Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Previewing the San Francisco 49ers’ Reserve Defensive Line

Bret Rumbeck
Aug 14, 2020 at 7:00 AM


Reserve defensive linemen are a critical cog in a professional football team's overall success. These men play 20 snaps or more on a Sunday afternoon and may find themselves on the field in a must-win situation. An organization might skate by on a subpar second-team offensive guard, but it cannot have below-average second-string defensive linemen.

Last season, the San Francisco 49ers began with a stellar group of second-string trench men but had a noticeable drop in talent after veterans D.J. Jones and Ronald Blair ended up on the injured reserve list. If you want proof, re-watch former defensive lineman Anthony Zettel's 15-play performance in Super Bowl LIV, and you will see how badly the 49ers could have used Jones for those moments.

General manager John Lynch built a robust roster of defensive linemen to begin the 2020 season, including men who could be high-quality reserves as the season grinds forward.

Yesterday, I previewed my first-team defensive linemen, and here are my projections for the 49ers' reserve defensive line.

Solomon Thomas - Utility


I can't quite figure out what the 49ers have in mind for defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Obviously, they want him to reach his potential, but they have no clear path on where he should play or how they can use him in the defensive scheme.

Last season, Thomas played 479 total snaps on the defensive line. Thomas played 236 snaps as a defensive end, or about 49.3% of his total snap count for those who believe he's an edge defender.

Other experts and film geeks suggested Thomas is better suited as an interior defensive lineman. Thomas played 243 snaps as a defensive or nose tackle, making up roughly 50.7% of his total play.

Here's the proof the coaching staff has no idea where to play Thomas.

Thomas' best game in 2019 was in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers, playing 14 snaps inside and 18 snaps on the edge. He finished the game with one hit, one tackle and one run stop - but he looked more dominant than he had in previous games.

In Week 12, Thomas took 32 snaps at REO, a season-high for him.

Seven days later, Saleh played Thomas twice at REO and three times at LEO. His statistics for both games totaled one tackle, and one hurry.

Thomas has not lived up to his draft potential. There are moments he looks like he's finally turned a corner and ready to take on NFL with a fury. But a series later, he is getting blown out of the gap or flat out overpowered.

Week 2: 2nd Quarter - 2nd & 5 at the CIN 25 (10:01)



It would not be shocking to see the 49ers trade Thomas before the season, or just before the trade deadline to try and salvage something from his disappointing NFL career.

D.J. Jones - Defensive Tackle


One day, a wise historian will look back at the 49ers' loss in Super Bowl LIV and not dump the loss on the back of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Instead, the historian will take a rational approach to the game, noting the 49ers did not have defensive D.J. Jones active for the championship game.

That might be a fantastical vision for a thesis paper, but the premise is undoubtedly something I endorse.

Jones, the 49ers' sixth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, made eight starts and played in eleven games in 2019 before suffering a high ankle sprain against the New Orleans Saints. The 49ers placed Jones on injured reserve in mid-December.

There are times when Jones struggles, notably in Week 6, against the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams' offensive line was shoving Jones out of position on nearly every run play. Saleh replaced Jones with Thomas, which helped halt the Rams' ground attack.

However, Jones is a quality reserve lineman who can make impact plays when needed.

Dion Jordan - Defensive End


Lynch must be really into playing the risk-reward game this year because sixth-year veteran Dion Jordan's checkered NFL career is quite a gamble. Jordan has never played more than 330 snaps in one season since entering the NFL in 2013 due to suspensions for substance violations.

Jordan's upside is he can play on the left or right edge, but that shouldn't matter - getting caught up in the REO vs. LEO debate is pointless. In 2019, he finished Weeks 11-17 with the Oakland Raiders and was able to notch three sacks and ten hurries over 173 snaps. If Lynch, Shanahan, and Saleh can keep Jordan focused, he will make a solid second-team edge defender.

Kerry Hyder - Defensive End


I didn't embrace the 49ers' addition of veteran edge defender Kerry Hyder, but I do my best to live in football reality. In late March, the team already had a thin gruel of edge defenders on the roster, so signing Hyder was the right move.

Unfortunately, Hyder is nowhere near the talent as Bosa and Ford, which makes me concerned when he's on the field. Hyder might end up making the roster, but be an active scratch if and when defensive end Ronald Blair is healthy enough to see the field.

Kentavius Street– On the Bubble


When Lynch and Shanahan took defensive lineman Kentavius Street in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, I thought it was a joke. There was no way the 49ers were going back down the path of drafting players with damaged knee ligaments.

Old habits die hard, I suppose. Street didn't play a down in 2018 but did see his first NFL action late last season as an interior defensive lineman.

Street is a ridiculously strong player, but the injuries have kept him from showcasing what that means for the 49ers' line. He was a player I wanted to watch this preseason – and with no live games, Street will have to outplay Hyder and second-year veteran Kevin Givens to earn a roster spot.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference, unless noted.
All images courtesy of NFL.com.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


2 Comments

  • PSYCHOSRG
    Love the in depth articles you compose. As far as the unknown's DJ Jones makes big stops. Street hasn't had the opportunity to prove his value but he's got massive potential nor has Julian Taylor who's only played 6 years (I believe) American football. Any one of these three could turn the corner & produce satisfactory results in a back up role. Hard to say on Jordan. He either sells out on the 49ers team commitment that winning a championship supersedes all personal goals or he takes a vacation to get a paycheck. With the player chemistry both Lynch & Shanahan have instilled I feel he"ll embrace the situation & run with it. Let's hope I'm correct. Again keep the articles coming & I'll be there to read them & best of luck.
    Aug 14, 2020 at 10:24 AM
    0
    Response: Agree on Taylor - I didn't mean to leave him out, but there's a word count on commentaries. Appreciate the feedback and encouragement.
  • Matt jones
    Hey Bret, thanks for the articles. Liked them both, just curious why Ronald Blair wasnt mentioned in either one. Is it because the team expects him to start the season on the PUP? Thanks! Matt
    Aug 14, 2020 at 7:55 AM
    0
    Response: Matt, Thanks for reading and the feedback. I wasn't sure if or when Blair would come off the PUP. He's another player the 49ers really missed during the Super Bowl.

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