Much of the talk here over the past couple days has revolved around the broken fibula suffered by C Eric Heitmann. Indeed, Heitmann is the most important 49er currently on the mend. But no position group has been hit harder than linebacker, where Scott McKillop, Travis LaBoy, Ahmad Brooks and Martail Burnett all have been cut down since the start of training camp.
McKillop, the ILB who tore his left ACL and patellar tendon, is likely gone for the season. He will be missed both as a backup linebacker and a core special-teams performer.
The real problem, though, is outside, where LaBoy (concussion), Brooks (lacerated kidney) and Burnett (sprained knee) represented half the workforce as camp began.
LaBoy should be back sometime soon. (Right??) Brooks, however, won’t even be re-evaluated for another two weeks, and could easily miss the start of the regular season on Sept. 12. The 49ers waived Burnett injured this morning. In a way, you could say they put him out of his misery; no one got yelled at more by defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
The injuries necessitated a couple of roster moves, with the Niners signing OLBs Bruce Davis and Brandon Long.
Long has been here before. The 49ers signed the former Michigan State player on Apr. 30 and cut him June 18. He’s hoping for a longer go-round this time.
Davis is a more interesting prospect. The son of former Raiders offensive lineman Bruce Davis Sr., he was a dynamic player at UCLA, where he played defensive end and ranked second in school history with 29½ sacks. The Steelers drafted him in the third round in 2008, at overall pick No. 88. He never did much of anything in Pittsburgh, though, playing five games as a rookie and getting cut at the end of training camp in 2009.
The Patriots signed Davis to their practice squad that October, then waived him last May. The Broncos claimed him, but his stint in Denver was brief; Josh McDaniel released him July 27.
“It’s just been tough breaks everywhere I’ve been,” Davis said today. “Pittsburgh, they pay a guy (James Harrison) $50 million, and I wasn’t exactly ready. So I go to New England, they’ve got a great pass rusher in Tully Banta-Cain, and they drafted a couple young guys. Got to Denver, and I still don’t know what happened there, but that’s not important. I just feel like if I can get the opportunity, I’ll be fine.”
Davis admitted it was difficult to transition from defensive end to OLB his first season. This is his third 3-4 system by now, though, and he says he has it down.
Davis sounded like a man who realizes this could be his final opportunity in the NFL. He may have started to wonder whether that chance would come after sitting at home in Denver for two weeks and waiting for the phone to ring.
“As the days start wearing on and you’re stuck in the house and you know all your friends that you played with in college and different teams, they’re out doing what you want to do, and you’re sitting home in the air conditioning on the couch,” Davis said, “to some people that might sound good, but not me. I’m a football player. So that was tough to get over that hump mentally.
“When you’re sitting there, you’ve got to come to grips with a few things. It’s just like, when you get an opportunity, you’ve gotta do whatever you can. Because I’m not going back to sitting on my couch. I refuse to do that again. If that’s all on me, then I hope so and so be it. I’ll hold up my end of the deal.”
Long, who knows Manusky’s terminology, stepped right into second-team reps at OLB. Davis was very limited during team period, but the team pushed him right into one-on-one blocking drills to see what he could do. In fact, he took the first rep, getting a good push against T Alex Boone. A little later he ran right around RT Anthony Davis.
Davis even believes he can play at Indianapolis this Sunday.
“Oh, yeah. I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I mean, they’re not gonna throw the whole package out there anyway. It’ll just be the basic stuff. Just go in there and get in the book. I’ve learned a defense in a week before, so it shouldn’t be that hard.”