The San Francisco 49ers emerged from last week’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks both injured and insulted, as the team allowed a season-high 255 rushing yards while losing DL Glenn Dorsey to an ACL tear.
Without one of their bigger bodies to plug up the lanes, San Francisco will once again rely on this season’s trend of calling on the next man up to contain an Arizona Cardinals offense that leads the league with 417.3 yards per game.
That ‘next man up’ will likely be rookie first-rounder Arik Armstead, who will look to make his biggest contribution since being picked 17th overall in the 2015 draft.
Armstead has played mostly a reserve role to starters Dorsey, Ian Williams and Quinton Dial this season, playing in just 200 total defensive snaps on the year. The 22-year old from Oregon has recorded 13 tackles and one sack, which, coincidentally, came against the Cardinals in Week 3.
With Dorsey absent from his spot on the left side of the line, defensive coordinator Eric Mangini said Dial may play an interchangeable role with Armstead on the line, praising the pair’s ability to work at multiple spots:
“He’s one of those guys that since he’s been here has worked all those spots, so we have that flexibility to bring him over there. Arik’s worked both spots. He’s worked more on the left than he has on the right. But, during the course of, this is part of his growth as well, you’ve got to be able to play both sides. It’s like a cornerback. You can’t just play left and right, because sometimes you’ve got to match up.”
In his limited sample size, Armstead has been stronger in both the pass rush and run defense than Dorsey, according to Pro Football Focus. Armstead has also registered the most quarterback hurries amongst the linemen with 21 on the year. Williams came in second with just nine.
But Mangini would not downplay the significance of yet another key blow to his defense, touting Dorsey as a highly valuable player in the trenches.
“Physical, tough, aggressive and can set a tone. We were just watching him play on the goal line where he split two guys, really shouldn’t have been anywhere near the ball and was able to make the play…That’s hard to replace a guy like Glenn. Not just from a performance perspective, and it’s not that outspoken, carry the flag leadership, but it’s solid, steady, salt of the earth, great example work ethic, tough.”
Although Armstead will likely see the biggest increase in workload, other young members of the defensive line unit will likely see a bigger role, with players like Tony Jerod-Eddie and Tank Carradine also getting into the mix.
Whether or not Carradine sees action will be almost as intriguing as watching how Armstead performs in his heightened role. The 49ers had big hopes for the second-round pick out of Florida State, but he has failed to make a splash in Mangini’s defense this season.
Carradine has seen the second-lowest snaps along the defensive line, at just 151 thus far. He has one sack, eight quarterback hurries and eight solo tackles in that time.
Originally drafted as a defensive tackle, head coach Jim Tomsula said last week that the team was attempting to get him in shape to play a defensive end role.
The 26-year old has earned the praise of Tomsula, who stated that he has shed up to 15 pounds while preparing for his new role:
“Looking to get him playing on edges more, playing some outside edge… He rushes and plays the game from outside and then he has the ability to come in and play off the three technique working edges. … That’s where we’re going with it and talked to Tank about it and feel good about where that is. He’s doing a lot more explosive work, getting back with get-offs and doing those things has changed up a little bit of his weight training.”
With Dorsey out, the rest of the season will offer an interesting look at the potential future of the 49ers defensive line.