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49ers roster turnover: Has the defensive line improved?

The 49ers added serious depth at defensive end, and flipped over their nose tackle position. With the changes, are the 49ers better, worse or the same compared to the end of last season?

Jamie Squire

The 49ers rookies report to training camp this Friday, with veterans following them five days later. We're continuing our countdown to training camp with a series of articles titled "49ers roster turnover." I'm going through the various position groups and considering how the roster has changed over the last 12 months. We'll take a look at the team's depth chart heading into the first preseason game last year, prior to Week 1 of the regular season, the Super Bowl and then how it currently stands. Four depth charts give us an idea of how the roster developed over the course of the year.

Today, we take a look at a position that features two rocks in Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, but needed a serious overhaul alongside those two. And the 49ers made some significant changes over the course of the offseason. Here is a look at the how the depth chart has shaken out over the last 12 months.

Preseason 2012 depth chart

LDT: Ray McDonald, Demarcus Dobbs, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Patrick Butrym
NT: Isaac Sopoaga, Ricky Jean Francois, Ian Williams
RDT: Justin Smith, Will Tukuafu, Matthew Masifilo

Week 1 depth chart

LDT: Ray McDonald, Ricky Jean Francois
NT: Isaac Sopoaga, Will Tukuafu, Ian Williams
RDT: Justin Smith, Demarcus Dobbs

Super Bowl depth chart

LDT: Ray McDonald, Ricky Jean Francois
NT: Isaac Sopoaga, Will Tukuafu, Ian Williams
RDT: Justin Smith, Tony Jerod-Eddie

Current depth chart

LDT: Ray McDonald, Will Tukuafu, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Quinton Dial, Mike Purcell
NT: Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams, Lamar Divens
RDT: Justin Smith, Demarcus Dobbs, Cornellius Carradine, Lawrence Okoye

The biggest change on the 49ers defensive line comes at nose tackle, where the team will have new options at first and second string. The 49ers signed Glenn Dorsey in free agency, while also giving Ian Williams a contract extension, as they let Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois walk in free agency. Dorsey appears to hold the early edge, but we'll see what the start of camp brings.

The other noticeable change comes with the depth behind Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. The 49ers drafted Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial, and Glenn Dorsey is a guy who can potentially rotate along the line when the 49ers move to a four-man front. Carradine and Dial are both dealing with injuries right now, but if they can get healthy midway through camp, the key really will be getting them (particularly Tank) working into some kind of defensive line rotation as the season moves along.

I'd say this poll should focus on the players listed above, but that doesn't mean we'll ignore the 49ers defensive ends when they switch to the nickel. Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks have dropped down to defensive end in the nickel. This year, it will be interesting to see how exactly the 49ers rotate them along with Corey Lemonier, Tank Carradine, and others. I suppose you could factor that into the poll as well, but I'll leave that up to you.

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