Heading into training camp, it’s worth taking a look at a few IDP position battles that have yet to be resolved. There is potential production available on the waiver wire depending on who wins each role. And knowing who’s competing in each battle will give you a leg-up when injuries inevitably occur.
San Francisco 49ers LB
Reuben Foster is Vontaze Burfict 2.0. Foster racked up weapons charges, the domestic violence accusations that were later retracted by his girlfriend, and he had a marijuana arrest down in Alabama where the charges were dropped. That’s a busy offseason where he got genuinely lucky to come away with only a 2-game suspension. It is also a troubling pattern of behavior by someone who is about to start their second NFL season. Keep in mind; Foster was sent home from the Combine because of an incident…
Foster was productive when he played last season. Foster was on the field for 554 snaps while being limited to 10 games. He ended with 72 total tackles. That said, he had 0 big plays.
Releasing Navorro Bowman in the middle of the season created opportunity, and San Francisco had a guy to pick up the slack. Brock Coyle is a former Seahawks UDFA who had 17 tackles in 3 seasons in the Pacific Northwest. Forced into service in San Francisco, Coyle played 649 defensive snaps, playing 100% of defensive snaps in two separate games, and ended with 64 tackles and 0.5 sack. The 49ers shouldn’t plan on using Coyle extensively.
Eli Harold played a 2-down role at SAM last season. He played 454 snaps over 16 games and amassed 34 tackles and 2.0 sacks. Harold should maintain a similar role and production in 2018.
The WILL and MIKE are interchangeable in DC Robert Saleh’s defense. The MIKE calls plays. Otherwise, they’re the same role, and both usually stay on the field for all three downs.
Who will replace Foster during the first two games of the season and any other games he misses due to injury? Who will play next to Foster in a hopefully 3-down role the rest of the season? Enter Malcolm Smith. The former 7th Rounder spent his rookie contract in Seattle, never starting more than eight games in a season. Smith spent the next two seasons in Oakland, starting 30 games and amassing 100+ tackles each season. He was signed by San Francisco to help Saleh implement the Seahawks defensive scheme last season. The 49ers love signing LBs from the Seahawks. A torn pectoral suffered in the preseason cost him the entire 2017 season though.
The 49ers also spent a 3rd Round pick on Fred Warner. The long-term plan must be to pair Warner with Foster. The question becomes, how quickly will Warner be ready? If he’s ready immediately, Warner and Smith will play the first two games, and Warner may get the starting nod next to Foster from Week 3 onward. If Warner struggles in camp, it could be Coyle and Smith playing in Foster’s absence with Coyle headed to the Bench upon Foster’s return. Either way, Warner should be expected to make starts this season, whether it’s Week 1 or Week 12. If Smith earns the starting spot, his 3-down work isn’t guaranteed. Warner is considered an LB/Safety hybrid, a coverage LB. So if Smith starts, Warner could be brought in on passing downs.