Last year, Cornelius "Tank" Carradine was in the middle of an incredible season. Many projected him as a first-round draft pick, with some projecting him as early as No. 10 overall. Unfortunately, in the final quarter against the Florida Gators, Carradine saw his season end prematurely. On his final play, he had his foot planted and sprang at the quarterback. His foot got stuck in the grass and he tore his ACL.
Carradine's injury frightened many teams away, but the San Francisco 49ers took a shot with him using one of their two second round picks in the 2013 NFL draft. Carradine remained on the Reserve/NFI through the first six weeks of the season, and on October 29, the 49ers added Carradine to the 53-man roster.
Carradine was an interesting draft pick. In fact, many pundits continue to assert Carradine could be one of the steals of the 2013 NFL Draft. Prior to his injury, Carradine was seen as the top 4-3 defensive end. Carradine has incredible size (6'4", 273 lbs.), but also has significant speed. He ran a 40 in 4.75 seconds, four months post-surgery. It is an impressive speed for a man of his size.
As an end in a 4-3 in college, Carradine was a pass rusher and lined up on the outside shoulders of tackles. He was light on his feet and considerably fast. A quick tempo is a terrific asset for reducing the field, but can work against a player if he pursues at a bad angle and/or over-pursues the ball. Carradine has shown the ability to control it and how he was able to rack up 80+ tackles. Carradine understands how to tackle. His technique is not perfect and he needs better read and diagnose skills. But, if the tackling foundation is there, he can be coached to read and diagnose faster and effectively.
Tomahawk Nation, our FSU blog, put a scouting report together prior to the 2013 NFL Draft. It may refresh you on some of Carradine's strengths and weaknesses.
Most believe the 49ers will work Carradine in slowly to give the starters a breather. Plus, the team is effective with the nickel formation. Carradine can easily be plugged in like Ray McDonald to create an additional element of surprise. Linemen have to figure out where the fourth (or fifth) defender is coming from. Carradine offers the 49ers another dimension on defense.
Some have suggested the 49ers could eventually move to the 4-3 due to the personnel already in place. While it is a possibility, I do not believe the 49ers would transition altogether. But, do not forget, a defense can have components of both the 4-3 and the 3-4. There are teams who are specifically engineered to do both well. And that makes them a dangerous team to prepare for.
I think of how the New England Patriots were. The roster was versatile enough to jump from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Very good offensive lines struggled with it. When I think of Carradine, Willie McGinest comes to my mind. He could play defensive end with his hand on the ground in a 4-3 front on one play, then stand up and rush the quarterback from a 3-4. With Carradine in the mix, the 49ers have options.
Vic Fangio was recently asked if was going to try to get Carradine into a game. This was his response:
"He's progressing and getting better. He's still fighting through his injury and fighting through learning the system and playing the way we want to play. So, he's making good progress. When he'll play, if he'll play this week, we haven't decided yet."
The part about Carradine's injury had me scratching my head. After Carradine was activated and cleared to practice, the 49ers did not wait the entire 21 days to add him to the 53-man roster. By way of comparison, Carradine was injured the same week as Kyle Williams and both suffered complete ACL tears.
I believe Carradine is healthy, maybe as strong as ever. I believed he was well on his way 6-months ago. It is my belief the 49ers strategically put Carradine on the Reserve/NFI, knowing he could be activated as necessary. Nobody could have projected the amount of injuries the 49ers would suffer early in the season, but the 49ers plowed through using roster depth. Further, the team prepared by using every one of their resources. The Reserve/NFI and Reserve/PUP served up a host of fresh, healthy players. Rolling into Week 10, the challenge is re-acclimating the players to the pace of the game. At this juncture, I suspect it is Carradine's biggest challenge.
I am anxiously waiting to see this young rookie on the field.