A big story going into OTA’s was Reuben Foster’s legal issues, luckily, he missed only a couple of days and returned to the 49ers, but now the fallout is his two-game suspension. We know at the start of Week 3, Malcolm Smith and Foster, will be in the starting lineup, but who else will be starting for the 49ers at linebacker?
This will be one of the biggest questions we can hopefully start narrowing down when the 49ers start practice on Thursday. Who will step up when they’re giving the opportunity to shine and who will waste away their chance?
Eli Harold is slated to start as the Sam linebacker in Robert Saleh’s defense, but with his 47.9 grade from Pro Football Focus, and the fact Harold’s snap counts dropped towards the end of last season, it tells us the 49ers could be looking for alternatives for their weak link. He was less impactful in 2017 than he was in 2016, which makes you wonder if he is more of a liability than reliability.
Unlike Harold, Coyle saw his snap counts increase as the season progressed, including playing the Will linebacker for the last eight games of the season. He signed a three-year extension this past offseason, but had to undergo shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, which limited his involvement in OTAs. This probably led to Harold still being ahead of him on the depth chart, but it’s believed he will be ready for training camp. I would look to see if Coyle replaces Harold during training camp and into preseason.
Like Harold and Coyle, Korey Toomer is looking to make a splash in 2018, but probably has the least likely chance of starting for the 49ers. Toomer’s snap percentage for the Los Angeles Chargers dropped towards the end of 2017, leading to him signing his one-year deal with San Francisco. His best chance will be during Week 1 and 2 while Foster is serving his two-game suspension.
Fred Warner (R)
Fred Warner, the rookie. Just like the previously mentioned players, Warner is hoping to make a name for himself in his rookie season. But just like the previous mentioned players he has a bit of a hill to climb. He can play linebacker, but with his speed, he can also drop back into pass coverage. So, I would not be surprised to see him on the field a lot in 2018. Due to his athleticism, Warner played a hybrid role in college.
As I stated up above Harold is in the starting lineup, but I’m looking for him to get replaced during training camp. But who will take his spot? I’m looking for Coyle to take over and be in the starting lineup before the start of the season, but will Harold become his backup or will Toomer leap frog Harold as well? Or will Warner make a huge impact in training camp and overtake all of them? The 49ers have done a good job at gaining depth in a pivotal area of the defense, and one thing is for sure, Smith and Foster will be the backbone, but who else? This is the time to find out.
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