Last February, Brooks signed a six-year, $44.5 million contract extension with $17.5 million guaranteed. He has more than delivered on the new deal this season, his second as a full-time starter. Brooks had 46 tackles, 6½ sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception he returned 50 yards for a touchdown in a Nov. 25 win at New Orleans — so he should be plenty comfortable in the Superdome.
In fact, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio recently reminded Harbaugh just how important Brooks is to this group of linebackers.
‘‘Vic Fangio made the comment the other day that smartest thing we did as an organization was pay Ahmad Brooks and keep him as a 49er,’’ Harbaugh said. ‘‘And we would all concur with that. He’s done it with very little fanfare, in terms of how he talks about himself. But, he’s been a tireless worker. Go back to the first days of the offseason program, don’t know if he ever missed a day.’’
Fangio believes this bunch can still play better — and he hopes that performance comes Sunday at the Superdome.
‘‘I think it'd be pretty hard if we compare it to the other 3-4 teams in the league to find a better unit,’’ he said.
Yet Fangio remains cautious in his praise. He has coached some mighty talented linebackers in his day, including the New Orleans group considered among the best ever — Sam Mills and Vaughn Johnson on the inside, Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling outside.
And Fangio is not ready to rank the current 49ers unit that hasn’t been together that long.
‘‘I've ducked answering that question yet. These guys have been together two years, and only one year as a full-time starting unit because Aldon didn’t start last year,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘But I do think, eventually, if they stay humble and hungry, I will have a positive answer to that question in due time. ... The sky’s the limit with our guys.’’
Outspoken safety Donte Whitner has no problem stating it:
‘‘I believe that our linebackers are the top linebackers in the National Football League,’’ he said, ‘‘and we have to go out there and prove it next Sunday.’’
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