The injury bug is an ugly thing.
After a relatively injury-free 2011 campaign, the San Francisco 49ers suffered a season-ending loss at a crucial position. Outside linebacker Parys Haralson became a 2012 casualty due to a left-arm ailment ostensibly sustained in the game against the Denver Broncos (via MercuryNews.com).
Haralson was the 49ers’ starting right outside ‘backer last season. He fulfilled the jack-of-all-trades role while Aldon Smith came in as the sack artist on passing downs.
Smith received all the glory (deservedly so) with his 14 sacks—an accomplishment made all the more impressive considering he effectively told opposing quarterbacks that his sole purpose was to ruin their day.
At the same time, that also reflects the significance of Mr. Haralson’s responsibilities.
Proficient operation in the run game as a linebacker isn’t as glamorous as a takedown of the QB. But it’s equally crucial to an effective 49ers’ defense.
Haralson was the man who did that exceptionally well. He sealed the edge, pursued the backs and didn’t miss tackles. His three forced fumbles served as further evidence of his all-around contributions to the game.
Furthermore, Haralson was the perfect complement to Smith. He performed all the functions outside of rushing the passer, and did them well. He also provided exceptional leadership to the young linebacker in ways that went beyond football schematics.
Most importantly, Haralson was going to teach Smith more about the intricacies of the position. He was going to help him transition from a pass-rusher to an accomplished, every-down linebacker.
But now that the underrated defenseman is on IR, Smith will have to develop without the benefit of Haralson backing him up. Smith is accomplished, capable and prolific, but losing a role model of Haralson’s stature is big loss nonetheless.
And the obvious follow-up question: If Smith replaces Haralson in the starting lineup, who’ll occupy the backup role?
The former Cardinal/Steeler is a veteran linebacker with 502 tackles and 46.5 sacks to his credit. He’ll presumably fill the void left by Haralson.
Things on paper have a tendency to not materialize in reality, though.
San Francisco prepared for life without Haralson by promoting Smith. That said, the former was an integral cog in the 49ers’ No. 1 run defense. Cam Johnson wasn’t a part of said defense, and would have to be extracted from the practice squad to fill any kind of a void.
This is certainly a cohesive unit, but removing such a fundamental element gives rise to legitimate concerns about the overarching functionality of the group.
Can Haggans provide in ways other than tackling? Can he offer a similar presence as Haralson—a type of leadership that extends beyond the football field? Can we pose a similar question to Johnson?
In any case, one thing’s for certain: Coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio run a tight yet loose ship—tight enough to keep things in check, yet loose enough to promote the next man up.
49ers’ fans hope the next man suffices in all the right ways.
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