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SANTA CLARA – The retirement of Justin Smith has finally left the 49ers in the position they envisioned when they used a 2013 second-round draft pick on a defensive lineman.
After two quiet seasons in the NFL, now it’s time to see what Tank Carradine has to offer.
The 49ers selected Carradine, who was coming off ACL surgery did not suit up for a game in his rookie season, with the No. 40 overall pick. Last season, Carradine made a minimal impact while appearing in nine games. He finished with three sacks -- all coming in the final three games.
Now, the 49ers need to get production from a player who showed unique pass-rush skills as a senior at Florida State with 13 sacks. But as much as the 49ers would like Carradine to pile up sack numbers, it might be more important that he selflessly creates opportunities for outside linebacker Aldon Smith.
“We work together a little bit, figuring out what kind of stunts and things we could do,” Carradine said. “I’m excited to work with him this year. He’s a great pass-rusher. I feel like I can bring something to the table to help him as well as he helps me.”
Justin Smith played a huge role in Aldon Smith’s success as he routinely tied up blockers to allow the outside pass-rusher to come free on inside moves en route to the quarterback. Aldon Smith enters this season with 44 sacks in 50 career games.
Without Justin Smith and Ray McDonald on the team’s defensive line, the 49ers figure to use more of a rotation than what the team has featured in the past.
“It’s opened opportunities for the young guys to step up and become a factor, become a great player on the team and help the team and execute the things we got to go for the defensive line,” Carradine said.
Carradine figures to see action at right defensive end on base downs, along with Darnell Dockett and Quinton Dial. Dockett and Carradine figure to be two of the team’s top inside pass-rushers in nickel situations.
“We got guys who can play left and right end,” Carradine said. “We got guys who can play in the nickel package. We got guys who can play in the base package. So it’s different. We’re all going to work together. Each guy does things different. We’re going to do it together and get things done. For me, I can do both. I’m excited about it. Other guys can do it as well.”