The 49ers haven’t given up on defensive lineman Tank Carradine. Instead they are looking at rebooting him.
That seemed to be the message from coach Jim Tomsula on Monday when asked why Carradine, a high second-round pick in the 2013 draft, sat out Sunday’s win over the Atlanta Falcons. Carradine was the only 49ers player in uniform who did not play a snap.
“That wasn’t a knock on Tank not playing last night,” Tomsula said. “It’s just kind of where we are coaching-wise now. You know, trying to switch gears a little bit with Tank and utilizing him to his strengths.”
Carradine’s strength – in college, at least – was rushing off the edge, something that earned him 12 sacks at Florida State in 2012 despite an ACL tear in the third-to-last game. When the 49ers drafted him with the 40th overall pick, the question was whether they would use him as an outside pass rusher or a defensive lineman.
Their outside linebackers were in the 260-pound range and were asked, at times, to drop into coverage. Their defensive ends, typified by Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, were around 300 pounds.
That wasn’t a knock on Tank not playing last night. It’s just kind of where we are coaching-wise now. You know, trying to switch gears a little bit with Tank and utilizing him to his strengths.
49ers coach Jim Tomsula on why defensive lineman Tank Carradine didn’t play Sunday
Carradine weighed 276 pounds in the run-up to the draft. After he was drafted, he said he was eager to play any position but that most teams had been eyeing him as an outside rusher.
“Yes, they were. They were looking at me as an outside linebacker,” he said at the time. “Teams can see, by watching film, see how good I can move the space. And also I was a standup DE as well in junior college. And then I did it down at Florida State. We ran some 4-3 and 3-4. So teams have seen me fit in that scheme as well.”
The same day, however, general manager Trent Baalke likened Carradine to McDonald, who essentially was a defensive tackle in the 49ers’ defensive scheme.
“Well, he’s going to play down,” Baalke said. “He’s not an outside linebacker. In our system, it’s one of the things we really liked is the versatility. He’s a little bit bigger than Ray was when Ray came out (in the draft). Just a guy that we think can play the four technique, the five technique, can play in our sub package. Can kick down and play a three and also stay outside in the sub package. So just a lot of position versatility with him.”
Carradine is now listed at 295 pounds, so having him stand up and play outside linebacker is unlikely, at least this year. But there are ways to move him more outside, which the 49ers apparently are considering.
Carradine has played just 151 snaps in 2015, fewer than any other 49ers lineman who has been active through all nine games.
He played a season-high 30 snaps in Week 7 against Seattle and delivered with four tackles and a quarterback hit. The following week against the Rams, however, he was inserted into the game and immediately was crushed on the play on which Todd Gurley burst through the line of scrimmage and scored a 71-yard touchdown. He ended up playing just nine snaps.
Baalke and Tomsula have incentive to get more out of Carradine.
With the 49ers off to a 3-6 start, Baalke’s draft picks are being scrutinized like never before. Both second round picks in 2013, Carradine and tight end Vance McDonald have underperformed. Baalke has traded two tight ends, Derek Carrier and Vernon Davis, in recent months, giving more opportunities for McDonald to make plays.
And Tomsula helped scout Carradine before the 2013 draft and was his position coach the last two seasons.
“Tank works hard,” Tomsula said Monday. “Tank does good in terms of his work ethic and how important it is to him. But I want to utilize Tank in some different situations in football, in the game. Looking at where he’s at and what he can do for us, so that’s what I’ve been doing. I brought that up to the defense and that is an area that I got involved in, just in terms of Tank because I coached him.”