San Francisco 49ers

49ers zeroing in on familiar foe: linebacker Malcolm Smith

Seattle Seahawks' Malcolm Smith intercepts a pass in the final seconds of the second half of the NFL football NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 23-17 to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Seattle Seahawks' Malcolm Smith intercepts a pass in the final seconds of the second half of the NFL football NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 23-17 to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII. AP

In need of speed at linebacker, the 49ers are looking at someone who is probably seared into the memories -- and not in a positive way -- of San Francisco fans.

Malcolm Smith, whose interception of a tipped pass in the end zone sealed a Seattle Seahawks win in the 2013 NFC Championship game, is high on the team's radar. The NFL Network reports that Smith, 27, is expected to sign with the 49ers after free agency begins on Thursday. Tackle Joe Staley, center Daniel Kilgore and tight ends Garrett Celek and Vance McDonald are the only 49ers offensive players who appeared in that game who remain signed for the upcoming season.

Smith is familiar with the defense the 49ers will use in 2017 and the man who will lead it, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Saleh was a defensive assistant in Seattle when the Seahawks drafted Smith in the seventh round in 2011.

Smith also played collegiately at USC, further exposing him to the type of aggressive, 4-3 defense the 49ers will run this year.

Following his interception against the 49ers, Smith grabbed another pass, this time against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl, and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown. He was later named the game's MVP.

Smith signed a two-year deal with the Raiders in 2015. He finished with 122 tackles that year and 103 in the most recent season.

Inside linebacker was a problem area for the 49ers last year, a season in which they set franchise records in points allowed and yards allowed. Starter NaVorro Bowman suffered an Achilles tear in Week 4 and was lost for the season while promising Ray-Ray Armstrong had a season-ending pectoral tear.

That forced Gerald Hodges, Nick Bellore and Michael Wilhoite into action. All three are set to become free agents on Thursday.

If he joins the 49ers as expected, Smith likely would compete for the role of weak-side linebacker with Armstrong. Bowman, who is rehabilitating from his injury, is the likeliest candidate for middle linebacker. Shayne Skov and Carl Bradford also are signed for 2017.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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