Since joining the 49ers in 2013 as a sixth-round pick, Nick Moody has never had a starring role.
He’s kept his roster spot as an enthusiastic, hard-hitting special teams player and linebacker, who stepped in late in 2014 as a starter when injuries took their toll on the linebacking corps.
But this summer, Moody is getting a chance to show how far he’s come, and the linebacker could earn a much more prominent role in the 49ers defense in 2015.
With the retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland – and the injury that so far has kept Michael Wilhoite on the sideline – Moody has been a starter at inside linebacker alongside NaVorro Bowman in training camp. His play has been a pleasant surprise.
“I’ve really been happy with Nick’s development, his progress, getting to know him better in this role,” defensive coordinator Eric Mangini recently told Bay Area reporters. “He’s done a good job. I’m excited to see him in these preseason games and see where he is because what he’s done in practice so far has stood out in a really positive way.
“I want to see how that translates into games, his reactions and things like that.”
Moody will get his first chance to shine in a game this Saturday night, when the 49ers play their first exhibition game in Houston against the Texans.
Moody, a former safety-turned-linebacker at Florida State, has good speed and mobility. Plus, he’s reported to have added 15 pounds to his 6-foot-1 frame, up to 260, to better deal with the battles near the line of scrimmage.
Bowman, making a comeback from a knee injury, and Wilhoite are the presumed starters in 2015. But Moody told Cam Inman, who covers the 49ers for the Bay Area News Group, that he came into the offseason workouts and this training camp eager to take advantage of opportunities following the retirements of Willis and Borland.
“I’ll get more of a chance to play,” he said. “I need to take advantage of it.”
The competition, however, should be fierce. Moody’s also dueling with veterans Philip Wheeler and Desmond Bishop and ex-Stanford standout Shayne Skov.
But head coach Jim Tomsula is excited by the work and production Moody has brought to the job this spring and summer.
“A guy that’s really moving around and feeling the defense in the right way is Nick Moody,” said Tomsula. “I’ve been pulling for Nick. He’s working really hard. He’s one of those guys that you notice.”