Arguably the strength of the San Francisco 49ers is their ferocious 3-4 linebacking corps, and at the nucleus, two All-Pros. The Niners have the best defense in football, largely because of the outstanding front seven. Behind the defensive line, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and now Aldon Smith make up one of the best linebacking groups in the NFL.
The Niners have great linebacking but will be looking to add depth this offseason, as well as smoothly transitioning last year's rookie superstar Aldon Smith into a full-time starter. San Francisco also has a great backup inside linebacker returning in Larry Grant.
As a leader in most statistical defensive categories, the 49ers linebackers led the league's No. 1 run defense with a record-setting 2011 campaign; and they only look to get stingier in 2012.
There isn't a group in the league with better tackling technique and fundamentals than the San Francisco 49ers linebackers - these guys don't miss tackles. The 49ers added two new names through the draft for depth purposes: Notre Dame's Darius Fleming (5th round) and Virginia's Cam Johnson (7th round).
The current roster of linebackers reads:
Unfortunately on Tuesday, rookie Darius Fleming tore his ACL at San Francisco's workouts and will likely miss the upcoming season. Fleming was the higher of the two defensive picks but Johnson had a more accomplished NCAA career and was significantly higher on most boards.
The things to watch would be the battle between Aldon Smith and Parys Haralson at that right outside linebacker spot. Smith, a high first round pick in 2011, should be in line for the starting job after a breakthrough rookie season where he registered 14 sacks. The Niners staff will want this guy on the field a lot more considering his impact as a pass rusher.
Assuming Aldon Smith wins the job, it's going to be interesting to see if there is another situational pass rusher that arises in 2012. Smith was that guy, but when he is spelled and the situation calls for a pass rusher, it might be interesting to see if there is another breakout candidate. Given his potential and skill set, Cam Johnson is a likely player to fill that role.
The good news is that the starters are the best in the business; therefor anyone playing behind them will have to be that much better. The opportunity the second-team players have to learn from guys like Willis and Bowman is tremendous, so whoever takes advantage could be in line for some situational playing time in 2012.