The 49ers 53-man roster included several players that made some level of contributions, but really stuck mostly to the background. Defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs was one such example. When Will Tukuafu went down for the season with an early wrist injury, it just about guaranteed Dobbs would remain active the rest of the season.
Dobbs got some playing time on the defensive line in blowouts, but actually spent most of his playing time on special teams kickoff coverage. Given that he is a big boy on the defensive line, it is nice to see some athleticism and the team figuring out ways to keep him playing.
The 49ers signed Dobbs as an undrafted free agent and saw him have a strong preseason, earning a spot along with Ian Williams on the active roster. Due to the lockout, Dobbs was unable to get in contact with the 49ers until late July (at least by NFL rules). Thus, he had no real offseason to work with the 49ers playbook and get accustomed to his role. That did not slow him down as he impressed most everybody with his play on the defense live.
I don't have a grade poll because it really is an incomplete at this point. It is hard to say what his long-term future holds, but this offseason will prove big for him. He gets a full season to further learn Vic Fangio's defense and his role in that defense.
A few days ago, Mel Kiper put together a breakdown of ten aging NFL stars teams will need to replace in the coming season. One player mentioned was 49ers defensive end Justin Smith. While he is showing no signs of slowing down, he turns 33 early next season.
It's no slight to Smith to be on this list, but he'll turn 33 around Week 3 of the 2012 season and he's such a crucial player to San Francisco that they need to have suitable depth at the position. It's really more of a compliment -- he's so good that you don't want the defense to experience a massive drop-off in his absence. Still, it's not a top need for the Niners; I'd put wide receiver, another piece in the secondary and another offensive lineman as greater needs.
The 49ers can rely on him for now, but at some point they will need to consider the future. Kiper rated him a 4 of out 5 on his urgency meter. A one is most urgent, a five is least urgent.
Given what you saw from Dobbs last preseason, and potentially in college at Georgia, do you think he has some long term viability as a defensive end? It's mostly just speculation at this point, but given the eventual need at the position, what do you think?