Wicked ways to use Winborn

What a pleasure it is for the 49ers to be able to play around with Jamie Winborn again. Right-side plugger linebacker? Well, yes, that's where the team thinks Winborn can do the most damage, and where they'd like him to call home. Nickel linebacker? Well, yes, he's their man there, too. Safety? Well, yes, that idea also was tossed around this spring.

"Jamie is running around like we remember him," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "The guy is a tremendous athlete that can run, so we put him in a position where he can make plays and do some different things."

Before his career-threatening neck injury last year, Winborn's speed and instincts provided a special dimension to San Francisco's aggressive and opportunistic defense, a defense that just wasn't quite the same once Winborn was forced onto the injured reserve list in November with a herniated disk.

But he's back now, and the Niners are drooling at the prospect of infusing his skills again into their defensive attack.

Like last year, the Niners plan to use Winborn in many ways, including as the lone linebacker on the field in some coverage packages on passing downs. But with All-Pro linebacker Julian Peterson gone from the team this spring due to contract issues, the Niners are refraining from testing Winborn at Peterson's left outside spot, even though his speed and skills might be a fine fit for that position.

"Jamie's playing on the other side, the weak-side plugger" Erickson said. "That's where Jamie plays. We're not going to move him around a lot. The thing about Jamie is sometimes we confuse him a little bit. He's not going to be in one spot all the time, but you try and keep it in our base defense in one spot."

Erickson confirmed Winborn will be heavily involved in some nickel coverage packages, and also said the team gave consideration during the offseason to moving Winborn to safety, though Erickson himself didn't take that idea seriously.

"I didn't," Erickson said. "We talked about it. He's such an impact player where he plays. We thought about it as an organization, because of the (neck) injury more than anything. Those linebackers get in there, but those safeties have to come up and tackle guys, too."

Tackling guys is one thing the Niners don't have to worry about Winborn being ready to do.

"It's what I've been doing all my life," Winborn said. "I don't feel like I lost a step or anything. I'm just out there having fun. Obviously, I have to shake off some rust. But I'll be fine. I'm a guy that goes out there and makes plays. I really don't know how they want to use me just yet now. But if they put me out there - wherever they put me - I'll give them 100 percent."

The Niners say they've already been getting that from Winborn.

"He's come back like he hasn't missed a beat," said Greg McMackin, San Francisco's associate head coach/linebackers coach. "We're going to utilize a lot of his abilities. He's running around and making plays, he's such a great athlete and he just has such an excitement for the game. And what he's done to get himself ready and just his attitude in going about it. ... It's just an inspiration to us all the way that he has wanted to get back out there and be with this football team."

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