Niners Have Eyes on Intriguing Linebacker

Former North Carolina linebacker Darius Lipford, known as "Freak" to Tar Heels teammates because of athletic ability, works out for team

Darius Lipford appears to be an intriguing candidate to join the 49ers.

The former North Carolina linebacker, who went unclaimed in the recent NFL supplemental draft, was reported to have worked out for the Niners Tuesday, but did not sign with the team. But if the 49ers liked what they saw, the team could bring him aboard in the next few days or weeks of training camp.

Niners rookies are due to report for camp Wednesday, a week ahead of veterans.

Lipford, 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, played 11 games as a freshman at North Carolina in 2010, then became the starter at strong-side linebacker as a sophomore. He played in all 13 games, but tore his ACL in the team’s Independence Bowl game vs. Missouri. The injury forced him to sit out all of 2012, but he returned in 2013 for his junior season, appearing in 10 games.

He had 20 tackles, including six for loss and 2½ sacks. He decided to forgo his final season with the Tar Heels and was declared eligible for the league’s seven-round supplemental draft last week, but went unclaimed.

The 49ers, of course, have a deep roster but a recent history of patience. Even if they don’t see Lipford as an immediate help, the team could sign him to stash away on injured reserve if he’s still not 100 percent. They've signed and kept such players as Marcus Lattimore, Tank Carradine and Lawrence Okoye for the future.

Lipford has long arms – a trait that GM Trent Baalke loves – and his teammates at UNC gave him the nickname “Freak” because of his athletic abilities.

As Rob Rang of the Sports Xchange noted before the supplemental draft, Lipford never developed in college the way his coaches hoped, but his athleticism is hard to overlook.

“He is a fluid, explosive athlete with clear upside and therefore could warrant a late-round selection if teams are comfortable with his medical report,” Rang wrote.

Matt Barrows, who covers the 49ers for the Sacramento Bee, noted that the team’s roster is full, so if the team signs Lipford, it will have to release a player from the 90-man roster.

The day before his tryout with the 49ers, Lipford was obviously excited about his opportunity.

“Can’t do anything but thank God for the journey I’m about to embark on. #Calibound,” he tweeted.

Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group wrote that the Niners may wait to sign Lipford until they know what fate of outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Smith’s status is uncertain because of some legal issues that should be resolved later this month.

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