Nick Bosa’s unresolved contract situation isn’t the only uncertainty surrounding the 49ers’ defensive line. After the departures of Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu this past offseason, there is now a vacancy to be filled at the starting defensive end spot opposite of Bosa.
As training camp kicks off, the two most likely candidates are Drake Jackson and free agent signing Clelin Ferrell. After the first day of practice, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan shed some light on what that competition for that starting spot might look like over the next few weeks.
“They looked good,” said Shanahan after Wednesday’s practice. “The way these springs have been the last couple of years, we don’t really do much with the o-line and d-line, so I don’t really stack them that way. If they’re new guys who haven’t been at that spot recently, as in the last few years, I go into training camp with a very open mind. They all did a good job improving and stuff, getting in shape in OTA’s. Now we’ll see where they are at here over the next few days, nothing really counts until we get the pads on and start doing a little more football.”
Neither Jackson nor Ferrell has the starting experience on this defense that Shanahan had mentioned, which should make this battle one of the more intriguing competitions during camp this year.
Ferrell has the edge over Jackson regarding NFL experience, appearing in 58 games since being selected fourth overall in the 2019 NFL draft. While he might not have lived up to the lofty expectations he entered the league with, he proved to be a reliable rotation piece on the Las Vegas Raiders defensive line over the last few seasons.
On the other hand, Jackson is a bit more green, entering his sophomore year on the heels of a rookie campaign that saw his playing time diminish down the backstretch of the season.
Shanahan has noted that his decreased role was primarily due to him needing to make some changes to his body that would enable him to hold up to the brutal gauntlet that is an NFL season.
The good news is that Jackson was successful in implementing these changes, placing himself in a prime position to earn a starting spot in year two.
Based on the track record of defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, it’s safe to assume whoever wins this job will be an integral part of a defense that aims to finish as a top-five unit for the fifth season in a row.