Tank Carradine says he’s becoming the player he always thought he would be.
That transformation is not yet reflected in the 49ers defensive statistics or the team’s snap count. But it is on the bathroom scale. When Carradine steps on it these days, his weight is 275 pounds. That’s down from 300 pounds at the start of the season and is closing in on the weight at which he played at Florida State.
“That’s where I’m comfortable,” Carradine said recently. “That’s where my body – my weight – wants to be.”
Carradine, now a defensive lineman, said he’d like a shot at lining up at outside linebacker next season. It’s the position he initially thought he’d play when the 49ers drafted him early in the second round in 2013, and it promises to be the team’s grand experiment during the 2016 offseason.
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Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini has seen the metamorphosis happen before, including with former New York Jets pass rusher Shaun Ellis, who was 290 pounds at the time, and he said it won’t be easy.
“It’s a different world standing up and seeing things from a two-point stance,” Mangini said
But he also said someone with Carradine’s size already has one advantage in that he is powerful enough to set the edge of the 49ers’ run defense. And he said Carradine obviously is eager to make the conversion.
One of the criticisms of Carradine a year ago, when he played just 13.9 percent of the 49ers’ defensive snaps, was that he was slow to pick up the team’s defense. But when Mangini recently tapped Carradine to review the defensive signals for an upcoming game in front of his teammates, the third-year player was spot on.
“He worked at it, he was impressive,” Mangini said. “It’s small things like that with Tank where you see his work ethic, you see how important this is to him, you see how much he cares.”
There were differing opinions on Carradine’s best position in the run-up to the 2013 draft. Teams that played a 4-3 defense saw him as a defensive end. Those that used a 3-4 alignment wondered if he would be effective as an outside linebacker. When San Francisco, which has a 3-4 defense, selected him, Carradine figured that linebacker is the position he would play.
“That’s what I thought I was getting drafted to do,” he said.
General manager Trent Baalke, and presumably Jim Tomsula, the defensive line coach at the time, had another plan. Tomsula traveled to Carradine’s native Cincinnati a week before the draft to watch him work out and to have dinner with the prospect. The 49ers wondered whether Carradine, who had 12 sacks his final season at Florida State, eventually could replace Justin Smith, who along with fellow defensive lineman Ray McDonald, played at around 300 pounds.
“Well, he’s going to play down,” Baalke said at the time. “He’s not an outside linebacker.”
Carradine was recovering from an ACL injury suffered in college when he was drafted, and he didn’t get on the field his rookie season. Even after the knee healed, he wasn’t the lineman Baalke envisioned.
Smith and McDonald weren’t on the roster this season, but Carradine’s playing time only rose to 19.1 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. He wasn’t happy with that rate earlier this season and complained to his coaches. That’s when the plan to return to his college weight – between 265 and 270 pounds – was hatched.
No one in the 49ers organization has committed to saying Carradine will be used as an outside linebacker next year. Tomsula has used the broad description “edge player.” Mangini, meanwhile, kept the options open, “whether it’s a true end or some sort of hybrid end, outside linebacker type role,” he said.
Carradine said it doesn’t matter as long as he’s lining up on the outside as he did in college.
“I feel like I could still do it on the inside, but I felt like I’ll have more success on the outside,” he said. “I wasn’t comfortable. I just wasn’t comfortable being that heavy.”