And now the remaining three outside linebackers ....
- Marques Harris. 6-1, 245. Harris was an undrafted free agent who was picked up by the Chargers in 2005. He stuck with the team by being a trustworthy backup and a valuable special teams performer. It's also worth noting that Harris spent two seasons under the tutelage of then-Chargers linebackers coach Greg Manusky, who is now the 49ers' defensive coordinator. Manusky obviously liked Harris enough to bring him to San Francisco and Manusky will have one of the biggest voices when it comes to whether Harris sticks around on cut-down day. Harris is known as a pass-rush specialist and said that getting after the quarterback would be his primary focus with the 49ers. During spring practices, he and Ahmad Brooks were the second-team outside linebackers. However, Brooks played Will OLB, the primary pass-rush role, while Harris mostly played Sam.
- Manny Lawson. 6-5, 240. "Tentative for much of last season, linebacker Manny Lawson now prowls the line of scrimmage like a puma itching to be sprung from a cage." I wrote that sentence in May of 2007. Four months later, Lawson tore his ACL during a practice and was done for the year. Actually, you might say he was done for two years. Sure, Lawson showed flashes of his former self in 2008, such as when he blocked a punt in Seattle and when he blocked a field goal against New York, but overall he never displayed the same explosion and hunger he was showing early in 2007.
Many players take two years to recover from an ACL tear. So it stands to reason that Lawson will return to form this season. The 49ers are counting on him to do so. Whereas Mike Nolan's chameleon defense mostly kept Lawson on the sidelines last year, this year he promises to be a three-down starter, and one who rushes the quarterback as much as he drops into quarterback. To do that, he'll need that pre-injury explosion. So has it returned? Lawson made a few plays during spring practices, including a couple of interceptions in which he jumped a short pass route. But I can't say that he looked like the Manny Lawson of old. Maybe it was hard to judge him during non-contact practices. And maybe he was - wisely - pacing himself for the regular season. But it also stands to reason that even though his knee is 100 percent healed, Lawson - one of the smartest guys on the team - is still getting over the mental barrier that comes with returning from a major injury. When it comes to injuries, sometimes ignorance is bliss. Lawson is anything but ...
- Jay Moore. 6-4, 256. The 49ers have a theory about outside linebackers. They believe that because they utilize a 3-4 defense, they can find good ones in the middle rounds of the draft. They figure that many teams that use a 4-3 defense will pass over quality college defensive ends because they are too small. The 49ers, in turn, will pluck those underappreciated defensive ends in the fourth and fifth rounds and make them into linebackers. That theory, though, includes a leap of faith - that players who to this point have mainly rushed straight upfield will be able to move, as linebackers do, in space.
So far, this has been Moore's problem. That he is still on the 49ers' roster is more a function of him landing on injured reserve in each of the last two seasons than it is his standout play. A year ago, Moore was practicing with the third-team defense - a near-certain sign that he would be cut - before suffering a season-ending bicep injury. Will the third offseason be the charm for Moore? The low numbers at the position - the 49ers have just six OLBs in camp - are in his favor. And yet both Harris and Lawson are ahead of him on the depth chart at Sam outside linebacker. He needs to leapfrog someone to make the 53-man squad.
-- Matt Barrows