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Positional Analysis Linebackers
January 27 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
The 49ers have made a strong push over the past few season to improve their linebacking core. The days of Norton, Tubbs and Woodall are long gone, and now the 49ers have what seems to be a tenacious group in Peterson, Smith, Ulbrich and Winborn. This bread of linebackers has brought fresh air into the defense, adding speed, power and the ability to contain the new breed of running backs like Marshal Faulk.

Julian Peterson has been with the 49ers at linebacker longer than any other player on the team. Peterson will be entering his third season in 2002 and will no doubt look to become more active. In Peterson’s first season he was all over the field constantly getting to the quarterback, but this past season either due to necessity or the additional talent up front Peterson saw less time at defensive end. Peterson wants to be a play maker for this team, and will no doubt work on his game this off-season to find a way to do that. Expect more from him next season, despite having a very good 2001 season.

Derek Smith is actually the veteran of the linebacking core. Smith was acquired last off-season by way of free agency from the Waashington Redskins. His addition to the team was great. Bringing speed, instincts and a vast knowledge of the position, Smith was constantly making plays against the run. Expect Smith to continue to improve in the coming off-season given a chance to really learn what the 49ers like to do on defense and how they do it.

Jeff Ulbrich and Jamie Winborn will be fighting it out for the third starting spot this off-season. Both possess great talent, and Ulbrich is a year Winborn’s senior. This past season the coaching staff constantly interchanged these guys, using different packages against different teams. Expect the same type of thing next season as both of these two are bound to improve after having their first NFL experiences with the team.

The 49ers will likely use the four linebackers mentioned above in different packages throughout next season. All four are capable starters so the 49ers have that advantage of resting players, or changing their defense to confuse opposition. The depth at this position is rather reasonable.

Terry Killens was the first man off the bench last season and he did a great job coming in for Peterson. Killens hasn’t show the killer instinct of a great player, but is certainly a more then capable bench player. He also excelled on special teams, where his hard hits put worry into kick returners. Expect Killens to return next season and offer the 49ers some great depth as he enters his seventh NFL season.

Quincy Stewart did not see much action other than special teams he will in all likelihood have competition for his roster spot from some youngsters the team is bound to bring in. On special teams Stewart did excel though - and with a years’ knowledge of the system he may be able to retain his roster spot.

Alex Lincoln was drafted in the seventh round of last season’s draft. The 49ers had high hopes for the youngster prior to an injury that placed him on the injured reserve. Lincoln is not the most talented NFL star, but he goes all out on every play, has a great work ethic and wants to succeed. Essentially he has the ‘49ers attitude’. Once Lincoln is fully healthy expect him to push for a roster spot, and provide very good depth for the team particularly at his home position, middle linebacker.

The 49ers have some very good starters and depth from this group of players. Still they will likely bring in a few youngsters to see if any of them can push the depth player. The addition on Lincoln this coming season should provide some much needed stability. Expect another good season from this group.

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