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The 49ers employed a rotation on the defensive line last season with six players incorporated as either starters or role players.
In addition, the 49ers expect Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial to factor into the mix this season. Carradine, a second-round pick from last season, did not find his way into a game after he was slow to return after knee surgery that ended his final college season. Dial, a fifth-round pick, had a late start due to toe surgery. He played only 18 snaps as a rookie.
Carradine, in particular, figures to be an important player for the 49ers due to his versatility. He can play either of the 49ers’ defensive end spots in their base defense. He also features the versatility to line up in the team’s nickel defense from any of the 49ers’ four positions on the line.
British Olympian Lawrence Okoye has remained at 49ers headquarters in the offseason to work with the strength and conditioning staff after spending last season on injured reserve with a partially torn posterior-cruciate ligament.
Nobody faces a greater challenge than Okoye, who has football background of youth leagues, high school and college. In fact, the 18 snaps that Okoye played in the exhibition season last summer are the only 18 snaps he has ever played.
Who's here: Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams, Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial, Demarcus Dobbs, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Lawrence Okoye, Mike Purcell, Christian Tupou
Draft needs: It’s not imperative that the 49ers use the draft to pick up another defensive lineman. After all, Carradine and Dial are, in essence, newcomers who should drive up the competition. But there does figure to be some turnover in the upcoming seasons. Smith and McDonald are signed through 2015. McDonald’s pay jumps to $4.2 million next season. Dorsey enters the final year of his deal. With a scheduled 11 draft picks, the 49ers will not be shy about taking a defensive lineman that they like at almost any point in the draft.
Good fits: Dominique Easley (Florida) is a talented player whose versatility would mesh well with the 49ers scheme. His second ACL tear, which virtually wiped out his final college season, could drop him down some draft boards. The 49ers have used those injuries in the past to find some value. If they look for a lineman early, Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh) and Timmy Jernigan (Florida State) figure to get the 49ers’ attention.