Position profile: Inside linebackers

When the staff here at Instant 49ers ranked the 49ers’ offseason priorities, inside linebacker rolled in at No. 11. That is to say that it’s a need, all right. But it ranks behind offensive tackle and return specialist, and ahead of Candlestick Park public-address announcer on the list of organizational priorities.


So, then, why would the same staff cobble together a mock draft that has the 49ers taking an inside linebacker with the No. 13 overall pick? Good question. (And thanks for asking.)


It seems to me that 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan places a lot of value on inside linebackers because that is where the vast majority of tackles are made.


The 49ers really liked inside linebacker Jerod Mayo in the 2008 draft. I’ve heard rumblings that the 49ers were even considering moving up several spots to select Rey Maualuga if he remained undrafted much longer in the second round last year.


Of course, there’s a strong chance Rolando McClain of Alabama will already be chosen by the time the 49ers select. But my guess is that he’s perfect for the 49ers. From what I’ve gathered, he is smart, studies the game and is tough and passionate. Plus, he’s 4 inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Patrick Willis.


The “Ted” linebacker position is a lot less dirty work than it has been portrayed. Both the “Ted” and the “Mike” are required to make a lot of tackle. Takeo Spikes missed one full game and he was limited in several others with a hamstring strain. He still ranked fourth on the team with 95 tackles (according to the coaches’ film review).


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Patrick Willis: He’s been in the NFL for three seasons. He’s made three Pro Bowls. Aren’t you glad the 49ers did not draft for “need” and end up with defensive tackle Adam Carriker back in 2007? I thought so. Signed through 2011.


TakeoSpikes.jpgTakeo Spikes
: He has done a fine job on and off the field since he signed with the 49ers during training camp of 2008. The 49ers planned well for Willis’ future when they brought in Spikes, an extravert who exudes leadership skills. Spikes enters his 13th NFL season. He is 33 years old, and it’s more and more difficult for his body to bounce back from the pounding it takes on game days. But as long as he’s healthy and he’s not asked to take on large responsibilities in coverage, he is just fine. Signed through 2010.


Scott McKillop: The 49ers were thrilled to select McKillop in the fifth round of last year’s draft. McKillop made his contribution as a rookie on special teams with 31 tackles (19 solo).
McKillop.jpgHe might very well take over the role Jeff Ulbrich held for so long. It is possible McKillop could work into a starting role, but nothing will be handed to him. The 49ers don’t feel the need to force the issue, either. As a fifth-round pick, there’s no shame in settling into a role as a special-teams standout and backup linebacker. Signed through 2012.


Matt Wilhelm: The veteran arrived in town after Ulbrich was placed on injured reserve. Because of his familiarity with 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, he was able to pick up the defense quickly. Wilhelm even started a game ahead of McKillop when Spikes was sidelined. He enters his eighth NFL season, and it seems as if he’d be a nice insurance policy to bring to training camp. Scheduled to be unrestricted free agent.


Jeff Ulbrich: He announced his retirement while on injured reserve during the season after a serious concussion. Ulbrich recently landed position on Pete Carroll’s staff with the Seattle Seahawks as assistant special teams coach.


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After thinking and re-thinking my pre-Combine mock draft, I’m second-guessing myself pretty severely. If I had it to do over again, I would’ve had the 49ers winning the coin toss and picking 16th instead of 17th. That change may or may not be reflected when I provide my post-Combine mock draft on Friday, March 5.


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Congratulations to 49ers long-snapper Brian Jennings who will be enrolled next week in Harvard Business School as part of the NFL’s Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. Seventy-seven current and former NFL players are taking part in the program. The only other person with 49ers ties who will be taking part is Hannibal Navies, who was with the organization in 2006 and ’07. Both Jennings and Navies will attend four days of classes, Feb. 15-19, at Harvard.


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