The San Francisco 49ers looked to have significant depth on the defensive line at the beginning of the offseason, and then the injury bug came to town. Ronald Blair injured his groin during the preseason and was put on injured reserve with the designation to return.
Arik Armstead was hurt later in the season in the Washington game, breaking his hand near a joint which made him unable to cast it and continue playing. Other injuries to Tank Carradine and Solomon Thomas also have affected the defensive line personnel packages available on the field. General manager John Lynch talked about both Armstead and Blair and how he has seen flashes of the potential that each of them have.
First Lynch detailed the dual emotions involving Armstead:
I felt like that [Washington] was his best game where it all kind of came...we had seen glimpses, but he kind of put it all together. That was very encouraging and at the same time disappointing because right when it was really starting to click I felt, like he breaks his hand, broken in a place, right in the joint where normally you could put a cast on it, believe me he wanted to, it just, because it was right in the joint, it was advised that he could really hurt it long term. Basically he couldn’t cast it up. It was something where he was going to have to be done for the season so that was disappointing but yeah, we’re real pleased. We think he’s a fit with what we are and who we are going forward. He’s got a bright future with us.
Lynch on Blair’s many abilities on the defense:
We like his skill set. He’s a versatile player meaning he can really play three positions for us. He can play the big end, he can play the LEO and he can play the three technique in a limited pass rush role. Shoot last week I saw him in a goal line play lined up at the nose. I don't know how that happened but I thought he played well last week. The first week back he was a little rusty. He looked great in practice and I was expecting great things and then it kinda was like, oh. But the second week I think his legs came underneath. He started using his hands and he really showed up last week. It kind of validates the trust we had in him. Those spots are valuable, those return [from] IR. We thought enough of him that we used one on him.
There had been some doubt how all of the defensive linemen on the roster were going to fit into the new scheme. At least for now, it looks like both Armstead and Blair look to have carved out a spot for themselves in Santa Clara. Blair will have the rest of the season to grow and solidify it, Armstead will have his work cut out for him upon his return.