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Glenn Dorsey injury: Considering a multitude of roster options

Glenn Dorsey is out an indefinite amount of time with a torn biceps muscle. We break down the timeline, the potential injury listing, and what's next.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers suffered a tough blow Friday evening, as defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey tore his left biceps muscle during practice. Adam Schefter was the first to report it, but virtually every 49ers beat writer has since confirmed the injury.

Schefter initially reported Dorsey was likely done for the season, but we've seen multiple reports since indicating this is still a wait-and-see situation. Matt Barrows was the first to get those sources, and it has trickled in since then. Here are a few of those tweets:

Although this has not been confirmed, the various tweets would seem to indicate surgery is going to happen. Dorsey could conceivably play through his torn biceps, like Ray McDonald, but based on what we're reading, surgery seems most likely.


Once Dorsey has surgery, the 49ers can figure out their next option. For example, as socalisteph pointed out in the previous thread, depending on what they find in the surgery, Dorsey could be looking at something on the order of 3 months to heal, and then another 6 weeks of physical therapy to regain his strength. She said this is basically a baseline for this kind of surgery and recovery, so it could be faster or slower.

Regular IR vs. Short Term IR

Depending on what potential surgery reveals, the 49ers could decide to play Dorsey on injured reserve, or on short term injured reserve. Socalisteph broke down IR and short term IR last month, but here it is in a nutshell. Regular IR means you're done for the season. The 49ers could place him on that list as soon as when they cut down from 90 players to 75 players in three weeks. This is when they will place Kendall Hunter on IR.

Each NFL team has 1 injury each season they can designate as "Injured Reserve with return designation". The injury has to be "major", and the player has to sit out at least 6 weeks of practice, and then return to the 53-man roster after 8 weeks. The 49ers can place a player on short term IR after they cut down to 53 players, not before.

If Dorsey's injury is one in which the 3 months recovery + 6 weeks PT is realistic, that would conceivably put his return sometime in late December. Depending on how the season is going, that would be right as the 49ers are gearing up for the playoffs. Getting Dorsey back on the line in time for the playoffs would certainly be a shot in the arm for a defensive line that would probably be a bit worn down at that point. However, given how late in the season that is, the 49ers would need to be pretty comfortable with the rehab timeline. The 49ers only get one use of the short term IR designation, so if they used it on Dorsey, and then he ended up missing the year, they'd be out of luck.

What's next?

While Dorsey could very well get back at some point this season, it's pretty safe to say he will miss a sizable chunk of the season. That means that no matter when he might return, the 49ers have to figure out their options in the meantime. We've talked about the various nose tackle options. Quinton Dial and Mike Purcell seem likely to get the most preseason playing time in the nose tackle position. Dial has had a solid camp, but at 6'5, he's a big guy. Nose tackle is not an ideal role for him, although he has had some experience here and there.

Someone had another suggestion on Twitter: What about more 4-3? This got me thinking because with the absence of NaVorro Bowman as well, the 49ers find themselves in a position where maybe mixing in some 4-3 wouldn't be the worst idea in the world. The 49ers do not make extensive use of the nose tackle, but they still use the nose a decent amount. Back in 2011, Tre put together some thoughts on implementing more of a 4-3 under. He wrote that back in 2011 before the season started. A year ago, Grant Cohn put together an interesting look at the 49ers defense, and the idea that they were already playing that 4-3 under.

Losing Dorsey hurts, but primarily it is because of the versatility he offers. He was important as a nose tackle, but his ability to play all along the line was something that the 49ers will miss in his absence. Ideally they get back Ian Williams in the next week or two. That would give him time to get some hitting in and get back into the right condition for football. He could very well skip all of the preseason and be ready for Week 1, but the sooner they can get him back on the field, the better.