Wednesday afternoon media availability featured Vic Fangio and Justin Smith getting a chance to speak to the media. Both men had a chance to discuss a topic that has been discussed frequently here and around the Internet: a potential rotation along the 49ers defensive line.
The 49ers defensive front seven wore down a bit as last season dragged on, and I think this was more than just the injuries suffered by Aldon Smith and Justin Smith. Shortly after the Super Bowl, Mike Sando put together a quick post about snap count among defensive lineman. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald were third and fourth on the list of most defensive line snaps over the last two seasons. Even without specific injuries, players are going to wear down.
Fangio was asked about the reinforcements along the defensive line and whether the intent was to have more platooning:
"Well, that's a possibility. But, those guys have to earn the right to be allowed to be put in the game. You just don't platoon guys just for the sake of platooning them. You don't want to go down in the quality of your play just for the sake of playing guys. But, those guys, the guys you're alluding to haven't practiced yet, and I don't know when they'll be able to practice. So, whatever contributions they can make is really up in the air yet."
Justin Smith was asked about the defensive line, and if he expected a rotation this year:
Q: There are a lot of new faces on the defensive line. How have you seen that coming together?
Smith: Glenn's in there, Demarcus and Will have moved up the charts and rightfully so. They're looking really good. And then obviously the two new guys, Tank and Quinton Dahl. Dial? How do you say his name? Dial? Dial. So, they're there. They have the pantry full. Now it's a matter of going out and producing.
Q: Do you expect more of a rotation on the defensive line this season?
Smith: We'll see. There are definitely some guys worthy of some more reps. You look into that and maybe keep some other guys a little fresher. The whole goal is going out and winning and playing the best defense you can, not necessarily who's getting the reps.
We haven't seen an updated depth chart yet. We'll get something later in training camp, which might tell us more about where Demarcus Dobbs and Will Tukuafu are situated. The competition for defensive line depth spots is going to be an intriguing one in camp. With Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial likely missing the start of camp, it could be a big boost for guys like Dobbs, Tukuafu and others.
The 49ers defensive line would be fine with Smith and McDonald on each end for most if not all snaps. However, if this team wants to be geared up for a playoff run, they have to get contributions from the defensive line depth. I suppose they could win the Super Bowl with Justin Smith and Ray McDonald handling an overwhelming majority of the snaps, but it would be that much more difficult. The 49ers recognized this issue in the offseason and pursued a solution accordingly. Now we just need to see if these new players can produce.