The San Francisco 49ers have a great many players in the defensive line and secondary department heading into the 2013 season. Problem is, it’s just not terribly deep experience wise. They have made some important acquisitions so far this off-season, but they also lost a wealth of experience with those that have departed the franchise. It’s a double edged sword for the 49ers, as it is with most teams in the off season and free agency, but it’s clear the 49ers could use some more veterans in the ranks of defensive line and secondary.
The 49ers lost starting nose guard Isaac Sopoaga to free agency already, and many viewed that loss as a major blow to the overall status of the defensive line. Sure it hurt to lose a tested veteran like Sopoaga. But the 49ers did pick up a high quality replacement for him in Glenn Dorsey. And as the statistics dictate, Dorsey is actually more productive. In five years Dorsey has 238 tackles and four sacks. Sopoaga on the other hand has played eight years and accumulated 217 tackles and seven and a half sacks. So it’s actually a reward to get Dorsey rather than keep Sopoaga, the 49ers get age and a higher production value in the end. Dorsey will definitely be the starter at nose tackle when the season opens. The only other nose tackle on the team is Ian Williams, and he has only played in four games in his two years in the NFL. But he is young, he may eventually make a name for himself in the league, but for now he will be the back up in San Francisco.
The defensive tackle position for the 49ers is also riddled with youth and inexperience, aside from the two starters that is. All Pro staple Justin Smith is a beast, and he will no doubt retain his starter spot. The only doubt associated with Smith is his mileage; he is entering his 13th season in the NFL. And in his 12 years of service he has only missed three games, truly an amazing feat. Unfortunately age does lead to injury, as the 49ers found out last year when he missed the final two regular season games due to an arm injury. But for now he’s the man, and he will anchor the defensive line in 2013. The other starter at defensive tackle will be Ray McDonald, a starter for the club over the last two years. He is a six-year veteran and is developing the tools to become one of the better defensive linemen in the league.
Unfortunately that’s where the experience ends on the 49ers defensive line. The remaining back ups, three in total, have 14 total tackles in three years…combined. And most, if not all, of those tackles came during special teams play. To top that, two of them have other responsibilities that they practice for week in and week out. Demarcus Dobbs, aside from being a back up defensive lineman, is also a back up tight end. And Will Tukuafu takes on back up full back duties when he is not a reserve defensive lineman. Both show great promise at the defensive tackle position, but neither is in any position to adequately fill a role on the line if Smith or McDonald goes down with injury. And the same goes for the last defensive tackle on the roster, Tony Jerod-Eddie was a rookie last year, only played in one game, and recorded zero statistics. Obviously he doesn’t have the experience to fill any void on the line. More than anything, the 49ers need to bring in another defensive lineman with some experience to bolster their line.
As for the secondary, that’s about the deepest unit that the 49ers have, on defense or offense. They have four cornerbacks on the roster and one testing the free agent market as a restricted free agent. And they have five safeties on the roster. They lost stud safety Dashon Goldson in free agency but they picked up stud safety Craig Dahl to replace him, so they didn’t lose much there. The great thing about the 49ers secondary is that it is more or less a hodgepodge of talents that they mix in through out the game. So many of the defensive backs see such a large portion of playing time, sometimes it’s difficult to determine who are the starters and who are the reserves. The only downfall that the unit has is size; not one defensive back is over six foot one inch. And that has proved to be a problem with bigger receivers, as demonstrated in the Super Bowl when Anquan Boldin went off on them for a huge game.
On paper, the starters at cornerback are Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. But also getting a lot of playing time at that position is Chris Culliver and Parrish Cox, both have produced at a high level when the team has called upon them. Even restricted free agent Tramaine Brock saw the field more than most back up cornerbacks do in the league. The safety position is also pretty deep, not as deep as the cornerbacks, but still as respectable as any other team in the league. The starters at safety will be Donte Whitner and Craig Dahl, both are hard hitting battering rams that have been schooled in the art of proper tackling. The immediate back up at safety is C. J. Spillman, and while he didn’t have high statistic numbers, he did take the field on about half of the 49ers defensive plays. The other two safeties on the team, Darcel McBath and Trenton Robinson, did not see a lot of playing time. But both have a huge upside thanks to their talent level. Robinson was rookie last year and never once took the field except on special team. And McBath is a journeyman safety, entering his fifth year in the league and has shown a great deal of potential in the past. He played in all 16 games last year during the regular season, and he is poised to see even more of the field this year.
When it comes down to it, the 49ers have a lethal defense, and are prepared to make another run at a Super Bowl. They have a few holes to fill sure, but most of those are for reserve roles on the team. With a little bit of luck, they should be hoisting a trophy next year.
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