Editor’s note: Insider Matt Maiocco will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to 49ers training camp, which opens with their first full-squad practice on Aug. 1.
Who they have: Arik Armstead, Darnell Dockett, Glenn Dorsey, Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial, Ian Williams, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Mike Purcell, Kaleb Ramsey, Garrison Smith, Lawrence Okoye
Who they lost: Justin Smith
Looking back: The 49ers used more of a rotation on the defensive line despite Dorsey’s biceps tear that kept him out for the entire season. Williams played in just nine games before sustaining a season-ending leg fracture. The 49ers also had the added distractions of Ray McDonald’s off-field issues. The team cut ties with McDonald with two games left in the season. Smith was not the same player he was in the past, but he still led the 49ers’ defensive linemen with five sacks.
Overall outlook: The 49ers still have a good group of defensive linemen. In fact, new head coach Jim Tomsula said it’s the deepest unit he has seen since coming to the 49ers in 2007 as the D-line coach. The 49ers have prepared for the loss of Smith for several years. They drafted Carradine in the second round in 2013, and Armstead was added with the No. 15 overall selection this year. Dockett, a veteran acquisition from the Arizona Cardinals, figures to be used as a situational pass-rusher.
Camp competition: It appears as if all roles are up in the air. Dorsey and Williams have the inside tracks at nose tackle, but Tomsula thinks of the players in this position as being versatile enough to play any spot along the line. Dial was the primary nose tackle in the final seven games, and he’ll join a competition that includes Carradine, Armstead, Jerod-Eddie and others for spots in the starting lineup or in the rotation.
Bottom line: The 49ers should not be hurting at this position, but there is a lot of uncertainty because of the competition that will take place in training camp to fill specific roles. The 49ers might not necessarily need Armstead to take on a big role as a rookie, but he is a unique talent who the organization believes has a chance to excel due to his unique physical gifts. The four technique is the position that calls for the defensive lineman to line up face-to-face over an offensive tackle and often maintain two-gap responsibilities in the run game.