49ers training camp preview: Inside linebackers

49ers training camp preview: Inside linebackers
July 23, 2014, 7:15 am
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Michael Wilhoite is in line to replace NaVorro Bowman, but Shayne Skov, Chris Borland and Nick Moody will compete. (USATSI)

Editor’s note: Matt Maiocco provides position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to 49ers training camp. The full squad reports on Wednesday, with the first practice day scheduled for Thursday. In this installment, Matt focuses on the inside linebackers.

Who they have: Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Chris Borland, Michael Wilhoite, Nick Moody, Blake Costanzo, Shayne Skov.

Who they lost: None.

Looking back: Bowman and Willis supplied the 49ers with the best pair of inside linebackers in the NFL.

Bowman, who was a legitimate candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, continued to post bigger number than Willis in every statistical area. Bowman was named first-team All-Pro for a third consecutive season.

Willis did not make All-Pro, but he was selected for his seventh Pro Bowl in seven NFL seasons.

When Willis missed two games with a groin strain, Wilhoite stepped in and played well at the “jack” linebacker position.

Bowman sustained a torn ACL in the NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks. He underwent surgery on Feb. 4.

Overall outlook: Willis, 29, enters his eighth NFL season and he likely will not have Bowman playing beside him for at least the first six games of the season. Willis will return to the “mike” position, and he’ll return to being the focal point of the middle of the 49ers’ defense at the beginning of the season.

[RELATED: 49ers' Willis knows 'jack' ... and he's learning 'mike,' too]

Bowman will be placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list upon reporting to camp on Wednesday. And the 49ers are not going to rush him back into action. After all, Bowman is signed through the 2018 season, so the 49ers plan for to have him around for a while. They do not want to take any chances.

The 49ers attempted to add a veteran inside linebacker in free agency, but they ultimately stuck with Wilhoite in that role. Borland was chosen in the third round of the draft, and he will compete with Wilhoite for the right to fill in for Willis.

Camp competition: Borland and Wilhoite might not be alone in their competition to fill the “jack” linebacker role. Moody, who returns for his second season, is still considered more of a special-teams player. And Skov, an undrafted rookie from Stanford, has a good handle on the defensive scheme but faces a tough battle to win a spot on the 53-man roster.

Special teams will play a big role in the final couple backup positions. Costanzo returns to the organization in hopes of winning a role as a core contributor in the kicking game.


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