It’s still uncertain who Jim Tomsula’s defensive coordinator will be on the 49ers. In fact, many of the assistants on defense are yet to be selected.
And the questions he’ll face – whoever he is – will be many. What kind of scheme best suits this group? What does Tomsula want to run? Will Justin Smith retire? When will Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman be 100 percent? Which cornerbacks will be re-signed?
But whoever becomes coordinator also will have two sure things -- young linebackers Aaron Lynch and Chris Borland – to plug into whatever system he decides to run.
The two rookie linebackers were among the most pleasant surprises on a disappointing, injury riddled team that slumped to 8-8 in 2014.
It’s uncertain what roles the two will play in 2015, but both showed they were talented, undervalued pickups in the 2014 draft.
Borland, a third-round pick from Wisconsin, had been deemed too small and too slow by many, yet when he was inserted into the lineup because of injuries, he was a tackling machine at inside linebacker.
In eight starts he led San Francisco for the season with 107 tackles and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after a 12-tackle, two-interception performance in a win over the Giants.
Lynch, a fifth-round pick from South Florida, was considered physically talented, but many worried about some off-the-field issues and his transfer from Notre Dame to South Florida after his freshman season for the Fighting Irish.
But Lynch – 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds – showed great range at outside linebacker and an ability to rush the passer. He had six sacks, four passes defensed and was in on 23 tackles.
In their initial seasons in the NFL, both played exceedingly well. Borland was voted to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper selected Borland and Lynch to his 2014 NFL All-Rookie team.
It’s uncertain where Lynch and Borland will be playing on the 2015 49ers defense. Borland is a natural fit at inside linebacker, but that’s where Willis and Bowman have been outstanding. Lynch, meanwhile, could take the place of either Aldon Smith or Ahmad Brooks on the outside.
Chris Wesseling, Around the NFL writer for NFL.com, wrote late this season that Borland is the total package and “is too good to keep off the field.”
Wrote Wessling: “Borland boasts impeccable instincts, above-average power and better than expected closing speed.
How the 49ers choose to utilize him in the coming season will be one of more interesting story lines under Tomsula and the team’s new defensive coordinator.