The 49ers weren’t quite sure what they were getting when they signed Glenn Dorsey last offseason.
Dorsey, who’d been a dominating force in college at LSU, was an acclaimed first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, but had never lived up to his billing.
Then, last offseason, the 49ers signed him to a two-year free-agent deal to add more depth and quality to the offensive line. In the preseason, Ian Williams won the starting nose tackle job, and it was expected that Dorsey would back up Williams while also spelling defensive ends Ray McDonald and Justin Smith.
Instead, when Williams was injured in Game 2 against the Seahawks in 2013 and lost for the year, Dorsey became the starting nose tackle in the 3-4 defense and a key to the team’s defensive effectiveness.
He played all 16 games, had 41 tackles and two sacks, but it wasn’t necessarily the stats that were reflective of Dorsey’s work. The real measure of his worth was seen each week, with Dorsey getting inside penetration, blowing up blockers and drawing double teams that allowed the 49ers linebackers and fellow linemen to make plays.
Bill Williamson, who covers the 49ers for ESPN.com, listed Dorsey, 28, as one of the team’s top three breakout stars for 2013 – along with cornerback Tramaine Brock and defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie – writing: “This worked out great for the 49ers. The nose tackle blossomed in his first season in San Francisco after signing a two-year deal. … He was just average with the Chiefs before having a standout season with the 49ers.”
Dorsey’s teammates immediately were impressed by his toughness and work ethic upon coming to San Francisco.
“He’s the kind of guy everybody should have on their team,” McDonald told the Associated Press during the Niners’ playoff run. “I saw the way he worked this offseason. He works real hard at his craft and it’s showing up on the field.”
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Dorsey quickly bonded with McDonald and Smith, his defensive linemates.
“He threw himself right in there with those guys from Day 1, almost the day after he signed and was here all offseason," said Fangio. "And it’s paying dividends for him now.”
Now, with the 2014 season ahead, Williams will be healthy and ready to contribute. His comeback, along with that of 2013 second-round pick Tank Carradine (who didn’t play last season) and the emergence of Jerod-Eddie gives the 49ers a solid base on the defensive line. Though the 49ers are always looking to get younger – Smith, 34, will be going into the final two years of his deal – the defensive line won’t necessarily have to be a priority for the team in May’s draft. The Niners can instead focus on the secondary and wide receiver positions in the first two rounds.
“Credit to him and to (defensive line coach) Jim (Tomsula) for bringing him along and coaching him along,” said Fangio of Dorsey’s first year with the 49ers. “And, like I said, he’s still young enough, still early enough in our system, he’s going to continue to get better and better and we’re glad to have him.”