The San Francisco 49ers defense has dealt with inconsistencies through the first quarter of the season. The unit is trying to get on track, and while we do see some positives, questions remain for a group that will need to step up further following the loss of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
The defense is struggling in different areas, and that has brought up questions as to potential personnel changes. Most notably, people are wondering if rookie defensive lineman Jullian Taylor will get an opportunity.
Taylor has been inactive for the first four games of the season. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh met with the media on Thursday, and he was asked how Taylor is progressing.
“Jullian is doing good. He’s working his tail off. I actually just talked to him during walk-through on what he needs to do just to get better. I’ll leave it between him and I, with respect, but he’s moving in the right direction and we’re trying to find a way to get him up.”
Taylor had some big moments in the preseason. In the opener against Dallas, he started in place of an injured Arik Armstead, and got work at both the LEO and strong end positions, but primarily at LEO. He had a sack, two quarterback hits, and three run stops. He was relatively quiet in the second and third preseason games, accumulating a quarterback hurry and an assist on a tackle. In the preseason finale, he had a sack and two quarterback hurries, along with one run stop.
While Taylor impressed, I would be surprised to see him get an opportunity unless one of the defensive linemen gets hurt. At some point it might be worth some re-shuffling, but there are likely too many bodies ahead of him.
Saleh got the same question about practice squad linebacker Pita Taumoepenu, and specifically whether or not he might get promoted at some point.
“He could. He’s doing a great job, too. It’s just the amount of injuries that we have on our team right now, there’s not much wiggle room to try to get people up.”
Taumoepenu got work at the SAM linebacker and LEO edge rusher positions. He finished the preseason with six quarterback hurries and five run stops. He was part of final roster cuts before signing to the practice squad. With the move of Malcolm Smith to the SAM position and Taylor still a potential LEO option, I don’t expect Pita T to be promoted short of an injury to a current roster member.