A Pre-Camp Look at the 49ers Strongest Position Group: Defensive Line

This ride will be short but worth it.

Yes indeed, yes indeed, faithful. It’s almost that time again for some 49ers football. What seems like the longest offseason yet is almost over, as the 49ers will be reporting to training camp next week on July 28.

That said, first and foremost I want to thank you for your time and taking this ride with me. If this is your first ride in the Silverado, welcome and I hope you enjoy the ride. If you’re a return passenger, welcome back and it’s great seeing you again.

I believe in safety first, so go ahead and put on your seatbelt and we’ll be on our way. This ride will be short but worth it. We’ll discuss the 49ers strongest (and most important) position group: the defensive line.

Building on a strong 2020 season

It’s no secret the 2020 season took a turn for the worst losing key defensive players on defense, namely second year quarterback terror Nick Bosa in Week 2 vs. the New York Jets. Like the majority of fans and even analysts, it seemed the season was just about over and were ready to all but write off the team as the defense had lost their best edge rusher.

Losing Bosa was indeed a huge blow but, despite the tough loss, the 49ers still managed to produce a top defense and the position group was the strongest of them all. Yes, believe it or not, even without Bosa. In his absence, defensive end Kerry Hyder led the team in sacks with 8.5. The next two closest behind Hyder in sacks, were Arik Armstead (3.5) and DJ Jones, with 3.

The 49ers finished the injury-riddled season ranking 5th in yards per game (314.38), 4th in 3rd down (money down) percentage (35.5%) and managed to accumulate 30 sacks which ranked 12th in the NFL, thanks to a strong performance by Hyder and contributions from the rest of the defensive line. It definitely could’ve been much worse in terms of defensive line productivity.

Why the 2021 defensive line performance looks so promising

Aside from the anticipated return of Bosa to the defensive line, the 49ers could see huge steps forward from second year defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, veterans Arik Armstead, DJ Jones, and possibly even Kevin Givens (his first step/get off is crazy) if he makes the team as well.

New additions to the defensive line, defensive tackles Zach Kerr and Maurice Hurst are forces in the middle and can both disrupt a passing game and clog running lanes in the middle of this already talented 49ers defensive line.

Samson Ebukam is also another addition who can become a key cog in the 49ers defensive line. Although Ebukam primarily played outside linebacker, it seems he’ll be playing with his hand in the ground as a defensive in nickel packages while still filling SAM (strong side linebacker) duties in the base package. Yes, he’s a problem!

Though it’s expected the edge pressure will once again be highlighted by Bosa, don’t sleep on newly acquired defensive end Arden Key. Though Key has yet to play to his potential, he was a highly-ranked edge rusher coming out of college at LSU. 

I know what you’re probably thinking, “Key is terrible, especially coming from the Las Vegas Raiders.”

A castoff of the Raiders or not, Key is a very talented edge rusher with great bend, a good motor and an exceptional first step. And let’s not forget, defensive line coach Kris Kocurek is one of the best, a dog himself who truly gets the best of his players. If you’ve yet to see his intensity during practices, do yourself a favor and put eyes on him. Actually, I’ll save you the time, here’s some footage of him firing up and coaching up his soldiers. 

I don’t know if you see what I do in Coach Kocurek, but this man truly maximizes his talent and pushes his guys to be the best they can be. If anybody can get Key to tap into his potential, Coach Kocurek can. He has me wanting to pad up again or coach again. Let’s go!

Dee Ford? (Hear me out)

Now I now this name carries a bit of bitterness as Ford hasn’t played much the past two seasons due to multiple injuries. I get it, as the best ability is availability. That’s fact no fiction. But if what newly extended All Pro middle linebacker Fred Warner said recently about Ford is true, man on man, this pass rush will definitely be back to form.

Say what you want, but when Ford is on the field, you’d think he has a timeshare in the backfield as much time as he spends there. The way I see it, he’s been paid already (and handsomely), so if healthy he can and will help the 49ers pass rush return to its “meet you at the quarterback" form.

We have arrived

I promised this ride would be short but worth it, and I hope you agree. I also hope it's clear as to why the defensive line is the strongest and most important position group on the 49ers.  

That said, between the performance despite injuries to the 49ers defensive line in 2020, returning (injured) players, new additions, and the outstanding coaching of Coach Kocurek, the 49ers defensive line should be one of the best, especially the interior defensive line.

It’s said, “pressure busts pipes.” Well, with this rotation, teams may want to have a handy man or Roto-Rooter on standby with the amount of pressure and busted pipes this rotation can cause. The rotation and depth could truly be the best seen in some time. 

Thanks for riding and see you next time.