49ers roster: What preseason win vs. Chargers says about defensive line

Easton Stick #2 of the Los Angeles Chargers against the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Easton Stick #2 of the Los Angeles Chargers against the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Trey Lance might be the talking point, but the 49ers defensive line stole the show in the Week 2 preseason win over the Chargers.

Most of the chatter and talk you’ll read about stemming from the San Francisco 49ers‘ 15-10 exhibition win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday will center around rookie quarterback Trey Lance and how his two-touchdown bounce-back performance put him closer to taking over the starting job from Jimmy Garoppolo.

Exciting, yes. And certainly a high-profile development, considering the Niners’ lofty NFL Draft investment in him along with the importance of his position.

Yet the overwhelming reason why San Francisco was so dominant in the game was because of its defensive line, a unit that helped limit the Bolts to 162 total yards while averaging a mere 2.6 yards per play.

Yes, Los Angeles registered two sacks, too. But the 49ers, who elected to rest edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, turned to their depth linemen to put constant pressure on Chargers quarterback Easton Stick and Chase Daniel, getting five sacks in the process.

While he’ll start the regular season on a six-game suspension for a PED violation, reserve EDGE Jordan Willis kicked off the scoring with a safety sack on Stick.

The first of many impressive plays from the Niners D-line.

49ers get tremendous play from reserve defensive linemen

Willis’ safety was impressive, yes. But one could make the argument he was only the third best defensive lineman out there for San Francisco.

One of the team’s free-agent pickups this offseason, veteran nose tackle Zach Kerr, made a case for himself to be added to the 53-man roster with regular interior penetration and speed, one rush of which resulted in Stick intentionally grounding a pass. While Kerr doesn’t get credit for a sack, the end result and loss of down was very much the same as one.

EDGE Samson Ebukam, who now looks to be the 49ers’ tertiary outside pass-rusher with Ford now fully back and healthy, missed his first preseason game with an injury but came on strong, too, picking up a sack and two quarterback hits.

And another offseason pickup, defensive end Arden Key, was regularly applying pressure off the edge in a naturally fitting wide-9 alignment, something he didn’t get to do with his previous team, the Las Vegas Raiders.

Kentavius Street is 49ers’ defensive hero vs. Chargers

Of all the Niners’ defensive standouts from preseason Week 2 against the Chargers, few stood out more for the right reasons than fourth-year defensive tackle Kentavius Street, whose slowish start to his pro career has been marked by an ACL tear and then limited usage the last two seasons.

Street, who has been putting on a show during training camp, was regularly in the backfield against the Bolts, picking up three tackles — two for a loss — and also picking up one of San Francisco’s five sacks.

Sure, Street was primarily going up against backup linemen. But there will be times when the 49ers are facing backup linemen this season when injuries begin to pile up and starters are rotated out to rest.

Either way, at least for a potential backup role, Street has effectively done everything possible to assure himself a spot on the Niners’ 53-man roster.

49ers D-line depth is a great problem to have

With Bosa, Ford and second-year former first-round pick, Javon Kinlaw, all not suiting up, and starting defensive end Arik Armstead limited in snap count, San Francisco ended up fielding a quality group of backup-caliber linemen who are essentially all deserving of a regular-season roster spot.

Except there won’t be enough spots available when roster cuts are announced.

Willis will be suspended, yes, and that’ll open up a spot. But assuming the 49ers keep 10 defensive linemen, it’s understandable why a quality lineman or two capable of starting somewhere will be cut.

Related Story: 49ers draw first blood vs. Chargers on Jordan Willis safety

Case in point, Kerr is deserving of a roster spot, particularly after his strong outing. Yet the Niners aren’t likely to keep three nose tackles, and D.J. Jones and Kevin Givens have also been overly impressive leading up through Week 2 of the preseason.

It’s likely someone has to go, and Kerr could be that player even though he’s done everything possible to stay.

Nevertheless, it’s a good problem for San Francisco to have. The moment a team is cutting starting-caliber players because there’s no room is an indication of how deep and talented a particular unit is.

In the 49ers’ case, the D-line is both deep and talented, and Sunday’s game against the Chargers showed why.

Roster chances aren't looking good for these 4 Niners players. dark. Next