49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

August 17, 2007
Who makes the team at LB?

Question: Hey Matt -- How many linebackers will the 49ers keep this season? Can you give us your opinion on who makes it? Thanks.
Kyle, Stockton

Answer: Well, it's only a guess at this point, but I think the 49ers will end up with eight or nine linebackers. Not only does a 3-4 defense require extra linebackers, but linebackers are very valuable on special teams, especially coverage teams. As far as who makes it - first you have the starters: Tully Banta-Cain, Manny Lawson, Derek Smith and Brandon Moore. Then you have their back-ups: Parys Haralson, Jay Moore, Patrick Willis and ... Well, here's the rub. There are three guys playing back-up on the inside: Jeff Ulbrich, Colby Bockwoldt and Hannibal Navies. I think Ulbrich makes the squad because the coaches love him and because he really has embraced his role as a leader on special teams. He's also a great guy in the locker room. If the 49ers end up with nine linebackers, that means Bockwoldt and Navies are duking it out for the final spot. Navies might have an edge because he plays both inside and outside linebacker and because he is an experienced starter. Bockwoldt, however, is excellent on special teams and is four years younger than Navies.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I've heard good things about Ray McDonald. In the Denver game- I saw him get excellent penetration a few times and his physique reminds me of another 'Niner great- Dwaine Board. It seems to me that he has that "it" coaches talk about. Am I getting ahead of myself? What have you seen/heard? I also think Delanie Walker has that "it" in that he seems to have a knack/feel for getting open.....
I appreciate your thoughts! Thanks!
Chris, Elk Grove

Answer: I can tell you that the 49ers are very high on McDonald who turned a lot of heads in spring drills and soon found himself on the second-team defensive line. He's a great pass rusher and figures to play a lot as a right defensive end on third downs. They might even move him inside to defensive tackle on obvious passing downs. I don't want to say he's taken a step back lately, but like any rookie he's doing a lot of thinking and not as much reacting. The coaches aren't worried. Once he fully understands his assignments, they expect him to be a big contributor this season. The knee problems that caused him to fall to the third round have been a non-issue so far.

As far as Walker, his knack for getting open is due to the fact that he was a prolific receiver in college. Walker is up to 240 pounds but says he hasn't noticed any loss of speed. Once that happens, he said, he'll stop gaining weight.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: How would you grade Delanie Walker's blocking? I thought he looked ok but it was hard to tell with the very poor ESPN coverage as they had almost no replays.
Ken, Salem Ore.

Answer: "Ok" would be the best way to phrase it. After all, the guy never blocked much until he came here last season and then spent most of the year with a separated shoulder. Walker seems to have the necessary frame to be a good blocker. He just needs practice and to add more strength to his lower body.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, continuing Rod of Hayward's thought, if the 49ers had selected Hawk would they still have taken another linebacker, Willis, this year or perhaps traded back for a tight end?
Ron, Sacramento

Answer: Remember, they took Manny Lawson later in the first round last year and plugged him into the weak-side linebacker position where they would have played Hawk. So, yes, I think they would have selected Willis even if Hawk had been on the team. (they just wouldn't have drafted Lawson).
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I thought I read the 49ers were going to run more 3 and 5 step drops. Did I miss them? Against Denver, everything was a deep drop. Are they practicing shorter drops in practice, and if so, how often?
Berger, Reno

Answer: Yes, they're practicing quicker drops. Remember, it's hard to judge a team from the preseason because they are showing only a small percentage of the offense. Jim Hostler and co. have wrinkles that they've thrown into Norv Turner's offense, but they don't want to show their hand in a meaningless game in early August.
-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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