Mike Nolan announced today that rookie Patrick Willis had been elevated to the first-string defense and that his promotion would occur at the expense of last year's tackle leader, Brandon Moore.
Willis, the 11th overall pick, had been playing behind Derek Smith at the "Mike" linebacker spot. Willis will move into Smith's spot and Smith will slide over to the "Ted" linebacker spot Moore had been playing.
Moore had been conspicuous in the first two preseason games for missing tackles, but Nolan insisted the move was due more to Willis' play-making ability and potential than it was to being discontent with Moore.
"To be honest, it had a lot to do with what the rookie's capabilities are," Nolan said.
Another player affected by the change is Jeff Ulbrich, who had been playing "Ted" linebacker with the second-team defense. He will now play behind Willis at "Mike."
The "Ted" linebacker usually lines up on the tight end's side of the formation and typically is asked to take on more blockers than the "Mike" linebacker. "However, the positions are very similar and the players' roles are often reversed depending on which play is being run.
The players said they found out about the move this morning. Willis said he was notified of the switch by linebackers coach Mike Singletary.
"My goal this season was to come out here and produce and get the chance (to start)," he said. "I just didn't know how soon."
Meanwhile, Moore is dealing with a situation he has gone through several times already with the 49ers - being demoted to the second string after playing well as a starter the season prior.
Moore was plugged into the starting lineup midway through the 2006, and his insertion coincided with the 49ers' defensive resurgence. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in a win over Minnesota and he finished the season with team-high 114 tackles. It was the first time since 2001 that Smith did not finish with that honor.
Said a disappointed Moore: "I guess I didn't start the season the way I should have."
There has been no update yet on the elbow injury to rookie safety Dashon Goldson. Goldson was wearing a plastic cast over his entire right arm, prompting teammate Roderick Green to say he looked like a Transformer. A prognosis on Goldson should be available this afternoon.
-- Matt Barrows