49ers look to gain key reinforcements on defense

After being exposed in Saturday night’s loss against the Houston Texans, the San Francisco 49ers linebacker core is expected to receive some significant reinforcements this week as the team prepares for their second preseason game agains the Dallas Cowboys.

On Wednesday afternoon, head coach Jim Tomsula stated that probable starting ILB Michael Wilhoite has made significant strides in returning from a leg injury that has sidelined him since the start of training camp.

Although Tomsula plans to be cautious in his decision regarding to activate Wilhoite off the non-football injury list, he stated that the linebacker’s most recent exam hinted a return to action sooner, rather than later.

“Yeah, Michael, we’ve got great news. Again, don’t want to mislead, but really good. He and (Nick) Bellore with yesterday’s stuff was really good. So, we’re going to let the doctors do their job and let us know when’s the smart way to do things. What we want to be doing is trending up with guys going into the season rather than trending down and I think you saw a few more guys on the field yesterday. So, as we keep going and getting closer, the goal here as we keep getting closer to the first game you’re seeing people coming onto the field versus coming off of the field.”

Wilhoite, who started all 16 games at ILB for the 49ers in 2014 while filling in for the injured NaVorro Bowman, will be a shot in the arm for a linebacker group whose coverage was exposed in the first preseason game on Saturday.

Equally as important is the return of outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who made his training camp debut on Tuesday after being sidelined with a back injury.

Lynch, who tied Ahmad Brooks for a team-high six sacks last season, will look to spark a pass rush that is in desperate need of help following the release of Aldon Smith two weeks ago.

Although the 49ers first team defense saw minimal action on Saturday, the lack of pass rush throughout the depth chart was evident as the 49ers failed to tally a single sack throughout the game.

During Wednesday’s practice, Lynch surpassed LB Corey Lemonier on the depth chart while taking over reps at left outside linebacker with the first-team defense.

Lynch will likely retain his role at left outside linebacker, a position he stated he’s more comfortable at, while Brooks will shuffle over to the right side of the line to replace the departed Smith.

But while Lynch’s return to the field is a positive sign for the 49ers, the second-year linebacker’s inability to participate in conditioning has left him behind the pack in terms of conditioning.

However, Tomsula stated that he’s not concerned with Lynch’s ability to regain his peak physical form after a bumpy start to the offseason.

“I’ve never made any point to Aaron’s weight. And the reason I haven’t is because Aaron had an injury. Aaron had to go through the whole process of rehabilitation and then getting back onto the field and doing those things. He’s still in that. The injury is fine, he’s great there. And, the extra time that we are taking right now is to get him back to lifting the weights and the running.”

Lynch, who had a similar issue with rounding his body into shape prior to his rookie season, stated Wednesday that he currently weighs around 270 pounds, a big improvement from the 280-pound body he entered the offseason with.

And while Lynch may be nearing a return to optimal conditioning, the linebacker stated that he still has ways to go to return to his playing weight of somewhere in the mid-260’s that allowed him to prosper during his rookie campaign.

“I’m real close. I still got a lot of work, but weight wise I’m real close, mentally I’m real close, so I’m right there.”

The 49ers also look to activate LB Nick Bellore off the active/illness list in the coming week as well. ILB Philip Wheeler, WR Bruce Ellington and DL Glenn Dorsey remain absent from practice with minor muscle injuries.


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