The San Francisco 49ers made several special teams signings during free agency, and as expected it has led to a departure. The Detroit Lions announced on Monday that they have signed former linebacker Nick Bellore. The now former 49er attended Central Michigan University, so this is a bit of a homecoming for him.
Bellore received a significant opportunity in 2016. After years playing primarily special teams, numerous injuries resulted in Bellore making his first career defensive start. Bellore opened the season on special teams, but after two weeks he started rotating with Michael Wilhoite and Gerald Hodges. NaVorro Bowman tore his Achilles in Week 4, and that resulted in Bellore moving into the starting lineup. Bellore started ten games before an injury cost him the final two games.
Bellore is a strong special teams player, but he is about what you’d expect of a replacement starting linebacker on a 2-14 team. He could make tackles, but he was not particularly good in most aspects of the game. There was a reason he had been almost exclusively a special teams player prior to 2016. He’s a good football player, but that is when he is in a specific role.
Bellore joins Michael Wilhoite, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks, in departing the 49ers. Wilhoite’s best work is on special teams, but he is a notable step above Bellore in terms of what he can do as a linebacker. He is generally not going to be starting for a particularly good team, but he can fill some roles.
The 49ers are replacing the two of them with Brock Coyle and Dekoda Watson. NaVorro Bowman is expected to return from his Achilles injury, Malcolm Smith will likely start at the weak side linebacker role, and Ahmad Brooks has a good chance of starting on the strong side. Coyle and Watson will provide depth, but will likely be viewed primarily as special teams players.