The 49ers’ quartet of starting linebackers in 2012 was the base of San Francisco’s defense, which ranked No. 2 in the NFL in points allowed.
Inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and the outside twosome of Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks were great against the run and terrific in rushing the passer.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers – whose team lost to the 49ers in the regular season and the playoffs – called them “the best (group) of 3-4 linebackers in the league.”
But what happens if one of the Niners’ foursome is unable to play in 2013?
Reports Tuesday that Brooks was questioned by police about his alleged involvement in an altercation with a teammate at his home in San Jose in early June could impact his status for the upcoming season – though reports Wednesday in the San Jose Mercury News indicate the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office has not issued a warrant for Brooks’ arrest and it’s possible no charges could be filed.
The Mercury News reported Brooks is alleged to have struck 49ers defensive lineman Lamar Divens three times on the head with a beer bottle and then punched him during an argument. However, according to the Mercury News, Divens told police he did not want to press charges against Brooks and the DA’s office is now reviewing whether to proceed or drop the case.
Whatever the outcome, the incident shines a light on the fact the 49ers linebacking depth is much greater heading into 2013 than it was in 2012.
Even if Brooks (or Willis, Bowman or Smith) missed significant time this coming season, the 49ers have options.
Behind Brooks and Smith are Parys Haralson – a one-time starter who is coming back from missing the entire 2012 with an injury – Corey Lemonier, a third-round pick from Auburn, and Cam Johnson, a seventh-round pick in 2012 from Virginia.
Backing up Willis and Bowman are veteran Dan Skuta, Michael Wilhoite and Darius Fleming, a fifth-round pick from Notre Dame in 2012 who recently was moved to the inside after starting his career on the outside.
The return of Haralson and the drafting of Lemonier, in particular, give the Niners excellent options should Brooks or Smith be unavailable for any reason in 2013. Though there would be some dropoff, the two backups have strong upsides. Haralson is a veteran with good pass-rush skills who started in 2011 (when Smith was a rookie pass-rush specialist) and Lemonier also has good pass-rush skills.
Haralson, even though he was hurt last season, remained with the team and was praised by head coach Jim Harbaugh last month for the way he helped his teammates and contributed as a leader. Now, Harbaugh said, he’s eager to have Haralson back contributing on the field as well. He says Haralson has “great leadership qualities.”
“To his credit, he always stayed engaged and stayed focused on helping his team,” said Harbaugh. “So now that he’s back on the field, I know that all of us coaches and players and certainly Parys himself, there’s a life-giving energy when a 49er, a true team player like that, is back out doing what he loves to do.”