Dave Martin/Associated Press
Serious Competitors: Corey Lemonier, Dan Skuta, Aaron Lynch*
Ahmad Brooks will return as the starting left OLB in the 49ers 3-4 defense, but the same can't be said for Aldon Smith.
As Niner fans are aware, Smith now has a history of run-ins with the law. We could legitimately see the league bring the hammer down on the pass-rusher, meaning his 2014 season is very much in jeopardy.
If Smith misses time, the 49ers will have to find a viable replacement to start in his place.
Of the three mentioned above, Lemonier has the most talent and upside. In limited action last season, Lemonier helped to compensate for the absence of Smith's pass-rushing prowess. But it wasn't Lemonier who actually started in place of Smith last season.
That role went to Dan Skuta. Skuta doesn't have the same upside as Lemonier, but he's a good fit on first and second down. He provides a good enough pass rush while also exhibiting solid awareness in coverage. Not to mention, Skuta is very stout in defending the run.
Lynch should be in the discussion, but the rookie pass-rusher will likely be a special teams player to start his career. Like Lemonier, Lynch is an intriguing prospect with a ridiculous upside.
Nevertheless, expect defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to give Skuta the start. Lemonier will likely serve as a pass-rush specialist on third down.
Edge: Dan Skuta