The Niners hope Corey Lemonier (No. 55) can get sacks in the NFL the way he did for Auburn. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Corey Lemonier is a big man at 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, but he wasn’t a typical defensive end in college.
Lemonier is a mobile, fast athlete, with just 11 percent body fat who seems perfectly suited to move from hand-in-the-dirt defensive lineman to stand-up outside linebacker in the 49ers’ 3-4 defense.
His 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine was 4.60 seconds, the third-best time for a defensive lineman, and he was at times a terrific pass rusher at Auburn. His sophomore season he had 9½ sacks, 13½ tackles for loss and was named all-Southeastern Conference – a rare honor for a second-year collegian.
Plus, Lemonier has something the 49ers prize: long arms. His 34½-inch arm length isn’t quite the length of Aldon Smith’s 35 3/8 measurement, but it’s better than average – a great trait for a linebacker who needs to ward off blockers against the run and get around them when rushing the passer.
So when the 49ers got into the third round of the draft in April, they traded up with the Packers (giving away a third-round and seventh-round choice) to take Lemonier, who had 5½ sacks his senior year.
Now comes the hard part. Lemonier in rookie minicamp, organized team activities (OTAs) and full-squad minicamp is working to make the transition to outside linebacker, the way Smith did after being drafted in 2011 by the 49ers from Missouri, where he also was a defensive end.
“It’s been challenging, but it’s something I’ve been doing and I keep getting better and better every day,” Lemonier told Scott Kegley of 49ers.com. “I just come out here and keep working.”
As an outside linebacker, the 49ers figure Lemonier can be a help on the pass rush – an area of weakness late last season when the team made its run to the Super Bowl. With the addition of Lemonier, defensive lineman Tank Carradine and the return of injured outside linebacker Parys Haralson, the Niners should have more depth and players capable of rushing the passer in 2013 aside from the starters.
All-Pro inside linebacker Patrick Willis says Lemonier is having a lot thrown at him.
“Corey’s getting it,” Willis told reporters during minicamp. “It’s not coming fast to him, but he’s working every day. Coach Vic (Fangio) is working with him and coach Pete (Hanson). I know they’re gong to have him ready so if he does have to step in there, he’ll be ready to go.”
Lemonier’s toughest adjustment has been dropping into pass coverage, something he didn’t do at Auburn.
“I’ve played with my hand down in the dirt all the time, just going straight or lateral,” he told Kegley. “Now, you drop back and read the defense. I’m picking it up fast. It’s different because I’m dropping back, but when it’s third down and I have to pass rush, that’s something I’ve been doing.”