SAM: Fred Warner
MIKE: Brock Coyle
WILL: Malcolm Smith
Here’s where things start to get interesting. First, second-year linebacker Reuben Foster will be suspended the first two games of 2018, so he won’t be listed among the Week 1 starters.
On top of that, the 49ers moved fourth-year pro SAM linebacker Eli Harold to the Detroit Lions, via a trade, on Aug. 23 in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick.
Considering his excellent coverage skills, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Robert Saleh place the rookie, Fred Warner, into Harold’s strong-side spot this season. It’s the position often tasked with covering opponents’ tight ends and running backs flanking out to that side of the field. Where it could get tough, however, is in running situations. Warner has looked solid in this regard during the preseason, but the regular season will be a test.
The middle (MIKE) and weak-side (WILL) linebacker spots are interchangeable in Saleh’s scheme — the only difference being the MIKE calls out the plays in the huddle.
Brock Coyle handled starting duties at MIKE during the 49ers’ second preseason bout, and the team relied heavily on him doing this last season.
Meanwhile, Smith has been nursing a hamstring injury and likely won’t see too much of the field between now and Week 1. When he returns, though, expect him to be on the weak side.