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Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga & Ricky Jean-Francois: How Do You Utilize Them?

One of the many storylines facing the 49ers heading into the eventual return of free agency is what will happen with Aubrayo Franklin. We've discussed it quite a bit but I think the personnel decisions along the defensive line could prove as important to the defense as just about any other decision. Although 3-4 defensive linemen don't always put up monster stats (Justin Smith somewhat excluded from this discussion), the line plays a key role in opening holes for linebackers to make plays. It's essential the 49ers do not screw up their defensive line decisions in the next few weeks.

The two big decisions on the line are in the form of expected unrestricted free agents Aubrayo Franklin and Ray McDonald. Recently Ray McDonald made it very clear that he was looking to use free agency to find a situation where he could land a starting role. A day later, Matt Maiocco posted about how there's a good chance he could land a starting role with the 49ers.

McDonald finished 2010 second to Justin Smith in quarterback pressures. While he did not grab any sacks, in pass rush situations he was able to get in the quarterback's face with some consistency. While the pass rushing skills are huge, does that extend out to a starting role?

It will be interesting to see what exactly would convince McDonald to return to the 49ers. If Franklin walks, the 49ers would be left with Isaac Sopoaga, Ricky Jean-Francois, and Ray McDonald, with the possibility of a returning Demetric Evans. If Harbaugh, Fangio and Tomsula could convince McDonald to return to compete for a starting role, does RJF become a sort of utility defensive lineman? A guy who could fill in at both nose tackle and defensive end?

Conceivably they could go with Smith-Sopoaga-McDonald on first and second down. Then, when they switch into any sort of four down linemen defense, they could add in RJF inside with Sopoaga. Of course, they could also add in Aldon Smith, giving them a variety of options.

How would you utilize Ice/RJF/McDonald if Aubrayo Franklin left?