Fred Warner

Breaking down 49ers' starting linebacker competition with Greenlaw out

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SANTA CLARA - The 49ers have one of the best linebacking tandems in the NFL, but with Dre Greenlaw recovering from Achilles surgery, Fred Warner will have a new partner at the start of the season. 

Greenlaw likely will start the 2024 season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after suffering the devastating injury in the 49ers' Super Bowl LVIII loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in February. New defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen believes that De’Vondre Campbell, who signed a one-year $5 million contract with the club will bridge the gap until Greenlaw is fully recovered.

“We’ve got De’Vondre Campbell, another really good sign for us,” Sorensen said on Friday. “The guy's been a really good player in the league for a long time. He’s been a Pro Bowler. We're excited about that.”

Campbell played his first four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons before a one-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals, but it wasn’t until the linebacker joined the Green Bay Packers that the Minnesota product received All-Pro honors.

During that 2021 season, Campbell recorded a career-high 146 tackles—102 solo, six for a loss, two interceptions and two quarterback sacks.

The 49ers also added depth in the draft, selecting Tatum Bethune in the seventh round (No. 251). The Florida State product could be a candidate to step into the fray after racking up 75 tackles —32 solo in his final two college seasons.

“Just to be a sponge,” Bethune said of his goals for the three-day rookie minicamp. “This is my first time in this experience. I’m just taking it all in and learning. I’m able to play anywhere, just to help the defense.” 

The 49ers also could look to their 2023 draft picks Robert Beal and Jalen Graham to step up after a smattering of snaps for each in their rookie seasons. Beal was active for 15 games, on the field for 60 defensive snaps and 226 on special teams. Graham participated in 58 special-teams plays,

“With the development of Jalen Graham and Dee [Winters], the way that those guys play, Jalen was a high school quarterback,” Sorensen said. “He was more of like a safety type that played more out of the box. Like Fred Warner did, you kind of move in. With him, it's just making that transition.

“And then Dee, Dee has come a long way too now. We love his play style, he plays fast, he's physical and I think both those guys, what we've seen, they just continue to grow and want to see them compete once we get to these next couple weeks and then into training camp.”

The 49ers' linebackers room also has several familiar faces in five-year veteran Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Curtis Robinson who spent the past two seasons with the club. Six-year veteran Ezekiel Turner also joins the group from the Arizona Cardinals to add depth on special teams but will also provide competition on defense.

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