The San Francisco 49ers are less than a week away from their first set of OTAs, which means the eventual training camp depth chart will start to get a little more clarity. I should say, clarity for the team. Given that OTAs involve no tackling, it's as much about the players learning the playbook, and any adjustments to it for the veterans. This is the kind of stuff we can't really know about, and so we're left to sort of half guess at what exactly is going on.
And so, we've got a 12-part series looking at each positional unit. Thus far, we've completed our look at the offensive backfield, with quarterbacks and running backs and fullbacks, followed up by tight ends, wide receivers and the offensive line. We now move to the other side of the ball, and get started with the defensive line. We'll continue with the format of offseason changes, what the depth chart might look like, strengths and weaknesses, and wrapping with a look at what it all means.
The 49ers went into the offseason with most of their defensive line intact. The only notable free agent was Demarcus Dobbs, who was a restricted free agent. The 49ers ended up tendering Dobbs, and he signed it at the start of the offseason workout program. The 49ers also brought back Mike Purcell and Lawrence Okoye on reserve/future contracts.
DT: Justin Smith, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Kaleb Ramsey, Lawrence Okoye
NT: Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams, Quinton Dial, Mike Purcell
DT: Ray McDonald, Tank Carradine, Demarcus Dobbs
This unit may have some long term question marks, but for 2014, the group looks very solid. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald remain stalwarts. Last season saw Tony Jerod-Eddie and Demarcus Dobbs emerge as a viable platoon behind Smith and McDonald. This allowed the 49ers to cut back on the often excessive number of snaps for Smith and McDonald.
The good news is they did all this without having to use Tank Carradine or Quinton Dial. The bad news is neither was able to contribute much in their rookie seasons. Both started the season on the NFI list. Dial was immediately removed after six weeks. He was subsequently active in four games, played in three, and was inactive in six regular season games and three postseason games. Carradine was activated after the 49ers Week 8 win over the Jaguars. He was inactive for five weeks, then placed on IR the rest of the way.
Simply put, we have no idea what they can do in the NFL. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are not getting any younger, and the 49ers could use more than just Tony Jerod-Eddie and Demarcus Dobbs. I think the team would be fine in 2014 without contributions from Tank or Dial, but obviously that would disappoint all of us.
What it all means
The 49ers have a stout defensive line, and the lack of major transactions indicates the team believe as much. The way I see it, choosing to only add Kaleb Ramsey late in the draft is a bit of a vote of confidence for Tank Carradine's knee. I suppose they could just figure TJE and Dobbs are enough if Tank's knee is not on track, but my hunch is that this is a good sign about his recovery. And given how talented Tank is, if his knee is healthy, I can't help but be optimistic about the line's depth this year.
In fact, if Tank and Dial are healthy and ready to go, the competition along the defensive line could be just as stout as it is at wide receiver. There will be some solid players that will end up getting cut (or potentially traded) because there just is not enough room. It will be interesting to see if the 49ers try and stockpile some 7th round picks come late August. If they know they're running out room, I imagine Trent Baalke and Paraag Marathe will be hustling on the phone throughout training camp. It does not mean they'll land any picks, but maybe they can find some teams that want to leap the waiver wire order for the low, low cost of a 7th round pick.