The San Francisco 49ers have invested heavily in their defensive line above all else over the past few seasons, and a big part of that line has been Quinton Dial.
A little undersized to be a nose tackle out of college, Dial put on more weight and muscle and eventually became a two-down read-and-react player capable of both stopping the run and getting good pressure when needed.
Unfortunately, he was playing in a defense that shifted very little once it was in place, and one that was quickly figured out by opposing offenses. They were one of the worst in the league overall, and were particularly bad against the run. The 49ers allowed 2,654 yards and 25 touchdowns.
That comes out to 165.9 rushing yards allowed per game. Dial wasn’t terrible against the run by any stretch, but the scheme did him no favors. He played a two-gap position and much of his initial strength and burst was wasted in the read-and-react defensive philosophy.
Still, Dial was effective in his limited action and the 49ers gave him a contract extension last year. They signed him to a three-year deal, one that he will continue to play on in 2017 despite a potentially diminished role.
In switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, the 49ers have a lot of different things they’re asking for from their defensive tackles. The 49ers’ starting defensive line will likely include Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead at end spots, DeForest Buckner at one tackle spot and then Dial at the other tackle spot.
Dial is definitely one of the best players on the roster for the interior, but the 49ers also brought in Earl Mitchell this offseason. I’d say Dial is around Mitchell’s skillset with a higher ceiling, but Mitchell already knows the position and is proven at the position. He’s been getting the first-team snaps in training camp.
That’s bad news for Dial, but Robert Saleh is a firm believer in a rotation along the defensive line. That’s how guys like Aaron Lynch and potentially Tank Carradine will find their way onto the field at the end position. Mitchell won’t play 100 percent of snaps, and Dial would certainly be the next guy on there.
In good news, Dial’s new responsibilities in the defense include him running a one-gap style that will allow him to make decisions before a play starts. Dial’s ability to get penetration and score both sacks and tackles for loss should be enhanced in this defensive alignment. He just has to get onto the field.
Experience: Fifth Season
Weight: 318 lbs
Dial signed a three-year extension in 2016 that has him under contract through the 2019 season. He’s due modest pay increases in each of the next two years, and carries a base salary of $1.5 million for 2017. His cap hit is just under $2.9 million. It’s not an unreasonable deal even if he doesn’t earn a starting job.
Why he might improve
Dial is still in his physical prime and the 3-4 defense was never really suited for his skillset or his size. He should take well to the one-gap scheme and should make more highlight reel-quality plays without having to worry too much about the read-and-react system.
Why he might regress
Then again, Dial has a whole lot of “be a big stopgap that doesn’t move a ton” to shake off, and this new scheme will give him the added responsibility of following centers and guards more closely on outside running plays. I think he’s well-suited for this, but it’s still a big change and it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing to see him fail to adapt to it. There’s also the fact that he’s competing with a veteran, is behind that veteran already, and has a long way to go to earn significant playing time.
Odds of making the roster
Dial is making decent money, but nothing prohibitive for the 49ers. The only way he’s not on the roster this season is if the 49ers are happy with their defensive line and shop him around or if he suffers some kind of serious injury. Otherwise, Dial is sticking around through 2017 at the very least.