Earl Mitchell is a big man, but he was hardly big news when he signed this offseason with the 49ers.
The seven-year veteran defensive lineman, who’s played for the Texans and Dolphins, came to the Niners as a free agent after being released by Miami in February. According to Matt Barrows, who covers the 49ers for the Sacramento Bee, San Francisco was one of four bidders for his services, along with Seattle, Atlanta and Denver. He chose the 49ers, who gave him a four-year, $16 million deal.
He’s targeted to start at defensive tackle in San Francisco’s 4-3 sheme, and already the 6-foot-1, 310-pounder is showing teammates and coaches that he’s going to be an important player. He won’t get a ton of tackles or sacks, but he’ll be a difference maker.
“Earl is exactly what we thought he’d be,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh told Barrows. “Plays his butt off, works hard, is very strong and is very hard to block.”
Often, he’ll be positioned over the opposing center, and in camp so far, centers Daniel Kilgore and Jeremy Zuttah have found him difficult to handle.
“He’s not huge, but he’s quick off the ball,” Zuttah told Barrows. “Just him being able to get into you before you’re set is an advantage for him.”
Mitchell also has been reunited with 49ers defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina, who coached him with the Texans.
“He really helped me understand blocking schemes, and just he really elevated my game playing in this scheme,” said Mitchell recently. “So moving forward, fast forward coming here, it’s kind of like we’re basically able to continue what we worked on in the past. I’m back to learning and perfecting the craft that he’s developed over the years that he has a player and now as a coach.”
For now, Mitchell, 29, is penciled in as one starter at defensive tackle, alongside DeForest Buckner, with Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead on the ends. But it’s a deep group of defensive linemen – including Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial, Aaron Lynch, rookie Pita Taumoepenu, D.J., Jones, Ronald Blair and Chris Jones – that is expected to rotate responsibilities and keep one another fresh.
The 49ers are scheduled to play their first exhibition game Aug. 11 in Kansas City vs. the Chiefs.