Maiocco: Still a role for Lawson in 49ers defense

Maiocco: Still a role for Lawson in 49ers defense
May 8, 2011, 5:55 pm
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May 8, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE49ERS PAGE 49ERS VIDEOMatt MaioccoCSNBayArea.comManny Lawson is not under contract to the 49ers for the upcoming season. And the 49ers invested the seventh overall draft pick on Aldon Smith, who plays the same position.So does the addition of the rookie from Missouri spell the end of Lawson's career with the 49ers?Well, that all depends on the yet-to-be-determined rules for NFL free agency. There remains a good chance Lawson will be back with the 49ers in 2011.When the lockout is lifted and free agency begins -- whenever that might be -- if the NFL reverts back to the 2010 rules, the 49ers would still control Lawson's rights as a restricted free agent. Lawson has five years of NFL experience. Under the 2010 rules for the uncapped year, the league required six years for unrestricted free agency. Prior to last year, four years of NFL experience were needed to test the market.If the 49ers are able to retain Lawson's rights, general manager Trent Baalke could work out a trade. But if Lawson remains with the 49ers, he would likely still have a large role with the team.Lawson led the 49ers with 6.5 sacks in 2009. But he was used primarily on first and second downs from the final six games of '09 through all of last season.He finished '09 at 230 pounds but put on weight last season to play at least 10 pounds heavier. Lawson was good against the run and held up very well in coverage. When the 49ers drafted Lawson in the first round of the 2006 draft, they converted him from defensive end to outside linebacker. In the NFL, Lawson quickly developed in his new role and never showed consistency as the sack artist the 49ers had envisioned him becoming.
Smith is at least 25 pounds heavier entering the NFL than Lawson. Smith weighed in at 264 pounds at the NFL scouting combine. Smith played with a lot ore strength at Missouri. He lined up primarily at right defensive end at Missouri but also was asked to drop into coverage and line up as an inside pass-rusher.Smith does not have to start as a rookie to be a huge factor for the 49ers. After all, Fred Dean is in the Hall of Fame, and he started just five of 57 games with the 49ers.If the 49ers retain Lawson for another season, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio can devise a specific plan for Smith. Then, Smith's development in other areas of his game can dictate how much -- and how quickly -- the 49ers expand his role.Parys Haralson, the outside linebacker on the other side, is signed through 2013 and figures to remain with the club for a while. While Smith is groomed to take over every-down duties from Lawson, he will likely get his initial playing time at the expense of nickel pass-rushers Ahmad Brooks and veteran free-agent Travis LaBoy.

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