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49ers DL has starters in place, but OTAs bring plenty of work sorting it all out

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The 49ers have a general idea of their starting defensive line. OTAs will provide a chance for everyone to get comfortable.

The San Francisco 49ers kick off their organized team practice activities (OTAs) on May 21st. Those will run through June 7th, followed by mandatory minicamp June 12th through 14th. This is as important a period as any in the offseason. Players have been going through classroom work, and had individual work on the field. OTAs and minicamp are when teams really get to implement the playbook and get players ready for training camp.

This also means players can take a step forward in competitions for either a starting job or simply a chance to make the roster. We’re less than a week away from the start of OTAs, so I thought now is a good time to preview each position heading into the on-field workouts.

Today, we move on to the defensive line.

Depth chart

DE: Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Ronald Blair, Cassius Marsh, Jeremiah Attaochu, Kentavius Street
DT: DeForest Buckner, Earl Mitchell, Sheldon Day, D.J. Jones, Jullian Taylor, Najee Toran, Niles Scott

The 49ers spent a first round pick on the defensive line three straight years from 2015 to 2017. The line overhaul dates back to Justin Smith retiring and Ray McDonald getting released, and it seems to have settled down for now. The team added Earl Mitchell in free agency last year, D.J. Jones in last year’s draft, and then Sheldon Day and Cassius Marsh via waivers.

This year, the team drafted Kentavius Street in the fourth round and Jullian Taylor in the seventh round. Street tore his ACL last month and will spend the season on the Non-Football Injury List. Taylor struggled with knee injuries prior to last season, but emerged as an intriguing option his final season at Temple.

What OTAs mean for the position

Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas both dealt with injuries last season that limited their impact. Armstead will play big end in base downs, and likely move inside on passing downs. Thomas will play LEO on base downs, and then move to strong end on passing downs. Last year, the team tried to get Armstead into the LEO role, but that didn’t take. This year marks his first full offseason learning this particular role.

Given that the 49ers did not add any edge rushers for 2018, Cassius Marsh, Jeremiah Attaochu, and Eli Harold will all be worth watching to see how they rotate in the team’s pass defense. There’s not a lot we can take from OTAs with no contact or full pads, but we’ll get some ideas about the depth chart.

Speaking of the depth chart, I am curious to see how the interior rotation works next to DeForest Buckner. Earl Mitchell was settled in as the base guy next to him, but Sheldon Day will get some opportunity, and D.J. Jones or Jullian Taylor could also work their way in.