LBs Lawson and Brooks debate the depth chart

Does the depth chart mean anything in June?

It’s an age-old bone of contention between reporters and NFL coaches. Interest in a pro football team remains high during the offseason, but outside of roster moves and the occasional injury, there really aren’t many tangible issues to analyze. So we talk about who is working with the first team, and who is relegated to second- or (heaven forbid) third-team reps. And if we don’t talk about it, you quickly let us know we’re shirking our duties.

And that drives coaches crazy. They see the spring as a time for learning and installing. The hierarchy matters little to them (or so they say) until the preseason. So they dismiss depth-chart questions as routinely as we ask them.

I was especially interested in the chart when OLB Manny Lawson returned for the 49ers’ minicamp on Thursday. Lawson started every game last season, but Ahmad Brooks emerged as a potent pass-rush threat over the second half of the season, and the Niners gave him a two-year contract extension in early April

Lawson, unhappy with his current deal, skipped all of the voluntary practices this spring, while Brooks attended religiously. All of which made me wonder how Mike Singletary and Greg Manusky would divide the first-team reps when Lawson and Brooks both took the field. I was mildly surprised that Lawson worked almost exclusively with the starters.

It meant something to me. But did it mean anything to the players? I inquired, and got very different responses.

First I approached Brooks and asked him if he had expected any first-team reps at the minicamp. “Ummm, does it matter?” he replied

I don’t know, I volleyed. Does it?

“I’m just saying, does it matter?” Brooks asked.

Does it matter to you, I asked again.

“Does it matter to you?” Brooks fired back.

I wouldn’t characterize the tone as confrontational. It was mildly testy. And when I explained that my readers ask all the time about the depth chart, Brooks cooperated.

“It doesn’t matter right now, though, you know what I’m saying?” he continued. “It’s still OTAs, minicamps. Only time will tell. But I mean, it’s cool. He’s a good athlete. I’m a good athlete, Parys [Haralson] a good athlete. And Coach Singletary wants competition out there. I mean, there’s a lot of things I can learn from Manny, man, cause he’s been in the system for a while. This will be his fifth year as a starter, so just because I’m here and I got a new contract doesn’t make me a starter. I still have to go out there and prove myself.”

Fair enough. But when I asked Lawson whether he cared at all about getting first-team reps, he didn’t shy away from the topic at all.

“Yeah, I do care about it,” he said. “Was I wondering? Always wondering.”

Lawson added that he’d be working hard whether the 49ers lined him up with first team, second team or special teams. But he noted the vote of confidence he seemed to be getting after missing 14 OTA practices.

“I think that speaks huge to the faith that the coaches have in myself,” Lawson said. “For me to be gone, and the only teaching I had was me teaching myself. I come in, and let me run free, let me play.”

Perhaps the difference of opinion has more to do with the contrasting personalities of Brooks and Lawson. Or there’s another possibility. Maybe your interpretation of the depth chart depends on whether you’re the guy running with the No. 1s or the guy running with the No. 2s.

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