Ray McDonald today said the 49ers intend to do more rotating along the defensive line than they have in the previous two seasons when he's played as many as 91 percent of the team's defensive snaps. Attrition appeared to be an issue last year with the unit, which sagged in mid December through the playoffs.
"Yeah, that's the plan," the team's left defensive end said. "The younger guys are getting a lot more reps now. So we expect them to go in there and take a little load off of me and Justin (Smith). ... We do play a lot of snaps, so we've got to come out of there every once in a while."
The 49ers used draft picks on two defensive linemen, second rounder Tank Carradine and fifth rounder Quinton Dial. Both, however, have yet to practice with their new team. Carradine is recovering from ACL surgery; Dial had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his big toe.
Instead, the understudies along the defensive line have been Will Tukuafu at left defensive end and Demarcus Dobbs at right defensive end. Free-agent pickup Glenn Dorsey has been the second-string nose tackle behind Ian Williams. Five defensive linemen typically suit up for a game. Others at the position include Tony Jerod-Eddie, who was on the practice squad a year ago, and rookie Lawrence Okoye, who could land on the practice squad this season.
At outside linebacker, Ahmad Brooks played 92 percent of the 49ers' defensive snaps last year while Aldon Smith played 95 percent. Both dealt with shoulder injuries last year but have more reinforcements this year. Parys Haralson and Dan Skuta have been working with the second-string defense at outside linebacker while Cam Johnson and rookie Corey Lemonier have been sprinkled into the mix as well.
While Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Brooks all sat out the spring with injuries, McDonald was healthy. He said he felt the same from the beginning of the season through the Super bowl, then only took a week off before he resumed his workout regimen. Still, he said he wouldn't mind more breathers this year.
"If there's not a drop off, then I'm all for it," he said. "That's what it's looking like now. They're all good players ..."
- Matt Barrows