Looking for a breakout player for the 49ers coming out of spring practices? Quinton Dial checks a lot of the boxes.
You can’t say yet that the big, third-year player has secured a starting role on the defensive line since there are a long list of challengers and three months to go before the season begins.
But he was a first-string defensive lineman during the most recent minicamp, and he’s going to be hard to displace.
The plan at this point seems to be for Dial and Glenn Dorsey to start at the end positions and for Ian Williams to start at nose tackle. As in previous seasons, Williams will come out of the game in passing situations, and a nickel defensive back will enter.
In previous years, defensive end starters Justin Smith and Ray McDonald stayed in the game in the nickel package, moving inside a bit and essentially becoming defensive tackles in a 4-3 alignment. This year, the 49ers could have a new group enter in passing situations, specifically veteran Darnell Dockett and Tank Carradine.
Dockett is coming off an August ACL tear and has yet to practice with his new team. But he said last week he’s ahead of schedule and will be ready for the Week 1 game against the Minnesota Vikings.
That spells out roles for five defensive linemen. The 49ers also have first-round draft pick Arik Armstead, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Kaleb Ramsey and Lawrence Okoye – among others – on the roster, which implies someone worthwhile will wind up on another team’s roster by the early part of the season. Armstead also could be worked in as a nickel lineman, especially if Dockett is not quite ready early in the season.
As for Dial, he started six games last season at nose tackle after injuries felled Dorsey and Williams, and he played 327 defensive snaps, or 31.2 percent of the team’s total.
The difference this year is he’s slated to play defensive end, a more natural position for someone who stands 6-foot-5.
There were no pads, no hitting, no bull rushes, etc. in the May and June practices. But what stood out about Dial was how well he moved his big frame. He’s listed at 318 pounds – he seemed even bigger in recent practices – which makes him at least 20 pounds heavier than the players who have started at defensive end for San Francisco in previous seasons.
“I feel like it’s our time now,” Dial said last week. “Time for me and Tank to make our mark, to make our legacy.”