On Friday evening, it was reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter that San Francisco 49ers nose tackle Glenn Dorsey tore his bicep muscle and could possibly miss the entire 2014 season. If he doesn’t miss the entire season, he will at least miss a large portion of it. In 2013, he stepped up as the starter when then starting nose tackle Ian Williams went down with a season-ending injury. Dorsey had a PFF (subscription) rating of 4.5 with 31 tackles and two sacks.
While Dorsey wasn’t great at rushing the passer, he was extremely solid at stopping the run. In a 3-4 defense like the 49ers’ run, they ask their linemen to play a 2-gap technique (hold their position, cover the gap on either side of them, and keep the linebackers clean to make the tackle) and that is most important for the nose tackle to do. While his numbers weren’t gaudy last season, he played the position extremely well in the 49ers’ defense.
So with Dorsey to miss at least most of the season, what will San Francisco do at the nose tackle position? Their first option is of course to have Williams at that position once he gets completely healthy. Backing up Williams, and sure to get a lot of snaps at the nose tackle position, will be second-year player Quinton Dial. Dial has impressed at training camp and played very well in 2013 when he got playing time.
Other options the 49ers have to provide depth at the position are Demarcus Dobbs, Tony Jerod-Eddie, and Mike Purcell. I think the more interesting part to all of this is how the 49ers will game plan without Dorsey. Not having Dorsey will allow defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to get more creative along the defensive front and put different players with different skill sets all over. It will allow them to be more unpredictable and harder to game plan for.
Instead of running a typical 3-4 with a prototypical nose tackle, I think there’s a good chance they’ll run more of a hybrid front, putting a player like Tank Carradine in as their third lineman. They could especially do this on passing downs and get much more of a pass rush than Dorsey gave them.
This injury also affords them the opportunity to give physical specimen Lawrence Okoye a better shot at making the roster and getting some snaps. Okoye is a player that Fangio and head coach Jim Harbaugh are hoping develops quickly due to his physical attributes. If he were able to get his technique up to speed with his raw physical abilities, he’d be almost unblockable. Being able to get him some snaps in regular season games could very well speed up that development.
Losing Dorsey is a big blow to the 49ers, but luckily for them, it’s at a position they have good depth at. If Williams comes back at the level he was at last season before his injury, they’ll have a very solid starting nose tackle. Guys like Jerod-Eddie, Dial, and Dobbs will still be able to provide them with depth. This injury will also provide them with opportunities they might not have otherwise explored. Playing Carradine as a 5-tech lineman is one of those as well as giving Okoye a chance. Both of those options would make it very hard to game plan for the 49ers’ defensive line.