The 49ers have a plan in place to fill the void that Aldon Smith’s absence presents. They used a tag-team of linebackers Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier. They can revert to that pairing during Smith’s expected suspension. But there isn’t a plan in place for the absence of All-pro linebacker Novorro Bowman, who may be out until week 9 recovering from his ACL and MCL tear.
The front-runner, Michael Wilhoite took snaps with the first-team defense this offseason according to the San Francisco Gate. He’s the only candidate on the team with starting experience. Wilhoite had a successful two-game stint where he replaced another Pro Bowler in Patrick Willis. Wilhoite accounted for 20 tackles in the games against the Rams and Texans — not exactly the most intimidating offenses last season.
The 49ers other options are a handful of talented rookies. Their third-round selection, Chris Borland could contribute in relief of Bowman. What the 5-foot-11, 250 pound linebacker lacks in size, he makes up for in intuition and, in turn, production — which people forget is the most important part of football.
“I understand why there are some doubting Thomases with him,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said in June, via the San Francisco Gate. “I totally understand that. And they may end up being right. But this guy’s got such good instincts. For the safety and inside linebacker position, instincts need to be at the top of the list when you’re evaluating them and he’s very strong there.”
The other sleeper is Shayne Skov, who surprisingly went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. The former standout at Stanford could thrive in Harbaugh’s system at the pro level.