Since the start of 49ers training camp, there’s been a fierce battle for the starting inside linebacker spot next to NaVorro Bowman.
Michael Wilhoite – a starter for much of the past two seasons – ex-Viking Gerald Hodges and Ray-Ray Armstrong have been locked in one of the best job competitions on the team this summer.
Wilhoite has the most experience of the trio, having started 28 games for San Francisco since the start of the 2014 season. But after one exhibition game, it appears that Armstrong, a former Raider and Ram, may have edged into the lead.
Niners defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil mentioned Armstrong as a player who had a strong performance in the team’s exhibition opener Sunday vs. the Houston Texans. In 17 snaps, Armstrong had three solo tackles.
“He made some nice plays,” O’Neil told a writer with 49ers.com this week. “The thing that stood out with Ray was his ability to (defeat) blockers and still make tackles. A lot of guys will go blow up a blocker and leave it for somebody else to clean it up. Ray had two plays that jumped out. One where he took on a fullback and made a TFL (tackle for loss) in the backfield, and another one where he blew up an offensive guard … and made another tackle.”
Armstrong, a former safety at the University of Miami, is an athletic and fast 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds. He came into the league in 2013 with the then-St. Louis Rams, where he played 16 games as a backup and special teamer. He moved on to Oakland in 2014, playing 11 games with three starts, then played 10 games with the Raiders in 2015 before the 49ers acquired him. He played five games for the 49ers in 2015.
The competition at inside linebacker is likely to carry all the way through the team’s final exhibition game. In Game 1, Wilhoite started and was followed by Hodges and Armstrong. Wilhoite had four tackles, Armstrong three and Hodges had none against the Texans.
The 49ers’ next game is Saturday night against the Broncos in Denver.