On Wednesday we looked at the offensive starters who were missing from spring OTAs and the young players that benefit from those absences. Today the defense gets examined:
Defensive end: Justin Smith returning from a torn triceps tendon.
Beneficiaries: Will Tukuafu, Demarcus Dobbs, Lawrence Okoye
In a perfect world for the 49ers, draft picks Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial would be lining up at Smith's right defensive end position and getting valuable practice repetitions. Both players, however, are recovering from injuries - an ACL tear to Carradine and a toe injury for Dial.
That's given Tukuafu and Dobbs - two players whose roster spots are very much up in the air following the draft - more chances to make an impression. Ian Williams, who is considered more of a nose tackle, also has gotten a chance to play right defensive end with Glenn Dorsey at nose tackle. (Tony Jerod-Eddie mostly has been on the left side behind Ray McDonald). The second-team repetitions at right defensive end were taken by Okoye, who has been playing
NFL American football for exactly three weeks now. This has allowed him to take a true crash course at the position, albeit in non-contact drills. My prediction is that Okoye's long legs are going to be a hindrance and that he's going to get a rude awakening in training camp when it comes to leverage in trenches. How he reacts will be key.
Outside linebacker: Aldon Smith recovering from shoulder surgery; Ahmad Brooks unknown ailment.
Beneficiaries: Darius Fleming, Cam Johnson, Corey Lemonier
Of the group above, one - maybe two - will make the 53-man squad. Veteran Parys Haralson seems likely to make the team after missing all of last season with a triceps tear. He lowered his salary this offseason and was lined up (along with Dan Skuta*) at outside linebacker when the first-team defense was on the field Tuesday.
Fleming tore an ACL five minutes into his first rookie minicamp last year and missed the season. However, he won points with the team for his dedicated rehabilitation and is moving well this spring. Johnson also was injured early on last year. He is similar to Haralson in that he has a powerful lower body and is able to anchor against the run and hold the edge of the defensive line. However, he still seems labored in his movement when it comes to dropping back in space. Lemonier has the best length of this group, and he seems fluid in coverage. How he deals with contact from Anthony Davis and the team's other tackles is the question moving forward.
Cornerback: Like Jonathan Goodwin, Tarell Brown trains in his offseason home.
Beneficiary: Nnamdi Asomugha, Perrish Cox
With Brown out, the 49ers' top three cornerbacks on Tuesday were Carlos Rogers, Chris Culliver and Asomugha. Rogers, however, is a multi-year veteran who is entering his third season in this defense and doesn't need a lot of work. Subsequently, he was held out at times, allowing Asomugha to line up at right cornerback with the first-string defense and for Cox to play in the slot. Chris Culliver was the other "starter" on the outside.
The no-contact rules prevent Asomugha from applying the press coverage at which he is most adept. But he said he already feels comfortable in the defense and, like Anquan Boldin on the other side of the ball, has been busy counseling San Francisco's collection of young receivers on how to play at the NFL level.
Other players seeing action: Second-year safety Michael Thomas also has been getting repetitions as the nickel cornerback. Undrafted cornerbacks Lowell Rose and Darryl Morris get a lot of repetitions with the second-string defense. Both show potential.
* My sense was that Skuta, a special teams ace, was an inside linebacker. The 49ers appear to be giving him a look on the on the outside as well.
-- Matt Barrows