49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

March 25, 2010
Niners interested in inside linebackers

The 49ers are in the market for an inside linebacker. They recently hosted Dolphins free-agent Akin Ayodele, and they are doing a lot of homework on inside linebackers in the draft. National Football Post, for example, wrote today that the team has shown interest in Mississippi State's Jamar Chaney and Duke's Vincent Rey. I have independently learned that they also will take a close look at South Carolina's Eric Norwood, who is admittedly more of a Parys Haralson-like outside linebacker. A 49ers linebackers coach - they have three - is expected to work out both Rey and Norwood next week in North Carolina.

The 49ers are looking at Ayodele as a back up for Takeo Spikes, 33, at "Ted" linebacker, and they are presumably looking at rookies (at least Chaney and Rey) for the same role. Why would they do so, you might ask, when they drafted Scott McKillop for that same role in the fifth round last year? The reason is that the coaching staff has doubts about McKillop and doesn't trust him as Spikes' primary backup. Mike Singletary has a very specific idea for how his inside linebackers should perform, and McKillop didn't meet those expectations last season. Singletary wants his linebackers to take on blockers and slam into offensive lineman. McKillop's instinct was to slip those blocks and go after the football.

What's more, McKillop didn't adapt during the season. When Spikes went down with a hamstring injury against Chicago Nov. 12, McKillop immediately went into the game to replace him. But when the defense came out the following series, off-the-street veteran Matt Wilhelm was in the game and Wilhelm served as Spikes' primary backup for the rest of the season. McKillop was limited to special teams, where he played well. But that is not what the 49ers expected when they drafted him.

Piggy-backing on what MM wrote today about USC offensive lineman Charles Brown ... Brown is being looked at as a potential left tackle. Like Joe Staley, he is a former tight end with good feet, and like Staley, he's being projected to go in the second half of the first round.

That being said, the 49ers could be viewing Brown the way they did Staley - as a left tackle who could line up on the right side his first year. Or perhaps they would consider moving Staley back to the right side - something team officials said last year they were open to doing -- and plugging in Brown on the left side. This might be even more desirable if the 49ers signed veteran left guard Chester Pitts, an ideal mentor/linemate for a rookie. In other words, there are a lot of different options and scenarios to consider along the line.

Lastly, I'm not expecting Trent Baalke to rearrange his draft board because of this, but I paid close attention to personalities at the combine. (Like Singletary, this is Barrows' forte). When it came to offensive linemen, my top two were Iowa's Bryan Bulaga and Charles Brown. Just sayin' ...

-- Matt Barrows

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Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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