49ers Mailbag: Which linebackers can step up, replace Kwon Alexander?


49ers Mailbag: Which linebackers can step up, replace Kwon Alexander?

The 49ers are on their mini-bye weekend, following a 28-25 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night.

San Francisco (8-0) returns to action in Week 10 against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night at Levi’s Stadium in a key NFC West matchup.

The victory in Glendale, Arizona, came at a cost, though. Spark-plug defender Kwon Alexander was lost for the season due to a torn pectoral.

Questions about the team’s linebacker position lead off this edition of 49ers Mailbag.

The 49ers will add a linebacker to their 53-man to fill the spot vacated when Alexander goes on injured reserve. That player appeared in 30 games the past two seasons and started five games at the end of the 2018 season.

He is 23-year-old Elijah Lee, who registered 10 or more tackles in four of his five starts last season. Lee spent the first eight games on the 49ers’ practice squad, and I’m mildly surprised another team did not sign him in the first half of the season.

Lee knows the defensive system. He will take a spot on the depth chart behind Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair and Mark Nzeocha while also serving a role as one of the team’s core special-teams contributor.

Rehabilitation from surgery to repair a torn pectoral typically is a six-month process. The goal for Alexander will be to get him ready for the start of training camp in 2020.

That said, no decision has to be made when a player goes on injured reserve until further down the road. Teams are allowed to bring back only two players per season off IR. Those players must remain on IR for a minimum of eight weeks.

Dre Greenlaw is the choice to replace Alexander in the starting lineup at weakside linebacker. The 49ers’ linebacker positions are more interchangeable than they’ve been in the past, and Greenlaw was the starter at strongside linebacker in the team’s base defense. That position is the first to exit the field when the 49ers go to their nickel defense.

Greenlaw is more similar to Alexander with his ability to run and hit. Alexander will be difficult to replace due to his play-making ability, knowledge of the game, professionalism and attitude. Greenlaw has the physical skills, so his biggest challenges will be from the shoulders up.

The bigger choice will be which player -- Mark Nzeocha or Azeez Al-Shaair -- will take over on the strong side on base downs. The 49ers have a high opinion of Al-Shaair and envision him as a potential starter in the coming seasons.


I do not want this to sound smart-alecky or insensitive, but with Josh Gordon's history, it is probably not wise to make any definitive statement about his future availability or projected contributions.

But, yes, the Seattle Seahawks’ plan is to assimilate him into the offense and get him ready to play against the 49ers on Monday, Nov. 11.

The Seahawks were the only team to claim Gordon off waivers on Friday after the New England Patriots parted ways with him after just six games, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported.

My opinion is the 49ers were not interested because Kyle Shanahan knows as well as anyone that he is not someone to be relied upon. They decided they did not want to release Marquise Goodwin to bring him aboard.

The 49ers have five receivers active on game days. Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel and Richie James (due to his contributions in the return game) are no-brainers. Kendrick Bourne has turned into a reliable target, so he’s pretty much a lock, too.

That leaves the decision for that fifth spot coming down to Dante Pettis or Marquise Goodwin. The 49ers believe Dante Pettis is improving and has a lot to offer due to his versatility. At this stage, unless there’s an injury, I don’t see how Goodwin gets back on the field with the 49ers.

The most likely players to be available to return to action for Week 10 against Seattle are left tackle Joe Staley and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

Staley went through limited practice work in the past two weeks, and here’s some video from Thursday night of Juszczyk going through a workout ...

The 49ers also have a chance of getting Mike McGlinchey and Ahkello Witherspoon back in the lineup. There is probably less of a rush to get McGlinchey and Witherspoon back, though, because Daniel Brunskill and Emmanuel Moseley are playing so well.


Staley has been going through some intense workouts for a while. The fibula (the non-weight-bearing bone in his lower leg) is completely healed. But it will take some time to get all of his strength back and get up to playing speed.

I would not expect any long-term issues, though. In fact, I’d expect him -- as well as all of the guys returning off injuries -- to get better and better through November and into December and January.

That is a good question. How good? It’s a question I recently posed to defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

Here was Saleh’s response:

"We haven't crossed that one. yet. Ahkello had been playing so, so well. You know, it's a messed-up question, but you never have a philosophy that an injury will put you on the bench. Ahkello, he's been working to get healthy, and when he's ready to go, he's going to be ready to go."

[RELATED: Stephen A needs to put some respect on Jimmy G's name]

Three words.

Best. Player. Available.

As I see this roster right now, there is no position need for the future that is so urgent that the 49ers have to reach for a lesser player just because he plays the position where immediate help is needed.

And, because of the health of the roster, the 49ers might be inclined to trade out of the first round for multiple draft picks. As it stands right now, San Francisco only has six picks in the 2020 draft. 

Tom Brady could replace Jimmy G if 49ers lose Super Bowl, Skip Bayless says

Tom Brady could replace Jimmy G if 49ers lose Super Bowl, Skip Bayless says

All season long, 49ers players have been trying to get the media to give Jimmy Garoppolo credit for their success.

Despite Garoppolo's record as a starting quarterback and regular-season stats, most in the national media see him as the 49ers' weak link heading into their Super Bowl LIV matchup against the Chiefs.

Then there's Skip Bayless, who took the Jimmy G bashing five levels too far.

"If Tom Brady were the quarterback of the 49ers going into this Super Bowl, they would be a five-point favorite instead of a one and a half point underdog," Bayless said on FS1's Undisputed on Monday. "You know it and I know it because what is the X-factor we are about to talk about for the next two weeks? What is the potential Achilles heel for the 49ers? Who is the guy that Kyle Shanahan will do his darndest to keep the ball out of his hands? It's Jimmy Garoppolo."

Yes, the 49ers are 1.5-point underdogs. But that's because of the Chiefs' high-powered offense. Garoppolo is 19-5 as a starter with San Francisco. He's thrown 44 touchdown passes in his career and has been intercepted just 21 times.

Garoppolo is not a top-tier quarterback, but he's not the 49ers' Achilles heel.

But wait, there's more.

"If Tom Brady were the quarterback, he would be so much more poised because Jimmy can go deer-in-headlights, he's much more accurate than Jimmy G is," Bayless continued. "He's just more trustworthy under fire especially in Super Bowls, which Tom Brady has mostly owned. He's 6-3 in Super Bowls and to me, he's not getting any older. You think he's done, he's over the hill, he's washed up."

Of course Brady is more trustworthy, Skip. He's in the conversation for best quarterback of all-time. Garoppolo has two career playoff starts.

Bayless saved his best hot take for last. Get ready for this one, 49ers fans.

"Here's my final takeaway," Bayless said. "If by chance, I'll knock on wood for the 49ers, if Jimmy G becomes the reason by far that they lose this Super Bowl, if he throws three picks and completely unravels and just looks awful in the face of Patrick Mahomes, I would not be shocked if John Lynch, the 49ers GM, if he doesn't in the offseason make a play for Tom Brady because it has been written several times that they could get out from under Jimmy G without any huge salary cap hit."

That's right. Skip Bayless just suggested that the 49ers would replace the 28-year-old Garoppolo with the 42-year-old Brady.

Bayless is off his rocker, but we already knew that.

[RELATED: Five 49ers-Chiefs matchups to watch]

There's no way the 49ers are moving on from Garoppolo this offseason, no matter what he does in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2. He is the face of the franchise and under contract for three more seasons.

Garoppolo was supposed to replace Brady in New England. That didn't work out. Now, there's no chance Brady replaces Garoppolo in San Francisco.

Bay Area hoping San Francisco-Kansas City championship ends well again

Bay Area hoping San Francisco-Kansas City championship ends well again

Madison Bumgarner isn't walking through that door, but the San Francisco 49ers hope to replicate the success the Giants had in their championship matchup against a team from Kansas City.

Six years after the Giants outlasted the Royals in an epic seven-game World Series, the 49ers and Chiefs will clash in Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Sunday, Feb. 2.

While 49ers fans are hoping for the same result, we're sure they are hoping the ending isn't as dramatic.

On Oct. 29, 2014, Bumgarner authored one of the most memorable playoff performances when he pitched five innings out of the bullpen in Game 7 just three days after tossing a four-hit shutout in Game 5.

Bumgarner preserved the one-run lead and World Series crown despite allowing the tying run to reach third base on a single and two-base error.

A little less drama would be perfectly fine for 49ers fans. But that outcome will be tough for Jimmy Garoppolo and Co. considering the firepower the Chiefs possess.

Patrick Mahomes won the MVP last season, Travis Kelce is a two-time All-Pro tight end and Tyreek Hill is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the NFL.

But if there is one defense that can slow down Mahomes and the Chiefs, it's the 49ers. Anchored by a tenacious front seven, the 49ers have one of the stingiest defenses in the league.

[RELATED: Montana's two teams facing each other]

Among the playoff teams that have played at least two games, the 49ers have allowed the fewest total yards (505) and points (30).

SF vs. KC: Part 2 is setting up to be a classic, one San Francisco is hoping goes their way again.