When the 49ers selected Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier in the third round of the 2013 draft, they were excited about his pass-rush skills.
At Auburn, where he started 26 of the 39 games he played, Lemonier had 17 sacks and 24 tackles for loss, plus seven forced fumbles. They envisioned the 6-foot-4, 255-pounder as being an outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, capable of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Yet through his first two seasons with the 49ers, Lemonier has just one sack. And, after getting plenty of playing time in 2013 – when he had 23 quarterback pressures -- he lost ground in 2014 as rookie outside linebacker Aaron Lynch came on strong.
It was a big fall-off after a promising first season, when one national-website story about his strong play was headlined, “Is Corey Lemonier the next pass-rushing phenom in the making?”
Now, with the start of training camp in late July approaching, Lemonier will find himself in tough competition for playing time with Lynch and rookie Eli Harold.
But Lemonier had a good spring with the 49ers in organized team activities (OTAs) and the recent full-squad minicamp and improved his play thanks in part to a recommendation by new linebackers coach Jason Tarver. According to Lemonier, Tarver was watching film of Lemonier in 2014 and noticed his footwork was inefficient.
“(He) pointed out that I would take false steps so many times,” Lemonier told Taylor Price of the team’s website. “It led to a lot of bad plays.”
During minicamp, with Smith out with a foot injury, Lemonier worked with the first-team defense and his play was solid, Tarver said. His quickness at the snap has improved.
“He’s really doing well and I’m excited for Corey,” Tarver told Price. “I am. Any young guy that works so hard, too, you know? He’s coming along. He’s doing a great job with knowing the defense and he’s bending and moving, you can see there. … He can get off the rock.”
Now, with better confidence and some refined techniques, Lemonier is eager to reassert himself in training camp. He knows that playing outside linebacker in the 49ers scheme is a perfect situation for him.
“The defense puts the outside linebackers in better positions to make plays,” Lemonier said. “That’s a pretty good thing. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”