Niners Live breaks down the more intriguing position battles. Highlighting the lead battles and even the importance of the rotational key cog as well as the players on notice in Santa Clara, starting at the first level of the defense, the defensive line.
Interior defensive line “Lead battle” (Quinton Dial vs. Earl Mitchell)
Though Quinton Dial was a starter in 2016 and even flashed in the past, this season he’ll have to produce consistently in training camp and preseason if he wants to remain a starter. It’s no secret that the threat of losing snaps seems to act as a great source of motivation.
Earl Mitchell, during his time with the Miami Dolphins, proved to be an occasional asset. He will need to be more consistent with the 49ers if he plans to be named the starter.
As recently discussed in 49ers: Fearless Predictions: Why DT Quinton Dial Won’t Go Quietly, “I’m Going Deep.”, this is one of the more important battles to watch as the 49ers need to improve their rush defense from the inside out, and one of these two will have the first crack at doing so.
Rotational “Key Cog” battle (Ronald Blair vs. D. J. Jones)
Ronald Blair, as recently stated in 49ers: How Ronald Blair can Best be Utilized by DC Robert Saleh, can compete for and be effective at multiple positions. His versatility and high motor qualifies him as a key cog at multiple positions, so based upon the match up, down, and distance, Blair may be seen lining up on the interior or on the edge.
Niners Live discussed D. J. Jones and his upside in 49ers: Fearless Predictions: Why DT D.J. Jones will be a Key Cog on Defense. For Jones, it’ll all have to translate to the field, but his chances are looking pretty good.
On notice (Chris Jones)
Though Jones lands on the bubble watch, as previously discussed in 49ers: Looking at Chris Jones’ role within DC Robert Saleh’s 4-3 Under Scheme, his passion, work ethic, and determination will help his battle for a roster spot.
Right defensive end/LEO “lead battle” (Three-man battle: Arik Armstead, Aaron Lynch, Elvis Dumervil)
Arik Armstead stands 6’7 and isn’t the typical LEO in terms of size, but he is freakishly athletic and versatile enough to play either inside or on the edge. As most recently mentioned in 49ers: Don’t Sleep on Arik Armstead Taking Over as the “LEO, Pass-Rusher”, if he keeps a low pad level and prevents offensive lineman from getting up into his frame, he should excel regardless of where he’s lined up.
Aaron Lynch, while talented, is yet to consistently produce and live up to potential. As mentioned in: San Francisco 49ers: Does Aaron Lynch Want to be Great?, Lynch has to show up and show out to prove he can be great, and that he wants to be great in order to solidify a spot on this 2017 roster.
Elvis Dumervil – As the most experienced player at the LEO, Dumervil looks to both be used as a sack artist and as a mentor. In the recent article 49ers: 49ers: With the Arrival of Elvis Dumervil; Who’s In? Who’s Out?, Niners Live discussed how the signing of Dumervil affects the roster. Whether he will be inserted into the game as a situational pass-rusher or depth, his presence will be appreciated and felt when attempting to pressure the quarterback.
Rotational “key cog” battle (Eli Harold vs Elvis Dumervil)
Eli Harold – Known as a multipurpose player as talked about in 49ers: Looking at Eli Harold’s role within DC Robert Saleh 4-3 Under Scheme and the developmental stage, Eli will see his name on multiple lists due to his ability to play numerous positions.
Elvis Dumervil – Be it in relief/situational, or mentor role, one way or another, Dumervil will prove to be a good investment lined up opposite the offense in an attempt to add to his career total of 99 sacks and again show how valuable he can be when healthy.
On notice (Eli Harold)
No need to panic or get your blood pressure up by seeing Eli’s name here. He’ll see most of his snaps strong side linebacker (SAM) position if not lined up here.
Left defensive end/big end “lead battle” (Solomon Thomas vs. Tank Carradine)
Solomon Thomas, as highlighted in 49ers: Familiarity: DC Robert Saleh Needs a Violent Disruptor, “Solomon Thomas”, has the potential to be the edge force the 49ers need. But he’ll need to play catch up and show up over the next few months while having fellow teammates looking for snaps at the position.
Tank Carradine is yet another veteran with an opportunity to prove his worth as he attempts to fight off the younger players at his position.
Rotational “key cog” battle (Ronald Blair vs. Eli Harold)
This battle is less complicated than the others; either Blair or Harold will be looked open to play valuable snaps at the big end position. Though it will be in a rotational role, solid and consistent play off the edge is very necessary for the 49ers defense to be successful.
On notice (Tank Carradine)
To be blunt, this is a get right or get left off the roster season for Carradine. In the 4-3 under, he’s back playing his natural position, so there’s no excuse. He’ll have to produce or he’ll be attempting to produce a reason why he belongs on an NFL roster.
It will be interesting to see who will emerge victorious throughout training camp and pre-season to win the lead starting dawg positions and who’ll be a key cog in the rotation.If this group can win upfront and keep the linebackers clean, and find multiple personnel groupings to combat multiple offensive sets, look out Pro Football Focus. For now, see you in part 2: Featuring the Linebackers.
Recent article alert: 49ers: Training camp battles. “Who Wants it More?” Beathard? Or Barkley?
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Kevin Mitchell Staff Writer at Niners Live and Co-Author, Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims.