The San Francisco 49ers had one of the strongest defensive units in the league a season ago.
The 49ers didn’t rotate out their key defensive players often last season as defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald and linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and others were called upon to play nearly every defensive snap.
However, the 49ers saw the effectiveness of the defense wane down the stretch and throughout the playoffs. San Francisco allowed nearly 30 points a game over their final six games of the season (three regular season and three postseason). Smith suffered a torn triceps in December and wasn’t as dominant after his return.
In an effort to stay more fresh throughout the season, the 49ers are changing the way they will handle personnel along the defensive line this season. According to Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle, the 49ers will rotate players with more regularity this year.
“The younger guys are getting a lot more reps now. We expect them to come in and take the load off of me and Justin,” McDonald said.
The 49ers added Tank Carradine and Corey Lemonier in the draft and Glenn Dorsey in free agency. They can also turn to Ian Williams, Will Tukuafu and Demarcus Dobbs as guys to rotate in and provide some relief for the starters.
If the 49ers can maintain their performance throughout the season, it may ultimately prove to be a major key toward their hopes of returning to the Super Bowl.