Preseason games are supposed to answer questions for NFL teams. But they can just as easily create new questions.
The 49ers went into last night’s game against the Vikings hoping to shed some light on the situation at outside linebacker. Travis LaBoy and Diyral Briggs only clouded the issue with dual-core defensive excellence.
This team will probably carry seven or eight linebackers in 2010. Barring injury, the roster should include Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes, Manny Lawson, Parys Haralson, Matt Wilhelm and NaVorro Bowman. Assuming Ahmad Brooks hasn’t damaged his kidney more severely than anticipated – we could find out more this week – he should be there, too.
That leaves maybe one more spot at linebacker, and Briggs and LaBoy are threatening to put on quite a show in their pursuit of the job.
For much of August, Briggs seemed to enjoy the inside track. He is only 24 years old (he’ll turn 25 on Halloween, the day the 49ers play the Broncos in London), and is still learning the position after converting from defensive end, yet has frequently distinguished himself on the practice field, with both sacks (of the two-hand touch variety) and interceptions.
Briggs was at it again last night. On one Minnesota possession in the fourth quarter, he tripped up Joe Webb two yards downfield to prevent a big gain, and two plays later pressured the agile QB into an incompletion. On the Vikings’ next possession he sacked Webb for an 8-yard loss.
But LaBoy is not giving up without a fight. After missing 12 days of camp with a concussion, he seemed to be at a disadvantage. LaBoy turned 29 three days ago, and has a history of injuries, including multiple concussions. His last meaningful action was for Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII.
Since returning to action, though, LaBoy has jumped right into the flow of Greg Manusky’s defensive scheme. Against the Vikings he was one of the 49ers’ first defensive subs, entering in the first quarter. He sacked Tarvaris Jackson once, recorded three QB hits and generally camped in the Minnesota backfield for much of the night.
After the game, LaBoy downplayed his contributions.
“For me, it’s not too big of a deal,” he said. “The fact that I got out there, the times that I did, it was awesome. But, you know, this is not my first year, I’m not a rookie. I’ve been in this league a long time, so you can only see a pulling guard so many times before, you know, you really don’t even have to be out there to see it.”
LaBoy, who played at Marin Catholic High after moving from Hawaii to Marin County as an adolescent, had a lot of family and friends in the Candlestick Park audience as he suited up for the first time in red and gold. They didn’t leave disappointed, though the linebacker wasn’t ready to celebrate.
“When it gets to the field, the game doesn’t change even after all that time off,” he said. “But, you know, I’m very anxious to see how it looks on tape and fix it for the next week.”
Two weeks ago, outside linebacker was a position of interest because of injuries to Brooks and Martail Burnett, who sprained a knee ligament and is no longer with the team. It’s still interesting. But thanks to Briggs and LaBoy, 49ers fans can watch it unfold without both hands over their eyes.