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49ers defensive line reserves shine in preseason Week 2

We’ve heard plenty about all the first round picks, but the reserves are earning more opportunities.

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The San Francisco 49ers invested heavily in their defensive line in recent years, spending first round picks on Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and Solomon Thomas in consecutive drafts. All three are being counted on to build this defense, but two reserves added last year could find themselves earning more playing time.

D.J. Jones led the team in Pro Football Focus grading, while Sheldon Day earned a spot on PFF’s team of the week for preseason Week 2. Jones had two run stops and a forced fumble in run defense, and added two quarterback hurries in nine pass rush snaps. Day led NFL interior linemen in run stop percentage, notching four defensive stops, a forced fumble, and a hit and hurry.

Jones is competing for playing time behind Earl Mitchell, and to supplant him sooner rather than later. Mitchell got the start and Jones came on in relief. Mitchell turns 31 this year, while Jones is entering only his second season in the NFL. The 49ers spent a sixth round pick on Jones, and he is looking like another day three steal for John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. But can he take that starting nose tackle role from Mitchell this year, or next year? When you get a minute, give Eric Branch’s recent article a read. He talked about Jones’ weight loss and commitment over the past eight months.

The 49ers added Sheldon Day off waivers last year after a deep Jacksonville Jaguars team decided to move on from the 2016 fourth round pick. Day had a solid finish to 2017, and is picking up where he left off. We don’t know what Arik Armstead’s status will be for Week 1. If healthy he will start at the big end position in 4-3 looks, but then move inside to defensive tackle in nickel and dime packages. Day could very well usurp some of that work if he can put together another solid performance this week against the Indianapolis Colts.