San Francisco 49ers

49ers training camp preview: Best battle to be at inside linebacker

49ers linebacker Reuben Foster in action

What shoulder injury? Rookie Reuben Foster has been held out of team drills but took part in all the individual linebacker drills in 49ers minicamp.
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What shoulder injury? Rookie Reuben Foster has been held out of team drills but took part in all the individual linebacker drills in 49ers minicamp.

As Kyle Shanahan said (in so many words) earlier this year: The spring is for learning the playbook, the summer is where the roster jockeying begins. With that in mind, here's how the depth chart looked when the spring sessions ended as well as some of the storylines to come when training camp gets underway. Players report on July 27; the first practice is July 28.

Next up: linebacker.

MLB: NaVorro Bowman, Brock Coyle, Donavin Newsom

WLB: Malcolm Smith, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Reuben Foster

SLB: Ahmad Brooks, Eli Harold, Dekoda Watson, Jimmie Gilbert

Storylines:

* The best battle of training camp may be the one between Smith and Foster to be San Francisco's starting weak-side linebacker. Foster, widely considered the best linebacker in the draft, is on schedule to make his practice debut when camp opens after missing the spring sessions as he recovered from shoulder surgery. He will be the most scrutinized player on the field the first week. Smith, meanwhile, may have been the most impressive 49ers defender in the spring. His speed and comfort in the defense were apparent, and he was especially effective in pass defense.

* Some reports said Bowman looked slow and not fully recovered from Achilles surgery this spring. That may have been the case in the team's very first minicamp before the draft but not so as OTAs and later minicamps got underway. It was clear from talking to Bowman that the recovery from the Achilles wasn't nearly as daunting and grueling as that from reconstructive knee surgery two years earlier. He seemed confident that he would have a bounce back season similar to the one he had in 2015.

* The battle for back-up SAM linebacker is interesting. Harold has the edge but Watson is the better special teams player. Gilbert, who needs to add bulk, seems like a prime candidate for the practice squad. So does Newsom, who projects to Will linebacker.

From earlier:

* defensive line

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

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