MIKE: NaVorro Bowman
WILL: Malcolm Smith
SAM: Ray-Ray Armstrong
The 49ers’ new 4-3 base formation under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh changes things up a bit.
Perennial All-Pro NaVorro Bowman still holds down the middle linebacker (MIKE) position, and that shouldn’t be of any concern as long as he returns healthy from his Achilles injury. But the strong- and weak-side linebackers could be up in the air.
San Francisco signed former Oakland Raiders linebacker Malcolm Smith to a five-year deal (including three one-year options). Smith might be a tackling machine, but his coverage skills are surely lacking. Pro Football Focus gave the 27 year old a 43.8 coverage grade last season.
With this in mind, Smith probably should wind up on the weak-side, or WILL, linebacker position where covering tight ends is less of a priority.
The strong-side (SAM) linebacker winds up going to Ray-Ray Armstrong, whose previous experience as a safety should hold up well enough in coverage.
And no, we’re still not expecting veteran linebacker Ahmad Brooks back in a Niners uniform in 2017.