A year ago, Eli Harold was considered a good prospect at outside linebacker who had one, glaring issue. At 6-foot-3, 247 pounds his frame was too skinny. The “weaknesses” portion of his draft profile on NFL.com read like this:
“Thin waist and lower body lacks mass. Shredded body – and might struggle to add more good weight. Play strength is below average as pass rusher.”
This year, it’s a different story. In his exit interview with Trent Baalke in January, the 49ers general manager told Harold he needed to get bigger and stronger. And Harold did just that. He’s going through the team’s current minicamp at 270 pounds with a goal of being 265 pounds or so when the regular season begins. The team’s two starters at outside linebacker, Aaron Lynch and Ahmad Brooks, both play in the 260-pound range.
“I’m quite a bit stronger,” Harold, a third-round pick a year ago, said Thursday. “Trent told me it was something I had to do and I felt like it was my job, this is what I do for a living. I’ve got to take it serious and it’s something I want to get better at.”
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Harold played 337 defensive snaps last season but finished without a sack. Still, team officials liked the aggression and energy with which he played and figured that with more mass, he’d be able to fight through blocks better as well as be more stout against the run.
As a team, the 49ers only had 28 sacks last season, which ranked 29th in the league, and a pass rusher is considered one of their draft needs over the next three days.
Harold said he changed his diet, increased his calories at every meal and cut out sweets in his effort to gain weight. He figures some of it will come off during Chip Kelly’s high intensity practices this spring and summer.
“I feel good,” he said. “The first two weeks of training were kind of hard, my back was tight. … Now it feels natural. With coach Chip out there running us like rabbits, it’s getting better.”