After a week's hiatus - and I have to say, it was a good week - we resume our position-by-position look at the 2009 San Francisco 49ers by examining the outside linebackers. When you think of a 3-4 defense, the position that springs to mind is outside linebacker. Lawrence Taylor. Kevin Greene. DeMarcus Ware. These are the playmakers in the scheme. The 49ers went into the offseason wanting to add another pass rusher at the position but came out of it without adding any major names.
In fact, you can make the argument that OLB - the most critical component of a 3-4 defense - is the 49ers' thinnest position heading into the season. They are relying heavily on two players, Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson, who have recently spent a season on injured reserve. Haralson suffered a pectoral injury in 2006. Lawson tore his ACL in 2007 and was not 100 percent in 2008.
- Diyral Briggs. 6-4, 230. If it weren't for character concerns - Briggs was suspended for Bowling Green's bowl game at the end of the 2007 season - he likely would have been a late-round draft pick instead of an undrafted free agent. That is, Briggs has skills. He led the MAC with 9.5 sacks last season and was second in the conference in tackles for loss with 13.5. He's got a quick first step and has the long arms scouts like to see at outside linebacker. What Briggs doesn't have yet is the size, and after playing defensive end in college, the experience at outside linebacker. Still, the fact that the 49ers don't have an abundance of OLBs might land Briggs a spot on the practice squad.
- Ahmad Brooks. 6-3, 259. Which 49er has the ideal combination of size, speed and explosion to be a marquee outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme? The answer is Brooks, who more so than anyone on the roster looks the part. In fact, to me he's one of the most intriguing players on the roster. When Brooks first joined the 49ers last year, they tried him out at both middle linebacker spots. As the season wore on, however, they moved him to the outside. Mike Singletary was so impressed with Brooks' pass-rush ability that he vowed to put Brooks into a game before the season ended. That never happened, but Brooks appears to be the No. 3 outside linebacker in the pecking order as of now, and the 49ers coaches are counting on him this season.
That's a bit of a leap of faith. Brooks always has teemed with ability. But dating back to his playing days at Virginia, he hasn't always been reliable. He was viewed as aloof and as someone whose athletic ability has always been so impressive that he didn't have to develop a work ethic. That's why Brooks' addition to the 49ers is so interesting. What Brooks has lacked to this point is motivation. Now he is paired with perhaps the best motivator in all of the NFL, Singletary, who not only is his head coach but who takes special interest in his linebackers. Brooks does not have the gritty mentality to play on the inside. But the Will outside linebacker spot, where he is stationed now, seems like a perfect fit. His combination of size and speed ought to be potent coming off the edge. And with Singletary lighting a fire beneath him - well, if Brooks doesn't flourish here, it's hard to see him succeeding anywhere.
- Parys Haralson. 6-0, 255. When Singleltary took over as head coach last season, he made a number of changes, all of which turned out to be successful. One of them was sticking with a more elementary version of the 3-4 defense, one that featured an exclusive pass rusher at outside linebacker. That linebacker was Haralson, who finished the season with eight sacks, more than any 49er since Andre Carter had 12.5 in 2002. Haralson gave the 49ers something they hadn't had in a long time - two legitimate pass rushers on opposite ends of their formation. In Haralson and Justin Smith, opposing offenses had to pick their poison as far as which they would double team. The two combined for 15 sacks.
Haralson seems to be the kind of outside linebacker the Pittsburgh Steelers like to employ. At a hair over 6-0, he's not tall, but he is very strong with long arms as thick as fence posts. He understands leverage and he played last season with the relentlessness all the best pass rushers seem to have. The 49ers are counting on Haralson to take another step this season as a full-time starter. Whether he does or does not will have a big bearing on the team's overall defense and will either make the 49ers look very smart for not adding another pass rusher in the offseason or obstinate for ignoring the position.
The 49ers announced their training camp schedule today. Only two days (and four practices), Aug. 1 (the first day of practice) and Aug. 8, are open to the public, a decrease from previous years. That's due to the ongoing contstruction at team headquarters. Free tickets for those practices will be available online. Details to follow.
The team also will have a double-header scrimmage with the Raiders in Napa on Aug. 18 and 19. And if the two teams aren't sick of each other after that, they'll meet again in San Francisco for a preseason game on Aug. 22.
-- Matt Barrows