Positional Analysis Defensive Line
January 28 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
Proposed to be one of the strongest parts of the 49ers defense this season, the defensive line did not meet anyone’s expectations. With the addition of young stud Andre Carter and the return of Dana Stubblefield the 49ers has such incredible hopes for the first line of defense. Unfortunately the group while able to stifle the run most of the time, did not generate much of a pass rush for most of the season. This is an area that must be improved over the off-season.
Although the defensive line seemed to be performing well in the final three games of the regular season, the playoffs exposed them for what they were, and that was too light across the front, and not aggressive enough to collapse a pocket and force the big play.
The group is lead by veteran Bryant Young who has been voted back to the Pro Bowl after having one of his worst statistical seasons. Young has always been a threat to get to the quarterback, but this season was hardly able to do that. Instead, Young stopped teams from running inside. Against Green Bay the 49ers moved Young to defensive end out of necessity, where he played much better than two seasons ago. Young however likes playing inside, so while there is a chance the 49ers may move him around more next season, his home will be at defensive tackle.
Accompanying Young is his long time friend and team mate Dana Stubblefield who was re-signed this off-season. Stubblefield gave the 49ers a reason not to resign Brenston Buckner but many still believes it was a bad move by the 49ers. Stubblefied had a great season against the run, but did not do much against the pass despite playing next to one of the best defensive tackles in the league. Stubblefield will likely see competition for his spot this off-season as the 49ers need production from their men upfront.
Rookie Andre Carter has a rough beginning to the season, but seemed to come on strong towards the end. With 6.5 sacks Carter lead the team. An extra year of being in the NFL and developing chemistry and knowledge within the 49ers defense should help the highly touted Carter.
Opposite of Carter played John Engelberger. ‘Elberg’ as he is better known amongst the teams is an incredibly strong player, that uses his force and great athletic ability to perform at the NFL level. Unfortunately though he lacks the ability to be a big time player and has been over achieving since his arrival with the team. While Elberg would make a great bench player he really isn’t big enough and lacks some skill to be a starter at left defensive end. This is likely an area the 49ers will attempt to address in the off-season. The addition of a playmaker at this position could make the difference along the defensive line.
The first tackle off the bench was Reggie McGrew. McGrew a first round draft choice now finds himself on the expansion list, and eligible to be picked up by the Texans. McGrew never came close to the expectations of him when he came into the league. Despite having his best season with the team last season, there would have to be drastic changes in his ability and in his contract for him to return to the 49ers next season.
At end, Chike Okeafor was the first man off the bench. Okeafor proved to be an effective bench player, and had his best game as a 49er, in his one start this season. Okeafor will see competition this off-season, but may be able to hang in there because of his knowledge of the system and reasonable contract figure.
John Schlect was an ok bench player. Not seeing too much action, Schlect made the most of his possibility. As the 49ers look to add depth at defensive tackle, Schlect will see plenty of competition this off-season.
Bobby Setzer left a good impression with the 49ers. He made the most of his few opportunities at defensive tackle. Troy Wilson was added to the squad for the playoffs and saw very minimal time. Menson Holloway another 49ers defensive end- one who the 49ers have reasonable hopes for spent much of the season on the injured reserve. The 49ers are anxious to see what Holloway can bring to the table. All these players will see much competition over the offs-season.
There’s no simpler way to put this. The 49ers need to get to the oppositions quarterback. And despite the late season surge for sacks, it’s unlikely that the 49ers will return in 2002 with the same defensive line as the year before. The team likes the chemistry of Young and Stubblefield, but after a poor reunion these two will have to give the 49ers good reason to keep them together. Meanwhile Andre Carter will have to continue to work hard to take his game to the next level. A bid left end would really help in controlling the line of scrimmage, and is something the team will have to look into this off-season.