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49ers bubble watch: Defensive line depth chart in flux

The San Francisco 49ers have suffered a big injury on the defensive line, losing Glenn Dorsey to a torn biceps muscle. We consider how it impacts the bubble watch.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

The San Francisco 49ers suffered a tough loss on Friday, as defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey suffered what is being reported as a torn biceps muscle. It sounds like he will get surgery early this week, if he has not had it already. Once the surgery is complete, the team will have a better idea of how long he will be out. It is possible he could face a 3-4 month recovery window, which could very well get him back in late November or early December. If that is the case, the team could decide to use their short term injured reserve slot on him.

Whether Dorsey goes on regular IR or short term IR, the team will need answers in the meantime. Ian Williams entered last season as the starting nose tackle, before a broken ankle ended his season in Week 2. Dorsey took over the role, and excelled. A year later, Williams is still trying to get back to 100 percent as he dealt with ligament damage on top of the fracture. That leaves the 49ers in a quandry as they sort through their defensive line depth chart.

Last week, I put together a bubble watch post reflecting the Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James injuries. Rather than put together a complete one again, I figured for today I would focus in on just the defensive line. The entire starting line is recovering from injuries. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are expected to be fine for the regular season, but the team is taking their time getting them ready in the preseason.

Physically Unable To Perform (2)

Ian Williams, Kaleb Ramsey

TBD (1)

Glenn Dorsey

On Sunday, Vic Fangio was asked about Ian Williams. He said the trainers told him the progress has been steady. He referenced a setback earlier in the offseason, although I'm not sure if that is connected to his last surgery in February. Fangio said, "You know, I'm confident at some point he'll be able to start practicing again." That is not the most confidence-inspiring comments, so we'll see what it means as we move forward.

Below is my latest bubble watch for the defensive line. Since the last bubble watch report, I've made a couple changes. I moved Demarcus Dobbs from strong bubble to lock, Mike Purcell from longshot to weak bubble, and Lawrence Okoye from longshot to weak bubble.

Given Dobbs's RFA tender, I was a little skeptical about making him a lock. However, given Glenn Dorsey's injury, I'm fairly confident Dobbs will make the team. Dobbs does not play nose tackle, but he can do some of the defensive tackle work Dorsey might have gotten into if Williams was also healthy.

I moved Purcell up from longshot because he is the only healthy player with "extensive" nose tackle experience. He spent last season on the practice squad, but he has been able to focus on the nose tackle role all offseason. Quinton Dial and Tony Jerod-Eddie each have some nose tackle experience, but both have gotten more work on the ends of the line this offseason. In the two practices since Dorsey's injury, Purcell has gotten the first team nose tackle snaps. It is entirely possible Dial and/or TJE surpasses Purcell soon, but for now Purcell has a huge opportunity.

Here's what Vic Fangio had to say on Sunday about Purcell:

"He's a strong guy. Does a good job in the trenches there of taking on double teams, any type of two-on-one block. He does have some activeness in his play when it's one-on-one. He's got a long way to go from being from the practice squad last year, but he's a candidate right now. The depth chart in front of him just became one less. It doesn't mean that he'll be the guy. It doesn't mean he'll be on the team, but right now he's one guy, one slot closer."

I moved Okoye to weak bubble in part because his athleticism is so intriguing. I believe his roster chances are slightly improved almost entirely because of the fact that he might do one or two things that really impress a team with little talent on their defensive line. Maybe Okoye does enough on special teams to impress somebody. I would still be surprised if he made the 53-man roster, but there is the slightest of openings for him.

Locks (6)

DT: Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Tank Carradine, Demarcus Dobbs
NT/DT: Quinton Dial, Tony Jerod-Eddie

Strong Bubble


Weak Bubble (1)

NT: Mike Purcell
DT: Lawrence Okoye