The San Francisco 49ers are transitioning their defensive line this year, and the departures of Justin Smith and Ray McDonald open the door for plenty of opportunities. Quinton Dial, Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey seem like the strongest candidates to start in the base defense, but the team has numerous other options competing for opportunities.
Coming out of the first preseason game, Mike Purcell did more than anybody on the defensive line to build his case for a roster spot. Dial, Dorsey, Williams, Arik Armstead and Tank Carradine all seem like locks to make the roster. I'd imagine Darnell Dockett is as well with his guarantees. Beyond that, nothing is guaranteed. Tony Jerod-Eddie has the most experience of the remaining group. Lawrence Okoye is an athletic talent, but is still early in his development. Kaleb Ramsey is talented but was injury prone in college. And then of course there's Purcell.
Purcell is coming off a strong performance in the preseason opener. He was credited with six tackles, and showed up big on film, particularly on the goal line stand. He stopped Alfred Blue for a three-yard loss, and was active elsewhere in stops at the 1. Really, he was the talk of the game on the defensive side of the ball.
Purcell spent most of last season on the 49ers practice squad, and was activated for the final two games. The 49ers have done great work developing defensive linemen. Jim Tomsula has been critical to that, and it will be interesting to see how much it continues. Tomsula specifically went to Trent Baalke to inquire about moving Scott Brown from the scouting department to become defensive line coach. Clearly he likes what he can do, and hopefully that bodes well for the continued development of the defensive line.
This could very well come down to Purcell vs. Jerod-Eddie for a single roster spot. The 49ers could potentially carry an extra defensive lineman, but my guess is only one makes it. TJE has played all across the line, and Purcell seems to be working on that. He said in a Tuesday media session that he got some end work over the summer and at the start of training camp, and he has also gotten some nickel work. I doubt Purcell claims a starting role, but if he can show some versatility, he very well could take TJE's roster spot.