Is depth lacking on 49ers' defensive line?

Is depth lacking on 49ers' defensive line?
February 28, 2013, 1:00 pm
Share This Post

General manager Trent Baalke disputes the notion that the 49ers did not have backups on the defensive line who were good enough to be used as part of a rotation.

At the NFL scouting combine, Baalke was asked if it's a priority to get better depth so that the four men on the defensive line in pass-rush situations -- Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Justin Smith and Ray McDonald -- do not have to play nearly every snap.

"That's a philosophical switch more than a personnel switch," Baalke said. "We feel very good about the players we have along the front. That's something that we're continue to look at, continue to discuss internally, but I don't know it's as much as of a personnel issue as it is a philosophical issue."

The philosophy seemingly belongs to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who likes to go with veteran players with very little substituting. Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and Ray McDonald each played more than 90 percent of the 49ers' 1,060 defensive snaps. Justin Smith played 77.4 percent of the team's snaps in the regular season despite missing 2 1/2 games due to a partially torn triceps tendon.

The 49ers could be looking for new nose tackles this offseason. Free-agents Isaac Sopoaga and top backup Ricky Jean Francois are scheduled to hit the free-agent market on March 12. There has been no movement in contract talks to lock up either player before the start of free agency.

Jean Francois got a nice endorsement from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on the Thursday before the Super Bowl when he said of the four-year veteran: "We couldn't block him" in practice.

There figures to be an active market for Jean Francois, who reportedly will draw interest from Green Bay and Baltimore, among other teams.

Sopoaga played about 30 percent of the snaps last season as the nose tackle in base situations. Jean Francois played 27 percent of the snaps. He saw most of the action when Justin Smith was out of action. Demarcus Dobbs, Will Tukuafu, Ian Williams and Tony Jerod-Eddie each played fewer than five percent of the 49ers' defensive snaps. Dobbs played in 12 games before a season-ending injury.