The 2015 season is going to be a transition year for the 49ers on many different fronts. There will be a new coaching staff, some new schemes and changes at several positions. One area certainly impacted will be the defensive line.
Even if veteran defensive end Justin Smith returns for another season, the 49ers will be looking for other players to step up to replace Ray McDonald at the other end and show they can be a replacement for Smith when he retires.
So, this season will be an important one for Cornellius “Tank” Carradine.
Carradine, a former standout at Florida State, was a second-round pick of the 49ers in 2013. He was considered a first-round talent, but he fell to the second round because of a torn ACL in his final season with the Seminoles. His first season was a learning and recovery year, so 2014 essentially was his rookie season – one in which he didn’t make a huge impact.
Carradine played in nine games, was in on 17 tackles and had three sacks. But, he wasn’t activated for several games.
Yet former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said late in the season that the light was starting to come on for Carradine. The learning curve and recovery arc had been steep, but Carradine was starting to become the player the 49ers had hoped for when they made him the 40th overall pick of that 2013 draft.
“To me, you throw out last year,” Fangio said of the 2013 season. “Last year was a total nonexistent year for Tank when it comes to learning and getting better playing football. It was a zero year for him. So this was his rookie year.
“And he was struggling early, but he slowly was getting better and better. Then he hit another plateau. Struggled a little bit at that plateau, and now he’s taken off from that plateau. So it’s a nice progress he’s got going and I think the arrow’s up.”
Carradine, in fact, was at his best over the final three games of the 2014 season as he got more playing time. Against the Seahawks in Seattle, he had two sacks; in the final game against Arizona, he had three tackles and a sack.
With McDonald gone, the door would seem wide open for Carradine to assert himself in spring workouts and summer training camp.
Robert Mays of Sports Illustrated’s Grantland, in writing about the 49ers prospects for 2015, wrote this week that Carradine’s “role would likely see a major boost.”
Carradine, who is 6-foot-4 and 276 pounds, said late last season that he could feel himself getting better.
“For now,” he told reporters, “it’s about me getting better every day.”