With plenty of depth at defensive end, the 49ers today released one of their pleasant surprises from the 2006 season, defensive end Melvin Oliver. Two years ago, Oliver went from being a sixth-round draft pick out of LSU to an every-day starter at defensive end. His fumble recovery and subsequent rumble into the end zone against the Raiders was one of the more memorable plays from the 2006 season.
This season, however, Oliver ran into a logjam. Though the 49ers lost Bryant Young and Marques Douglas in the offseason, they added Justin Smith and rookie Kentwan Balmer. Balmer and Isaac Sopoaga will see a lot of time at left defensive end, the spot in which Oliver had been playing. (Also, look for Balmer to exchange his No. 67 jersey for Oliver's No. 96). At right defensive end, the team has Smith, second-year player Ray McDonald and newcomer Walter Curry, who made a splash during spring practices.
Oliver had the added obstacle of having to come back from an ACL tear, an injury he suffered last spring and one that wiped out his 2007 season. He did take part in some of the recent OTA practices, but as everyone knows it often takes more than 365 days to fully recover from that injury. Once again, the 49ers have made a noble gesture (they did so with Darrell Jackson, too) by releasing Oliver fairly early. He still has an opportunity to make an impression with a team in training camp, and to be honest, he's probably a much better fit on a defense that plays a 4-3.
I'm on record as saying (writing) that a roster spot would be difficult for two defensive linemen, Oliver and Joe Cohen. The difference is that Cohen is eligible for the practice squad. Oliver, who appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, is not.
-- Matt Barrows