Willis, Bowman backups take center stage

Maiocco: Not a good day for 49ers All-Pro inside linebackers

Willis, Bowman backups take center stage
August 1, 2013, 7:00 am
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The 49ers could move free agent pickup Dan Skuta back to inside linebacker, where he saw most action when he was with the Bengals. (AP)

Michael Wilhoite is the only 49ers backup at the ILB position with any NFL experience. (AP)

Nate Stupar provided a highlight in Wednesday when he intercepted a Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Vernon Davis in the end zone. (AP)

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers will likely have plenty of opportunities to evaluate their unproven set of backup inside linebackers during training camp.

Of course, that comes as bad news to a team that features the top tandem of inside linebackers in the NFL.

[RELATED: Patrick Willis scheduled for x-ray

Patrick Willis, who has sustained two fractures of his right hand in his six-year NFL career, is scheduled to undergo X-rays Thursday on his right hand, a source told CSNBayArea.com.

Willis sustained the injury early in practice Wednesday and watched the remainder of the workout from the sideline with his hand wrapped in ice. If there is a fracture in his hand, Willis could sit out the entire exhibition season. The 49ers open the regular season in 5 1/2 weeks, on Sept. 8 against the Green Bay Packers.

NaVorro Bowman, who joined Willis on the All-Pro team the past two seasons, appeared late in practice Wednesday to aggravate a groin strain that kept him sidelined Monday and Tuesday.

Michael Wilhoite is the first inside linebacker off the sideline for the 49ers. He is also the only 49ers backup at that position with any NFL experience.

"Michael Wilhoite has been here for a year and a half and played some last year on special teams," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "So he's got the lead from a knowledge standpoint within our scheme."

Wilhoite, who arrived with the 49ers' practice squad in 2011 after a stint with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL, was promoted to the 53-man roster for the final five games of the regular season last year. He turned into a core special-teams player but saw only 10 snaps of action on defense.

But that's 10 more snaps than any of the other backups.

[RELATED: Patrick Willis career stats | NaVorro Bowman career stats]

Nate Stupar, a seventh-round pick of the Raiders in 2012, spent time last year on the practice squads of the Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles before joining the 49ers' practice squad for the postseason. He provided one of the highlights in practice Wednesday when he intercepted a Colin Kaepernick pass intended for tight end Vernon Davis in the middle of the end zone.

The 49ers invested a sixth-round pick in Nick Moody of Florida State. Moody is known as a special-teams ace who transitioned from safety to linebacker.

Second-year player Darius Fleming was moved to inside linebacker before sustaining his second left ACL tear in two seasons on Sunday. He will spend the season on the 49ers' injured reserve list.

The 49ers added linebacker Travis Johnson this week to take Fleming's spot on the 90-man roster. Johnson finished his college career as San Jose State's all-time sacks leader with 32. He was named WAC Defensive Player of the Year. He played outside in college, but the 49ers figure his size (6 foot 1, 240 pounds) makes him a better fit at inside linebacker.

The 49ers also have the option of moving free agent pickup Dan Skuta back to inside linebacker, where he saw his most action during four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. The 49ers transitioned Skuta to outside linebacker after signing him to a two-year, $3 million contract.

"Although he was an inside 'backer there, there wasn't a lot of carryover in the way we play," Fangio said. "So he can go back in there in a pinch if we need him to."

Larry Grant and Tavares Gooden, veteran backup inside linebackers of the past two seasons, remain unsigned. Grant must serve a four-game suspension at the beginning of the season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.