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The 49ers defensive line has depth, it is a matter of how good

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The San Francisco 49ers have quantity along the defensive line, but is there sufficient quality?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers lost Justin Smith to retirement this offseason, and Ray McDonald to release late last season, leaving the team with plenty of questions along the defensive line. NFL.com has been putting together a look at the weakest and strongest position groups on both sides of the ball. In looking at weakest defensive position groups, the 49ers were listed as "honorable mention" for weakest 3-4 defensive line group, along with the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 49ers defensive line will feature a lot of new and more prominent faces in 2015. I would actually say the group has depth, but the real question is how good that depth actually is. In Tuesday's practice, the first string defensive line consisted of Quinton Dial, Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey. Tank Carradine and Tony Jerod-Eddie are the primary backups with Kaleb Ramsey, Lawrence Okoye, Garrison Smith and Mike Purcell behind them (Fooch's update: Oh yea, and Arik Armstead. Whoops!). Darnell Dockett is not participating in drills while he continues rehabbing his ACL injury. Dockett has said he expects to be ready for Week 1.

That starting line from Tuesday is interesting in that they were the three members of the nose tackle depth chart the last two seasons. Dial and Dorsey are probably the most versatile linemen on the team. Once we get into the season, and ideally everybody is healthy, I could see that being the starting group, and then Tank Carradine and Darnell Dockett coming in at defensive tackle when the team switches to their nickel package.

In the past, Justin Smith and Ray McDonald handled the bulk of the snaps both in base and sub-defenses. We started to see more rotation the last couple years, but this year I expect to see the most significant amount of rotation. It remains to be seen just how good this group will be. OTAs and minicamp are good for learning assignments, but assessing defensive line performance without pads and contact is very limited.

Training camp and preseason action will get us a better handle on where things stand. I like some of the options along the line, but I am not entirely sure how will they work together. I'm always hopeful, but it is a ton of change.