49ers Training Camp Preview: The best defensive line group in football?

Jul 24, 2023, 2:00 PM

Nick Bosa #97 and Arik Armstead #91 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrate a play during the first ha...

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 24: Nick Bosa #97 and Arik Armstead #91 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrate a play during the first half in the game against the Washington Commanders at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2023 training camp with a few questions across the board. While most of the roster is a ready-made Super Bowl contender, some areas could spell disaster for the franchise, especially depth.

The 49ers have accumulated top-end talent to feature on both offense & defense, but what happens if those marquee players get hurt? We all watched it happen last season at the quarterback position, with the team playing four different signal-callers leading into the NFC Championship game. The same can be said for other key positions, including on the defensive line.

San Francisco made the defensive trenches a priority this offseason, signing standout defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to a four-year, $84 million deal. Hargrave, 30, had the best season of his career in 2022, finishing with 11 sacks and 60 combined tackles for the Philadelphia Eagles.

He”ll join Arik Armstead on the interior, creating a stout run defense for the 49ers.

On the edge sits All-Pro defensive end Nick Bosa. Bosa, 25, is coming off the best season of his career as well, leading the NFL with 18.5 sacks. He also had 51 combined tackles, 48 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles.

The Ohio state alum is in line to receive a massive contract extension in the near future, likely making him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.

But who else is in line to start? Could it be a newcomer like Clelin Ferrell, or will there be a second-year leap from a rookie last season? Here is where the 49ers stand on the defensive line heading into training camp.

Drake Jackson:

This is the guy coach Kyle Shanahan and the rest of the 49ers are looking to to make a jump this season.

A second-round pick in 2022, Jackson was in & out of the defensive rotation his rookie year, largely due to inconsistent play. The USC alum has all the traits to be an elite pass rusher in the NFL, combining elite quickness with outstanding measurables.

The problem? Well we already mentioned it.

An inability to be consistent drove DL coach Kris Kocurek and Shanahan crazy last season, leading to him being inactive once the playoffs rolled around. That can’t happen this season, and thankfully, it looks like Jackson has talent the offseason seriously.

Already adding 10-15 pounds of muscle, the California native is in the best shape of his life entering training camp. That bodes well for his chance to crack the starting rotation, especially if he kept the same agility he had last year. Remember, Jackson did a backflip to kickoff 2022 training camp, not many 250-pounders can do that.

Year 2 is pivotal for the USC alum, especially if he wants to reach the lofty expectations a Pro Bowl selection in the near future.

Javon Kinlaw:

This season is probably it for Javon Kinlaw and the 49ers if he doesn’t impress.

Forget the fact that San Francisco declined his fifth-year option in the spring, Kinlaw’s main issue is staying healthy at the moment. The South Carolina alum only featured in six games last season, dealing with irritation in his surgically-repaired knee. This comes after suffering the torn ACL four games into the 2021 season. Translation: Kinlaw has only played 10 games in two NFL seasons.

Not great.

That’s why Year 4 in the NFL has to go well for Kinlaw, and he knows it. The big man has taken his offseason preparation seriously, staying in Northern California to work on his craft close to the team’s facilities. If the hype videos can translate over to on-the-field production, that’s. huge boost for the 49ers in 2023.

But for now, it’s wait-and-see, given his lengthy injury history the last two years.

Clelin Ferrell:

A fourth overall pick in 2019, Ferrell, finds himself back in The Bay, but with the 49ers.

Still only 26-years-old, the Clemson alum has 10 sacks, 105 combined tackles and 32 QB hits in four NFL seasons. His best year came in his rookie season, recording 4.5 sacks in 15 games played. His best individual performance came in 2019, recording 2.5 sacks and eight combined tackles Week 9 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Ferrell signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with San Francisco this offseason. While he may be seen as only depth, his spring performances were noteworthy, getting in the backfield for three would-be sacks. If he can could that into training camp, who knows how the depth chart shakes out.

Kerry Hyder Jr.:

A returning member from the 49ers’ DL rotation last season.

Hyder was effective for the Red & Gold in 2022, registering 19 combined tackles, four QB hits and one sack. While his numbers may seem low, the Texas Tech alum had to earn minutes in the rotation, splitting time with Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu. Now that those guys aren’t in the mix anymore, that could mean elevated reps for the 32-year-old veteran.

H’ll still have to fight off the competition for spots, but if the young bucks don’t get it going early, watch out for Hyder in the starting mix.

Kevin Givens:

Another returning member from last season.

Givens, 26, has been steady for San Francisco since being drafted by them in 2019. The Penn State alum has mustered up 57 combined tackles, three sacks and eight QB hits in his NFL tenure. His play goes beyond he numbers though, a constant disruptor in the trenches. It’s speak volumes that Shanahan & Co. trusted him and Hyder over prospects like Drake Jackson, looking for consistency down the stretch.

That should bode well for a return to the 53-man roster in 2023, but, he’ll have to prove his worth again in August.

Austin Bryant:

A newcomer into Kris Kocurek’s system.

Bryant, 26, signed a one-year deal to join the 49ers this offseason. The former Detroit Lion has recorded 65 combined tackles, 11 QB hits and 4.5 sacks in four seasons. Seeing his play spike in 2021 at outside linebacker, the Lions moved him back to the DL last season, using him sparingly.

Seen as more of a training camp player, Bryant has a steep hill to climb if he wants to make the 53-man roster for the 2023 season.

T.Y. McGill:

Someone who impressed on another team last preseason, McGill returns to The Bay on a one-year deal.

The 30-year-old was signed off the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad last season after putting in a good performance against the 49ers. The team clearly liked what they saw, having him feature in nine contests in 2022. he finished the year with a mere eight combined tackles and two QB hits.

While it’ll be a battle for a roster spot in 2023, McGill at least has the upper hand thanks to his body of work last season in San Francisco.

Kalia Davis:

The mystery man of the 49ers’ DL group.

Davis spent his rookie year on the NFI list after tearing his ACL in his final season at Central Florida. The sixth-round selection racked up 61 total tackles and four sacks in 25 games played. He looked spry in his spring workouts, giving Niners fans a preview of what could come in training camp this week.

Still, Davis faces a steep climb to rotational relevancy with the 49ers, especially if he gets off to a slow start.


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