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49ers defensive line dominates Chargers offense

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

On the first day of two joint practices in Costa Mesa, the 49ers' defense stole the show. The unit dominated the Chargers' offense, led by a stellar performance from the defensive line.

Four different players recorded multiple sacks during 11-on-11’s, as the defensive line wreaked havoc in the backfield all morning. The defensive line has clearly staked its claim as the backbone of this defense (and likely the team as a whole), so I’m going to highlight the five strongest performances from the group on Thursday.

Dee Ford

Ford was particularly impressive, as he put on a dazzling display of pass-rushing moves, ending practice with four sacks and an additional handful of pressures. Ford showed an ability to win outside with his patented speed rush off the edge while mixing in a bit of power as well as he won multiple reps by utilizing a bull rush.

I’ve previously noted how strong Ford’s showing has been during this camp, but today was by far his best day of practice as I felt far and away Ford was the best player on the field every time he was out there.

Samson Ebukam

Ebukam added two sacks as well, showing a significant amount of burst that would indicate he has recovered well from the lower-body injury that held him out of practice for a couple of weeks. In addition to being a menace as a pass rusher, Ebukam also looked strong, moving sideline to sideline while defending the run.

His IQ was on full display as well, as he recorded a sack on a rep where Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert kept after a play fake to the halfback, and Ebukam read the play the whole way, exploding into the backfield to blow up the play for a huge loss.

Kentavius Street

Street had the most dominant rep of the day during one on ones, beating Chargers center Scott Quessenberry with a swim move over the top before violently tossing him to the ground. Street showed off his ability to lineup all over the line, and the versatility to play inside or outside is currently his biggest value.

To be quite honest, at the beginning of camp, I didn’t think there was a path to Street making the final 53 man roster due to the depth the team had amassed on the defensive line. However, I am happy to admit that I significantly misjudged how improved Street would ultimately end up looking, as he has gotten better and better as camp has gone on.

Jordan Willis

Willis has consistently been among the best players on the field during training camp, and Thursday was no exception. Willis recorded multiple sacks and put his plus athleticism on display, moving east to west, just as much as he did going north to south while rushing the passer.

The tutelage of defensive line coach Kris Kocurek has paid huge dividends, as Willis has quickly gone from a fringe roster play/situational edge rusher and transformed into a player who has serious aspirations of being a significant contributor on a good football team.

Arden Key

Key added two sacks of his own during the 11-on-11’s and consistently found himself playing a major role in disrupting the Chargers' offense from generating any kind of rhythm. Key has played a significant number of snaps with the first team due to the absence of Nick Bosa from team drills and has regularly looked like a player who belongs with a starting defensive unit.

The combination of size and power makes Key a nightmare for opposing linemen tasked with blocking him. The 49ers continue to flex their embarrassment of riches by having a player of this caliber designated for a depth role due to the talent at the top of the position. However, I still left here wondering how the Raiders were ok parting with a player of Key’s caliber.