"We're going to definitely need one linebacker, maybe two," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said. "That's going to be an issue in the draft for us."
The Niners went with only six linebackers on the roster last season, and three of them were acquired in high rounds of the draft the previous two years. Julian Peterson was drafted in the first round and Jeff Ulbrich the third round in 2000, and both became entrenched as starters last year with free agent Derek Smith between them. Jamie Winborn, a second-round pick in 2001, saw extensive action as the top backup and occasionally played as much as the starters.
Rookie free agent Quincy Stewart also made the team last year after 2001 seventh-round pick Alex Lincoln experienced a back problem prior to training camp and missed the entire season. Lincoln will return to battle for a job this summer, but there could be as many as three roster berths up for grabs at this position after the loss of Terry Killens to free agency.
San Francisco will look to fill at least one of them with a draft pick. The Niners are high on their starters and look forward to a four-man rotation of Peterson, Smith, Ulbrich and Winborn at the position, but they'll be looking for a solid rookie to challenge for the No. 5 spot on this unit.
The Niners probably will wait until the fifth round and beyond - when they have six of their nine picks - to address this situation, and will hope a linebacker such as Florida's Andra Davis or Oregon State's James Allen - who worked out with the team at the beginning of April - falls to them there.