After reaching tentative deals with four offensive players, the 49ers appear to be closing in on bolstering their thin linebacker corps.
A league source confirms the 49ers have engaged in contract talks with the agent for Raiders free-agent linebacker Malcolm Smith. Peter Schrager of FoxSports.com first reported the mutual interest.
Smith is best-remembered for his interception of Colin Kaepernick's pass after Richard Sherman’s tip in the end zone on the throw intended for Michael Crabtree in the closing minute to preserve the Seahawks’ victory over the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game in January 2014.
Smith went on to be named the MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII, as he returned an interception for a touchdown and recovered a fumble in Seattle’s 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos.
Smith, who turns 27 in July, spent the past two seasons with the Raiders. He recorded 185 tackles and four sacks in 30 games after signing as a free agent in 2015.
He spent his first four seasons with the Seahawks. Robert Saleh, the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, was a defensive quality control coach in Seattle during Smith’s first three NFL seasons.
NaVorro Bowman, who is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury, and Ray-Ray Armstrong are the 49ers’ only returning linebackers who have seen significant playing time.
Smith’s agent also represents wide receiver Pierre Garçon, with whom the 49ers on Wednesday reached an agreement. Deals cannot become official until Thursday at 1 p.m., the official opening of the free-agent signing period.
Starting safety Eric Reid will not be available for the 49ers on Thursday night, and the other presumptive starting safeties are questionable, too.
Jimmie Ward (hamstring) and Jaquiski Tartt (neck) went through limited practice Wednesdsay and are listed as questionable to face the Los Angeles Rams in front of a national television audience at Levi’s Stadium on Thursday night.
Ward and Tartt are expected to be available for the game, but the 49ers’ only healthy safeties are rookies Lorenzo Jerome and Adrian Colbert.
Reid is expected miss more than one game with a sprain of the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Reid is listed as out for Thursday’s game, along with linebacker Reuben Foster.
The 49ers medical staff no longer requires Foster to wear an orthopedic boot to stabilize his high right ankle sprain. General manager John Lynch said Foster is making good progress, but the 49ers are going to be cautious with him.
“The one thing I know is that freak athletes tend to be freak healers, as well,” Lynch told NBC Sports Bay Area.
“He wanted to play the first week in the boot. That’s just the way he’s wired. We got to make sure he’s all the way healthy before we put him in, and we’re going to do that.”
Tight end George Kittle (hip) and linebacker Eli Harold (foot) are questionable for the game and are expected to play. Kittle sustained his injury during the 49ers’ 12-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Harold was stepped on during a practice this week.
49ers injury report
LB Reuben Foster (ankle)
S Eric Reid (knee)
LB Eli Harold (foot)
TE George Kittle (hip)
S Jaquiski Tartt (neck)
S Jimmie Ward (hamstring)
The 49ers entered the regular season feeling as confident in quarterback Brian Hoyer as anyone on the offensive side of the ball.
But Hoyer has struggled through the worst back-to-back games of his 33-start NFL career. And the 49ers need him to get going, beginning Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams, coach Kyle Shanahan said.
"I want him to get his edge back. I want him to get his confidence,” Shanahan said Wednesday on the KNBR Morning Show.
“We need Brian to step up, and we need everyone around him to step up.”
In the first two games of the season, Hoyer has completed 62.9 percent of his 62 pass attempts but for just 292 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating is a lowly 60.7.
The 49ers have scored only four field goals and no touchdowns on their 21 offensive possessions in losses to Carolina and Seattle. Moreover, the 49ers have converted just four of 23 (17.4 percent) of their third-down attempts.
The quick turnaround on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium is something Hoyer said he welcomes this week -- of all weeks.
Last season with the Chicago Bears, Hoyer did not throw for fewer than 300 yards in any of his four full games. On Sunday in the 49ers’ 12-9 loss to the Seahawks, he managed just 99 yards passing.
“It was a tough game and now we move on,” Hoyer said. “Thankfully, this week we get to move on really quick and move on to LA.
”You get to put the last one behind you and move on to the next.”