The 49ers health is trending in the right direction. When everyone is healthy, which player should start?
Every NFL team is dealing with an injury as we head into Week 11. In most cases, teams have lost critical players to a severe injury or, in some cases, to the COVID-19 list. Unfortunately, the 49ers aren’t any different, as they’ll be without right tackle Mike McGlinchey for the remainder of the season.
The good news for San Francisco is they opened the practice window for “starting” safety Jaquiski Tartt and linebacker Dre Greenlaw. I use quotations as both players entered the season as starters but have missed significant time since Week 1.
Greenlaw played 60 snaps against the Lions to open the season. In his absence, Azeez Al-Shaair has played as well as the coaching staff could have hoped. Kyle Shanahan answered whether Greenlaw would return to the starting lineup if he’s active Sunday against the Jaguars:
“We’ll see. Greenlaw’s played at an extremely high level too. I think Greenlaw has done a hell of a job in his career here for us. He’s just getting back into practice for the first time in a while, so I do think it would be hard to unseat Azeez right away. Just because of what Azeez has done, he’s played at a high level and I think that’ll take Greenlaw a while to have the chance to pass him up again.”
To me, the biggest difference between Al-Shaair and Greenlaw is their aggressiveness and physicality. Citing missed tackles and using that as an end-all-be-all stat as who is playing better overlooks the majority of traits necessary to succeed at the position. Azeez brings a level of physicality that the Niners do not have — and that’s not limited to linebacker.
Greenlaw hesitates against the run. Al-Shaair comes crashing downhill like a torpedo. He relishes contact. You cannot coach his mentality. By now, you’ve seen what happens to opponents when Al-Shaair gets a clear shot on them.
The argument for Greenlaw is obvious: His speed. Dre flies around. He is excellent in man coverage and covering ground sideline to sideline. You also have Greenlaw’s playmaking ability. Greenlaw had a pick-six the last time we saw him. You’ll recall the heroic tackle against Seattle in Week 17 during the 2019 season, as well as his interception earlier in the year against the Seahawks.
I’m curious to see what everyone else thinks. I’m taking Al-Shaair, given his aggressiveness. In my opinion, Al-Shaair’s presence rubs off on the rest of the defense. He has 15 tackles for loss this season. Greenlaw has 14 tackles for loss in his career.
I suppose the question is, do you side with Greenlaw’s playmaking ability or Al-Shaair’s hard-hitting and consistency? The way the league has trended, the majority of snaps go to two linebackers. So, who should start?