49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

August 28, 2008
Final 53: Defensive lineman

As far as the final numbers go, this unit takes it on the chin for four reasons: One, the 49ers consider themselves a 3-4 team (hybrid 3-4) and one of the beauties of running the 3-4 is that you don't need to carry as many lineman. Two, there are several linebackers - Rod Green, Parys Haralson, TBC, etc. - who can play with their hand in the dirt if need be. Three, just about every lineman can play multiple positions on the line, making depth less of a concern. Four, backup linebackers are better on special teams than backup linemen.

#60 Walter Curry. This one's going to hurt defensive line coach Jim Tomsula who's fond of Curry after their days together in NFL Europe. Curry is one of the strongest players on the team, and he holds his ground well, which is something the 49ers want from their defensive ends. But Curry is not as versatile as some other players and there's a sense that in Isaac Sopoaga and Ronald Fields, the team has virtually the same player with a little more play-making ability. He is not practice-squad eligible.
Final 53: No.

#61 LaJuan Ramsey. Ramsey is this year's version of Sam Rayburn - a former Eagles lineman who is a solid lineman that is just not going to make the final cut. Ramsey certainly hasn't floundered since arriving here. But his size is just OK, he's not all that versatile and he's not a pass-rush threat.
Final 53: No

#62 Louis Holmes. A very intriguing guy. If Holmes had had his head screwed on right in college, he would have been a first-day draft pick. As it was, he went undrafted. But he has excellent size and quickness and he's responded well to Tomsula's coaching. He easily could have been listed in the "linebacker" post because he's been playing quite a bit there late in training camp. Holmes' most natural position is probably as a 4-3 defensive end, but he's more athletic than Jay Moore and the 49ers envision him as a pass-rush linebacker. Practice squad is a definite possibility.
Final 53: No.

#78 Atiyyah Ellison. The 49ers snagged Ellison off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad early last season. And why not? Ellison is huge, quick and smart - just what the 49ers were looking for on their defensive line. But the team seems to be reaching the same conclusion the Ravens had: That while Ellison is bursting with ability, he's too inconsistent for a spot on the regular roster. He was inactive for every game last season - a wasted roster spot - and it doesn't look as if the 49ers will make the same mistake twice.
Final 53: No.

#90 Isaac Sopoaga. He's much happier at left defensive end after playing nose tackle for most of 2007. Sopoaga was paid handsomely in the offseason and it will be interesting to see if there's any drop-off in his play. Of course, he still has plenty of pressure: He's taking over for the incomparable Bryant Young and he has a first-round draft choice playing behind him.
Final 53: Yes

#91 Ray McDonald. Last year, the coaching staff predicted big things from Ray McDonald in his second season, and McDonald is in a position to make them look smart. He admits to having a tough time his rookie season because he was relying mostly on instincts and quickness. He has a better understanding of the defense - and his role - this season, and he's looked very good in the preseason. Along with Justin Smith, McDonald is the team's best pass-rushing lineman, and the 49ers often will pair the two on stunts. The duo is being counted on to jump-start the pass rush this season.
Final 53: Yes.

#92 Aubrayo Franklin. The 49ers see Franklin as a placeholder until they can find somebody better to play nose tackle. Franklin gets moved around too easily and last year spent too many plays on the ground. Still, his play picked up toward the tail end of 2007 and he couldn't have been too bad considering Patrick Willis' tackle total. Still, look for the team to try to upgrade the position in the offseason.
Final 53: Yes

#93 Ronald Fields. The 49ers like Fields for two reasons - he's versatile and he has a certain on-the-field meanness that coaches desire in a defensive lineman. Fields had one of the 49ers' top plays last year when he forced a Kurt Warner fumble in an overtime win in Arizona. He was rushing from the left defensive end spot that game but has been switched to nose tackle, his college position, this year. The 49ers would love it if he displaced Franklin, but it looks as if Fields will begin the season as a reliever.
Final 53: Yes

#94 Justin Smith. I could have included him in yesterday's post but I just got too tired of writing about linebackers. Smith - as you've no doubt heard by now - is going to play multiple positions this year. Smith's been everything the 49ers hoped for so far, and has been a valuable teacher for younger defensive linemen and offensive linemen alike. He's a very hard guy for offensive linemen to handle one on one, which is why the team's pass rush will revolve around Smith. In other words, Smith's value shouldn't be measured in how many sacks he has this year but in how many sacks the team has.
Final 53: Yes

#96 Kentwan Balmer. Get down from the roof, 49ers fans. The team's first rounder is not a bust. He's simply a far from polished defensive lineman, as most rookies who play his position are (See: Williams, Mario; McDonald, Ray). Early on, he's reminded me a lot of former 49ers defensive lineman Anthony Adams as far as his energy level and work ethic. The difference is that Balmer is much bigger and has a more powerful lower body. A year under Tomsula will pay dividends but don't expect much this season.
Final 53: Yes.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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