The release of defensive lineman Darnell Dockett wasn't the most surprising thing to happen this offseason for the San Francisco 49ers. But it definitely wasn't something anybody expected given the guaranteed money on his contract and the good fit for him stepping in to replace Justin Smith. They're both aging veterans who need to take plays off here and there.
I tend to think Dockett wasn't released for injury reasons, and was more let go as part of Jim Tomsula and the rest of the coaching staff both liking what they saw from the rest of the defensive linemen on the roster and a desire to simply get younger and push the transition the team is going through forward by about a year.
Truthfully, I have no idea if the 49ers will be competitive this season or even if the coaching staff realistically thinks they will be. I don't think this was a move to say "Hey, we're not going to win so let's play the younger guys," I just think it's a combination of a lot of things that we really couldn't see coming.
But where the defensive line goes from here will be the most interesting thing, to me. With Dockett's release, I'm honestly not sure who the starters are in any package, though it's assuredly more proof that the 49ers will rotate more than they have in year's past.
I think we can assume Ian Williams and Quinton Dial will take the most snaps overall, with Tank Carradine being the primary beneficiary of Dockett being released. There's also Glenn Dorsey, who I always think of as being behind Williams but who will surely see the field at the same time as him at points.
The most interesting aspect, to me, is who gets on the field first behind Arik Armstead, Mike Purcell and Tony Jerod-Eddie. In year's past, Jerod-Eddie has been one of the first backups on the field, but I think he really hasn't shown much this offseason and think Armstead might be pushing him for playing time. My gut tells me if one of these guys has to be inactive, it will be Purcell.
There aren't really any other positions on the roster with this kind of question mark. We still have some things to figure out at cornerback, but I legitimately feel like the way the defensive line will shake out is still a pretty big unknown at this stage. How do you think it's going to wind up?