As the 49ers head toward the start of training camp Friday, the team believes its linebacking corps will be much improved.
Anchored by second-year man Fred Warner on the strong side and former Tampa Bay standout Kwon Alexander, it also could include veteran Malcolm Smith, the former Raider and Seahawk who returned from missing all of 2017 to play 12 games in 2018.
But the wild card could be rookie Dre Greenlaw, who could push Smith for a starting role.
Greenlaw, a fifth-round draft pick out of Arkansas, was a four-year starter in college who had 321 tackles over 40 games for the Razorbacks.
During the 49ers spring program, Greenlaw received a good chunk of first-team snaps while Smith was sidelined by a leg injury. That time with the first unit could ensure that Greenlaw will have an opportunity to hit the ground running in training camp and the exhibition season.
As Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee noted this week, "His workload with the first unit in the spring was reminiscent of Warner’s after he was first drafted, which could be a sign the coaching staff already thinks highly of him."
Greenlaw, 5-foot-11 and 237 pounds, was known for his quickness and ability to avoid blocks at Arkansas, as well as his athletic ability. But, there were some questions about his "lack of willful aggression to fire downhill and put his stamp on the game," according to NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein.
Zierlein noted that with the 49ers, he’ll need to turn that talent into "weapons of destruction."
It’s most likely that Greenlaw will earn a special-teams and backup role as a rookie. But, with a good training camp – and a more aggressive attitude as a tackler and pursuer – Greenlaw could push Smith for a starting job.
Players are scheduled to report to training camp Friday, with a first practice set for Saturday.