The 49ers’ highlights don’t exactly leap off the page when it comes to their demoralizing 19-3 Thanksgiving night loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
But if you dig deep enough into the stat book, you’ll find one: The game marked defensive end Tank Carradine’s high-water mark as a 49er.
He played 28 snaps after starter Ray McDonald was forced into the training room for a long stretch to deal with a finger injury. Carradine finished with five tackles, two of them behind the line of scrimmage.
Those career-best numbers are fairly modest, especially for a high second-round pick in the 2013 draft. Still, they mark progress for Carradine, who didn’t play a single defensive snap in the first half of the season and missed his rookie season while dealing with an ACL injury suffered in college.
Carradine said he felt like this season has been his rookie campaign.
“I definitely feel that way because last year I didn’t even get to put on a uniform,” he said. “There was no getting out there and dressing for the games. I didn’t do (training) camp or anything. Everything I did this year – the few games I’ve played in – it’s all new to me. So I’ve got to get more comfortable with it. And it does feel like my rookie year.”
The 49ers are deep along the defensive line despite the fact that they use only two defensive linemen whenever they are in their nickel alignment, which they do on roughly half their snaps. Carradine also has acknowledged that it has taken him a while to master the defensive playbook.
In October, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio bluntly said Carradine wasn’t playing because he simply hadn’t beaten out any of the players ahead of him on the defensive-line depth chart.
But there’s been progress more recently. The more he plays, the more comfortable he feels, Carradine said. And the more comfortable he feels, the better he plays.
“I see improvement,” Fangio said. “I see a guy that’s playing the run better than he was. I see a guy that’s being better in his assignments, and I see a guy that’s into it. I think the arrow is up on him.”
Said Justin Smith, the veteran leader of the defensive line: “He keeps getting reps and getting out there, and he plays better with every rep he gets. You become more aware of what’s going on around you, how the defense fits off you, not only (knowing) where you’ve got to be but why you’ve got to be where you’ve got to be. I think all that stuff is starting to click with him.”
Smith hasn’t made a decision about playing in 2015, when he will be 36. If he retires, Carradine will be one of several players gunning to take over a starting spot. Smith has been the cornerstone for the 49ers’ defensive success in recent years.
Others in the mix would include Quinton Dial, who was part of Carradine’s draft class, along with Tony Jerod-Eddie, rookie Kaleb Ramsey and practice squad player Lawrence Okoye. Fangio also noted that Glenn Dorsey, who has played nose tackle with the 49ers, is versatile enough to play defensive end in the team’s 3-4 scheme.
Given his draft status, however, all eyes would be on Carradine.
“Last year basically was a wasted year for him because of his health,” Fangio said. “Yeah, he’s been here two years but really only one, and sometimes it takes a little longer for some guys. You know, I wasn’t here when Ray McDonald first got here, but it took him awhile, too, from what I’ve been told.”
McDonald was a third-round pick in 2007 who also entered the league with questions about his ACL. He didn’t become a full-time starter until Fangio and his staff arrived in 2011.
Anthony Davis out – Anthony Davis will miss his ninth game of the season and his fourth since sustaining a concussion after the right tackle was ruled out in advance of Sunday’s game in Seattle. The 49ers also will be without wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who was ruled out with a knee injury.
Davis suffered his concussion at the end of the team’s Nov. 16 win over the New York Giants. He was limited in practice this week but still was experiencing post-concussion symptoms.
“He’s in communication with the trainers and the doctors,” coach Jim Harbaugh said when asked how the 49ers will proceed with Davis. “The professionals are handling it.”
Davis missed the earlier matchup with the Seahawks as well. Jonathan Martin started in his place and will make his ninth start of the season Sunday.
The team also could be without center Marcus Martin, who is listed as questionable. Martin injured his knee last Sunday in Oakland and missed Wednesday’s practice. He was limited on Thursday and Friday, and Harbaugh said the 49ers were “still determining” his status for the Seahawks game. If he can’t play, Joe Looney is likely to fill in at center.
Johnson’s absence perhaps creates a bigger role for second-year receiver Quinton Patton, who leapfrogged veteran Brandon Lloyd on last week’s depth chart. Patton, who had been inactive for the 49ers’ previous 12 games, was targeted once in Sunday’s loss to the Raiders but did not have a reception.
Dorsey (arm) and linebacker NaVorro Bowman (knee) also have been ruled out. Cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring) went through light practices this week and is listed as questionable, but he is unlikely to play in Seattle.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.