With all the attention paid to who will lead the 49ers offense, it’s starting to feel more and more that people have forgotten what’s going on on the other side of the ball.
It’s been just over a year since the 49ers’ defensive line, led by Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa, anchored a run to Super Bowl LIV – an achievement that feels like a distant memory, thanks to a 2020 campaign hit by injuries for the club in general.
An offseason of rehab and retooling has positioned San Francisco to remind everyone what they can do when they’re healthy, with first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans expecting Bosa, who has returned to the team drills for the first time last week, and a Dee Ford still in rehab at his disposal alongside Armstead and the newcomers Samson Ebukam and Arden Key.
“I mean, having Dee and Arden and Bosa and Samson, having all these guys available, we can do a lot of things,” Ryans said Thursday, via the team’s transcript. “All of these guys are very talented and you have limitless options with what you can do with all of these guys. All of them are really great talent. All of them are great for rushing the passer. And we just want to use the guys at their best. we want to be able to use them, use their strengths, to help us win games. “
As if this group’s potential weren’t scary enough already, Ryans failed to mention second-year defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, who is only beginning to scratch the surface of what he may become.
Overall, the talent that makes up the 49ers’ D-line checks every box you can imagine. Youth, speed, tenacity, tenacity; There isn’t much a trainer can want when looking at this unit aside from staying healthy.
For Bosa and Ford, who have played three combined games in 2020, health will be a major concern. Ford, 30, appears to remain a formidable force after a third major back injury. Bosa, the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year, joins the fray fresh out of a torn ACL.
Having overcome this obstacle twice before, Ford believes it is finding its way back to becoming a usable part again. But, as Ryans expressed it, Bosa’s response to adversity early in his career will be crucial in getting him back on track.
“The most important thing that always comes out of an injury is just the mental barrier of taking a hit and touching the ground and getting up and dusting yourself off and realizing that, ‘Oh, everything is still. intact. I’m still fine. ‘ It’s a comeback to football, ”said Ryans. “… I see him continue to improve. But physically, I think he is fine. It will only be the mental obstacle to overcome. And I see him progressing very well in the box.”
In a world geared towards a “what have you been doing for me lately” mentality, no one is going to assume that the 49ers’ defense will work out exactly the way it did two seasons ago.
But, if they are able to reclaim a similar identity, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the club back in the thick of it after the playoffs, regardless of center.