After missing all of 2012 with a torn triceps injury, 49ers outside linebacker Parys Haralson back healthy and having a solid summer. With a look of reinvigoration, he's been one of the second unit's standouts in two preseason games registering a sack in each. He also blocked a punt in the team's first win in Kansas City.
"When you're injured, you can't do much about it, but you can't just sit and feel sorry for yourself and let yourself go," Haralson said.
"So you take that as an opportunity to get better in other places as far stretching, getting your weight under control, trying to get in better shape. Because now the only thing you can do is run, you can't do any football things. I think you try to turn bad into good."
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said as much, mentioning Haralson is playing at the same level he was prior to the injury. Having a full season off allowed him to shed some weight as he competes for a roster spot. When the pads come on the difference is noticeable.
"It's helped him move a little better on defense," Fangio said. "But I do think that's contributed to his better play so far."
Haralson took a pay cut to stay with the 49ers in the spring, nearly slashing his salary in half from $2.57 million to $1.3 with a chance to add $400,000 in incentives. He signed a four-year, $15 million extension in 2008 after having a career-high eight sacks. He was placed on the injured reserve last summer after tearing his triceps muscle in the third preseason game.
The 49ers had the option of bringing him back late in the season using a provision available for players on the IR, but didn't use it. Jim Harbaugh said earlier this summer he regretted that decision and Haralson was healthy enough to play.
Despite being ineligible to rejoin the team during its playoff run, Haralson was still at teams headquarters every day getting treatment and working with his teammates.
"It was one of those things that takes its toll on you because you've been doing it for a while. But once you can't control having an injury…you just try to stay into it as much as you can," Haralson said.
"I think I was able to stay around it so it kind of kept you in football so you can't venture off. It made coming back a little easier because I stuck around last year."
Looking to add depth at outside linebacker this spring, the 49ers drafted Corey Lemonier of Auburn in the third round. Last year, the team entered the season thin with just four players after Haralson's injury. That left Clark Haggans and Eric Bakhtiari to back up stalwarts Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith once camp broke.
Fortunately for San Francisco, they didn't have to use their backups as Smith and Brooks started all 19 games. Bakhtiari and Haggans combined to play just 64 snaps. But Smith tore his labrum around Week 12 of the season (he was listed on the injury report from Weeks 12 through 17) and didn't register a sack in the final six contests of the season, including the playoffs and Super Bowl.
With Haralson back and looking like his old self that started for five-straight seasons, he could provide some much-needed relief in rotation for either Brooks or Smith – but he has to make the roster. He has been a valuable member of the locker room, which hasn't gone unnoticed by the rookie Lemonier.
"He's been teaching me a lot, how everything works…He's been really great about that," Lemonier said.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh intimated earlier in training camp the team will continue to place an emphasis on special teams, noting some players on the 53-man roster will have minimal value on offense or defense. Dan Skuta was signed in March to help provide help on special teams coverage and has been moved from inside to outside linebacker. He had two sacks in the preseason-opening loss to Denver.
Skuta's addition makes things more interesting for Haralson, who hasn't spent much time on special teams because he was formerly a starter, although he did block a punt against the Chiefs.
"No one was there to block me so I had to block it," Haralson said, deflecting praise after going unblocked en route to the Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt.
"I go into special teams meetings and you listen. It's just one of those things where you take it and just put it on the field. You kind of know what to do from the meetings and you just understand it."
Haralson said he didn't know if his roster spot was dependent on his ability to contribute on special teams. Considering the level of production the 49ers have gotten from their core front-seven players over their last two seasons, there may not be many snaps on defense available.
But having a veteran that could set the edge on either side of the formation could prove valuable in case of injury to Brooks or Smith. There's also a possibility Brooks is suspended for his incident with teammate Lamar Divens in early-June.
As long as Haralson continues to play well in the preseason, the 49ers could enter the season with five outside linebackers, which might impact their numbers on the defensive line. But no matter how the roster shakes out, Haralson is eager to get back on the field after going nearly 12 months between NFL games.