Here at Niners Nation, we're presenting a series called "90-in-90". We'll be looking at every player on the 49ers offseason roster, one player per post, from now until the start of training camp.
The San Francisco 49ers defensive front slowed down a bit as the 2012 season wore on, and the 49ers attempted to address that issue in the 2013 NFL Draft. They added Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial, but there will be plenty of competition from returning players. With Carradine and Dial both dealing with injuries heading toward training camp, there absence will give the returning a veterans a minor leg up early on.
One such veteran is Will Tukuafu. In three season with the 49ers, Tukuafu has slowly worked his way up the ladder. He signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2010, and spent most of his first year on the practice squad. He made his NFL debut in 2011, and seemed set to get some work as a defensive lineman, and also as a fullback. However, his season was cut short as he went on injured reserve after suffering a wrist injury in the 49ers Week 4 win over the Eagles.
Tukuafu returned in 2012, and spent the entire season on the 53-man roster. He was active 14 of the 16 regular season games, missing games with a wrist and a neck injury. The 49ers listed Tukuafu as a nose tackle on the depth chart, but in reality he brings some versatility as a defensive end/defensive tackle type of hybrid. Add in his fullback work, and he joins a growing list of 49ers that can be viewed as a jack of many trades.
What to expect in 2013
If Tukuafu makes the 49ers 53-man roster in 2013, it will be for a couple reasons. The first is that he can play two-way football, or really three-way if you factor in potential special teams work. The second is that he will show improvement in his defensive line work. While Tukuafu was solid at Oregon, he has not been able to quite work his way into consistent defensive line playing time. The 49ers need to find players who can spell Justin Smith and Ray McDonald and not be a sizable drop in performance. Tukuafu has not gotten a ton of playing time on defense, leading us to wonder if he has what it takes to be a consistent part of the rotation.
If Tukuafu is a 49er in 2013, I think we would still see similarities in playing time compared to this year. He would get his blocking work on offense, he would get special teams work, and he would get some spot duty on the defensive line. The 49ers invested heavily in the defensive line this offseason, and that would seem to potentially leave Tukuafu down the depth chart.
Odds of making the roster
It is entirely possible that Will Tukuafu and Demarcus Dobbs will be competing for one roster spot. After Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, the defensive end/defensive tackle options include Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams, Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial, Tukuafu and Dobbs. Tony Jerod-Eddie, Lawrence Okoye, Mike Purcell and Lamar Divens are options as well, but for now I'm looking at the previous group. Jerod-Eddie could work his way into that first group, but for now I see a distinct divide between him and the rest. As for Okoye? Well, I have nothing with which to assess him at this point, so he's sort of on his own.
Carradine will be sticking around, and given that the 49ers invested a fifth round pick in Dial, I have to think his roster odds are good as well. That really would seem to leave Tukuafu and Dobbs battling it out for a roster spot. Would the 49ers consider keeping both given their versatility on special teams and blocking on offense?
What do you think? Where exactly does Will Tukuafu fit in the roster at this point?