Fred Warner is a long shot to play against the Seahawks.
With him out of the lineup, that means the responsibility of being the MIKE linebacker with the green dot falls on Azeez Al-Shaair.
“Yeah, I think it will be Azeez," said Kyle Shanahan on who fills in for Warner. "Fred's a leader, but on game day it's not like the big pump-up speeches or anything, it's how he does his job on the field. And Fred's the leader out there because he's the quarterback of the defense. He gets the calls, he gets everyone lined up being the MIKE linebacker and this week that'll be Azeez, who I think is more than ready for it.”
Al-Shaair faces his greatest challenge of his career against the Seahawks.
The challenge is the expectations and demand that is being placed on his shoulders. He basically has the weight of the defense bearing down on him. Al-Shaair has been ascending this season and one of the brightest spots on the 49ers. But this is now another major leap to ask him to fill in for Warner. Shanahan is already expecting him to be ready for it, so he cannot fall short.
Filling in for Dre Greenlaw while he has been injured has been a superb success for Al-Shaair and the 49ers. You could even argue that he has been an improvement. However, filling in for Warner is a different realm. Al-Shaair is now going to need to step up as a leader and be mentally sharp on every play.
"Azeez, he's been playing at a high-level all year, whether he's inside or outside," said Shanahan. "I expect it to continue. We need it to continue because it’s one of the reasons why we're playing pretty good right now.”
While Shanahan is giving high praise to Al-Shaair, he is also giving immense pressure. Not only does Al-Shaair have to perform like he has been and almost flawlessly in a critical matchup, but he has to call a defense and ensure his side is lined up correctly. Easier said than done.
But at this point, I wouldn't be so keen on betting against Al-Shaair.