Tank Carradine picked up a few things in the film room last season and he learned some tricks of the trade from watching teammates like Justin Smith, whom he'll likely relieve at times this year.
But his biggest lesson was this: Play each snap as if it might be your last. “You can be out there and everything could be going good and you could be having an amazing season, and all of a sudden get a knee injury or something like that,” Carradine said today. “I just learned to be grateful to be out here playing sports. And take advantage of it. Don't let opportunities pass you by.”
Doubts about whether he had already played his last snap must have been running through Carradine's mind last year. Carradine, taken early in the second round in 2013, had recovered from an ACL tear suffered a year earlier at Florida State. But he never returned to normal. His usual explosion wasn't there and he never regained full flexibility in the joint.
“I didn't really know if I was ever going to be the same again,” Carradine said.
An end-of-year MRI of the knee showed a buildup of scar tissue, and in January he had it cleaned out. Carradine said he felt better almost immediately. “I was able to get a full range of motion in my knee, I was able to bend it,” he said. “I also got the strength back in my leg.”
That means Caradine is back on track to resume the role everyone expected him to have last year, which is a backup to starters Smith and Ray McDonald and perhaps as an inside rusher on passing downs.
Vic Fangio, however, said it's too early to define Carradine's role.
The ever-cautious defensive coordinator noted that Carradine has yet to go through a single padded practice with the 49ers. In addition, the team has an abundance of defensive linemen, most of whom – like Demarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie – have more experience than Carradine, whom Fangio said was essentially just starting his career.
“He's basically not much different than a rookie coming in right now,” Fangio said. “So this is his first shot.”