Niners playing musical positions with Moore

Brandon Moore came to work Tuesday morning to find that his job description with the 49ers had changed for the third day in a row. The fifth-year veteran may be one of San Francisco's more versatile players, but what the Niners are doing with him is a vivid illustration of how unsettled the team really is on defense as the regular season quickly approaches.

Before suffering a minor knee injury that kept him out of practice last week, Moore had been San Francisco's starter at left outside linebacker since the beginning of training camp in July. And he'd looked decent in the role, giving the Niners an edge presence opposite highly-regarded rookie Manny Lawson.

But during the time Moore was on the shelf with his injury suffered Aug. 20 against the Oakland Raiders - which kept him out of Saturday's defensive debacle at Dallas, when the San Francisco defense allowed 489 yards - the Niners went through some drastic changes and experimentation on the defensive side of the ball.

"I think it's a situation where coaches saw some weaknesses in the defense and some places that we can be exploited," Moore said. "And rather than wait for things like that to happen, they nipped it in the bud."

And that meant playing Moore this week like a puppet with strings.

On Sunday, coach Mike Nolan said Moore would be moved back to inside linebacker - where he has played often during his first four seasons with the 49ers - when he returned to practice.

But on Monday, in his first practice since being injured, Moore was back at outside linebacker during team drills. And he wasn't practicing with the first unit.

On Tuesday, Moore was moved back inside again as the 49ers continue to experiment with a unit that finished last in the NFL in total defense last season. The current plan is for Moore also to play defensive end in some alignments on passing downs.

It's enough to make the guy's head spin.

"I'm not happy with being a second-string guy right now, but the defense has evolved into something else and it's a situation where it's what the team needed," Moore said. "I'll play wherever they need me. And that's what the defense needed in its progression of where things are right now."

When the 49ers signed Moore to a five-year, $8 million contract in March after his breakout 2005 season - when he was second on the team with 93 tackles and led all San Francisco linebackers with five sacks - it was clear they wanted to shape him as the team's top backup on the inside behind starters Jeff Ulbrich and Derek Smith while also taking advantage of his pass-rushing capabilities on the edge in situational roles.

But Moore clearly emerged during the spring as the best option opposite Lawson in the team's 3-4 scheme. So why all the changes with Moore now, with the 49ers struggling so much to find their defensive identity?

"It's about the team," Nolan said. "It's not about an individual performer. Brandon's a work-hard guy that's been injured, so he hasn't been out there all the time. Brandon's a good football player and he helps our football team. I think he's perfectly willing to be inside or out, wherever we need him. I think his desire is to be on the team and he's in favor of wherever we use him. He's got some good jobs. It's just a matter of when we use him."

Moore started one game at outside linebacker in 2005, one at defensive end and eight at inside linebacker. That versatility helped land him his multi-million dollar deal and secured his future in San Francisco, but it also works against his desire to master one spot.

"I'd like to have one job and be able to concentrate on and master that thing, but where we are as a team right now doesn't allow me to be that player just yet," Moore said. "They told me when I signed that I would kind of be a guy who was going to be versatile enough to play a couple of different places, and that's the way it's working out right now."

And Moore says all the moving around and uncertainty about where he'll play won't bother him. He'll be ready to perform wherever the Niners put him - whether it's on the right edge or left edge as a pass-rushing end, whether it's at either inside linebacker position, and even if the Niners decide to move him to outside linebacker again, which appears to be an option the team is moving away from.

"I think my understanding of the 3-4 (scheme) is conceptual," Moore said. "So it's just a matter of plugging yourself into a different spot and the way you see it."

Even if that spot changes by the day.


Niners Digest Top Stories