Editor's note: This is the third part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Rams matchups to watch Thursday, 5:25 p.m., at Edward Jones Dome.
49ers OLB Corey Lemonier vs. Rams LT Jake Long
Tale of the tape
Lemonier (96): 6 foot 3, 255 pounds, rookie, Auburn
Long (77): 6 foot 7, 322 pounds, sixth season, Michigan
The 49ers’ depth at outside linebacker will be tested Thursday night.
Two unknowns will match up against the top overall pick in the 2008 draft and a player who was selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls before his season was cut short a year ago due to injury.
The St. Louis Rams made a big splash in free agency with the signing of Jake Long, who spent his first five NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
Part of the attraction of acquiring Long was to help protect franchise quarterback Sam Bradford against the steady pressure of Aldon Smith, who recorded three sacks in two meetings against the Rams last season.
But Smith is out indefinitely as he takes a voluntary leave of absences to enter in-patient care for treatment of substance abuse. The 49ers placed Smith on the reserve/non-football illness list on Monday. He is not available to play Thursday against Long and the Rams.
The 49ers list veteran Dan Skuta as the starter. While he might be on the field for base downs, it’s rookie Corey Lemonier, who figures to see most of the action when the Rams are in passing situations.
Smith played all 72 snaps on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts before leaving the team a day later. On the one instance the 49ers were prepared to give Smith a breather, Lemonier entered the 49ers’ huddle. However, after an injury timeout, Smith was back on the field.
Lemonier, a third-round draft pick, is a natural pass-rusher who is converting from defensive end to outside linebacker. He ranks seventh in Auburn history with 17 career sacks and was a two-time All-SEC selection.
“The 49ers have done a great job with their personnel,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “They’ve done a really good job with their depth and they’ll have someone ready to line up and play.”
Lemonier played just seven snaps of defense – all run plays -- at the end of a blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He did not play defense against Green Bay or Indianapolis. His first assignment is about as difficult as it gets.
“He’s steady, he’s consistent, he’s physical, he’s smart and he’s been a great addition to our offense,” Fisher said of Long. “And Sam has a comfortable level knowing Jake’s got his backside protected.”