play much against starters because the 49ers’ coaching staff didn’t want to or need to see him against those starters.
* * *
Rush is a good football player. He has a lot of positives and a lot of upside, but the 49ers didn’t feel that he fit with their regular season plans and that makes sense. The 49ers aren’t stacked at the outside linebacker position, but they’re not exactly weak at it.
Tank Carradine has a higher upside, Ahmad Brooks is a solid veteran, Eli Harold has a more-developed arsenal of moves and Aaron Lynch, once back with his suspension, should be great. There just isn’t room, though that may not always be the case.
He’d be a strong candidate to be added to the roster later, but his release at this point makes sense.