SANTA CLARA, Calif. » The San Francisco 49ers have been bringing along newcomer Travis LaBoy slowly this summer, but the sixth-year veteran is now accelerating the process.
After missing more than two weeks of training camp with a concussion earlier this month, LaBoy has returned to the field and made his mark at outside linebacker during San Francisco's past two preseason games.
LaBoy recorded sacks in both games and leads the team in that statistic entering Thursday's exhibition finale against San Diego. And recording sacks is pretty much the reason the 49ers signed LaBoy to a one-year deal in April after he missed the entire 2009 season with a foot injury.
"As long as I get to the quarterback, I guess everybody's happy, right?" LaBoy said yesterday as the 49ers returned to practice after an off day Sunday.
LaBoy collected a sack and three hits on Minnesota quarterbacks in his 49ers debut Aug. 22 during a 15-10 victory over the Vikings. But his second-quarter sack that knocked Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell out of the game during Saturday's 28-24 victory over the Raiders was his most impressive play yet in a San Francisco uniform.
The 250-pound LaBoy used his power to engage and push back Oakland left tackle Mario Henderson, then used his speed to beat Henderson around the edge and blast Campbell from the blind side. Campbell was down on the turf for more than 5 minutes with a shoulder stinger before leaving the field on a cart.
The 49ers are looking for that kind of effort this year from the edge rushers in their 3-4 system. With 23.5 career sacks, LaBoy is showing the skills to fit nicely into that scheme as a situational pass rusher.
"That's what they expect from me," LaBoy said. "It's still baby steps for me at this point. I'm just trying to improve from one day to the next and hopefully carry that over into the season."
LaBoy got a late start on his summer progress after suffering a concussion just days into training camp. He didn't return to full practice until Aug. 19, but has made up for lost time since getting back on the field.
LaBoy has an immediate opportunity for a prominent role in San Francisco's rotation on the edge because of an injury to Ahmad Brooks, who suffered a lacerated kidney Aug. 6 and has not practiced since. Brooks' condition is still being evaluated and he is unlikely to be ready for San Francisco's regular-season opener Sept. 12 at Seattle.
The 49ers were expecting Brooks to play a major role in their pass rush this year as a complement to starting outside linebackers Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson. Brooks had five sacks in San Francisco's final five games last year during a surge in which the 49ers led the NFL with 27 sacks over the final eight games of the season.
With Brooks out and his return uncertain, LaBoy and youngster Diyral Briggs are the top candidates for the role. Briggs, an undrafted free agent who played in four games for the 49ers last year as a rookie, had a sack against Minnesota and also has looked good this summer.
But LaBoy has looked better. Despite his steady progress, the 49ers appear inclined to gradually work LaBoy into their system.
"With Travis LaBoy, he's a work in progress," 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. "He was all banged up and beat up when he got here, and we're just trying to nurse him back and get him back to having fun being on the field. As he gets back to being himself, we'll try to create some places for him to be a part. The value that he does bring when he's on the field makes a big difference."