SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The 49ers haven't made a significant investment to their group of inside linebackers after taking heavy losses this offseason.
Gone are Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, who elected to retire from the game, depleting what used to be one of the team's deepest positions. Instead of signing a marquee free agent or using an early draft pick, San Francisco has mostly stood pat, signaling faith in the players remaining on the roster.
With three-time All-Pro NaVorro Bowman set to return after missing all of 2014 to rehab a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, likely joining Michael Wilhoite in the starting lineup of the team's 3-4 defense, the 49ers believe their starters are in place.
When asked about the potential of adding former Bears veteran Lance Briggs Friday, head coach Jim Tomsula scoffed at the idea. He feels optimistic about his position group, which is standard for this time of the year, but identified third-year vet Nick Moody as a player that's stood out during the team's offseason program.
"Right now, where we’re at, things are really good out there," Tomsula said. "But a guy that’s really moving around and feeling the defense the right way is Nick Moody. I’m pulling for Nick. He’s working really hard. He’s one of those guys you notice."
Moody got his first significant playing time late last season, filling in for Borland, who sustained an ankle injury in Week 15 against Seattle. He started the final two games of the season against the Chargers and Cardinals.
Moody, a former safety at Florida State, notched 14 tackles and two quarterback hurries in those three games games. The sixth-round pick in 2013 has been limited mostly to special teams duties so far in his pro career, but is gifted with good athleticism for his position, stemming from his days as a defensive back in Tallahassee.
The reports from the team on Bowman have also been optimistic. The media has not been privy to his on-field work as of yet. But in passing, it's clear San Francisco's defensive anchor has been working hard to come back from his injury that cost him all of 2014.
Wilhoite started all 16 games for the 49ers fifth-ranked defense last year, and remains an exclusive-rights free agent. Wilhoite has yet to sign a contract extension, although earlier this spring general manager Trent Baalke indicated coming to an agreement on a new deal was a priority.
San Francisco figures to have a competitive battle for roster spots at inside linebacker this summer despite not adding to the position in the draft. They brought in free agent Philip Wheeler, former Jets special teams ace Nick Bellore, and re-signed Desmond Bishop, who was brought in late last season in lieu of Borland's ankle injury. Stanford alum Shayne Skov will also compete for a roster spot after spending most of last year on the practice squad.