More help is on the way for the 49ers.
This time it is in the form of linebacker Dre Greenlaw. The 49ers placed Greenlaw on the Injured Reserve list on Sept. 18 with a groin injury following the Week 1 win over the Lions. Azeez Al-Shaair has been the starter in his absence ever since.
And boy, Al-Shaair has not disappointed.
He has been an anchor at linebacker since the season started. Even when he would shuffle in with Greenlaw against the Lions, he was just all over the place. That is what you want out of your linebackers and he seems to be doing it all. It is something that Kyle Shanahan himself has noticed, which is why he isn't so keen on giving Greenlaw his starting role back.
“We'll see," Shanahan said. "Greenlaw has 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.”
Al-Shaair retaining the starting role is the right choice for the 49ers.
Greenlaw his rookie year was a solid ascending player. In 2020, he plateaued and never really asserted that same impact. Al-Shaair on the other hand so far in his starts has been impressive. He brings a force and physicality to the 49ers. The best part is he actually is fairly sound in pass coverage, which is the strength of Greenlaw.
Shanahan lauded Al-Shaair for his stout performance against the Rams on a conference call on Tuesday: "Azeez flew around all game, made some big hits. They had one run that was blocked up really well by their team and he was the only guy who could save him from the complete backside and he went and made the play and it was huge. What he did on the screen, stopping a big play and just really the energy and the physicality he played with, especially bouncing back from one of his not so good games on a year from the week before."
Just like with Talanoa Hufanga remaining as the starter over Jaquiski Tartt, the 49ers must do the same with Al-Shaair over Greenlaw. It is not like Tartt and Greenlaw won't see the field. They'll still be there to rotate in or be used in specific packages, so the fact that the 49ers have options on defense makes them more lethal, which is scary.
The defense has been solid all season and now they are only gaining more quality depth.