The San Francisco 49ers released linebacker Ahmad Brooks on Friday, opting to move on from the veteran with the high salary cap hit in favor of the younger player. That player will be Eli Harold, who took the first-team reps in practice leading up to the second preseason game.
Harold also played with the starters during that game, and has looked good at the SAM linebacker position. It is very similar to the same outside linebacker spot in a 3-4 defense, so there’s no surprise that Brooks was favored to get the spot and there’s no surprise that Harold will end up there too.
Going into his third season in the league, Harold has a decent array of pass-rushing moves, good ability to adjust on the fly and three sacks, all of which came in his second season. He bulked up big time a year ago, and slimmed down for this season.
But in addition to the SAM spot, Brooks also played defensive end in sub packages, and Harold doesn’t have the bulk to fill that role going forward. Fortunately, this is where the 49ers are deepest, with all of Aaron Lynch, Elvis Dumervil, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Tank Carradine and Pita Taumoepenu rushing from that side in training camp.
Lynch should get the bulk of those snaps with Brooks gone. Lynch is an interesting player because he hasn’t quite earned a starting spot but has clearly shown in the past that he has what it takes to be a starter.
The exact lineup on the defensive line and how things shift will be interesting to see, but the most exciting thing for me is the prospect of more Lynch at the expense of Brooks.