Just a few years ago, the 49ers defensive line was anchored by Justin Smith on one side, Ray McDonald on the other and Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle.
While the trio got some breaks, it was for the most part a stable foundation of the 49ers’ 3-4 defense.
But in 2016, the 49ers defensive front will most likely be a much more fluid revolving door of defensive linemen as the defensive coaching staff seeks to keep players fresh, especially with the team’s offense working so quickly that the defense could be on the field for extended minutes.
So, while 49ers fans are most likely eager to see a pairing of the team’s top picks from 2015 and 2016 – former Oregon defensive ends Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner – those two aren’t expected to be ironmen in the way Smith and McDonald were.
Armstead and Buckner will share time at the defensive end spots with Quinton Dial, Glenn Dorsey, Tony Jerod-Eddie and rookie Ronald Blair. At nose tackle, Ian Williams, Mike Pucell, Dial and Dorsey could share playing time.
Once the exhibition season begins, 49ers fans will start to get a look at what each player brings and how the coaching staff will rotate players.
Armstead and Buckner – good friends and roommates at Oregon – are eager to make an impact with the 49ers. The two 6-foot-7 linemen are gifted athletically and have a friendly rivalry.
In his rookie season, Armstead came on stronger as the season progressed, but wasn’t a marquee player. Over 16 games he was in on 19 tackles and had two sacks. Buckner last season with the Ducks was in on 83 tackles and had 10½ sacks.
Armstead told reporters after Buckner was drafted that he was eager to play with his friend.
“You couldn’t focus on either one of us because you had me or him on the other side,” Armstead said of their time together at Oregon. “We have big plans playing together, trying to dominate people.”
Buckner told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group that Armstead has improved a lot in his one season in the NFL.
“I’m catching up with him,” he said. “It was always a friendly competition back at Oregon, like on the sideline, ‘Who can get the quarterback first?’ Arik’s doing really well. I’m following his footsteps right now, because he’s got a year over me.”