What 49ers preseason win vs. Vikings told us about defensive line

San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (99) sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kellen Mond (11) Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (99) sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kellen Mond (11) Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports /

17. 42. 7. 60. Final

The 49ers pulled off a defensive-first preseason win over the Vikings in which the defensive line’s depth stood out as a major plus.

While the San Francisco 49ers offense mostly scuffled over the first two quarters of preseason action against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday, the Niners defense nevertheless put the clamps down and ultimately afforded head coach Kyle Shanahan the chance for the offense to climb back into the game en route to a 17-7 victory.

The final score doesn’t mean anything, of course, but the fact San Francisco held Minnesota to a mere 195 total yards is telling. Even in an exhibition contest, that kind of performance is commendable.

Yes, there were plenty of positive standouts from the 49ers’ side of things. But so much of the defensive success stemmed from the defensive line.

One that was playing just a single starter, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.

Kinlaw, who missed all but four games last year because of knee surgery, not only looks fully healthy now. But he’s also enjoying himself after missing so much time a year ago.

“You kind of forget about just playing football, just having fun,” the 2020 first-round pick said after the game, via Fangirl Sports’ Tracy Sandler. “I feel like I’m finally getting back to having fun, just being a kid again now that I’m not in any pain.”

And Kinlaw should be enjoying himself after such an impressive preseason performance, registering a sack on Vikings quarterback Kellen Mond on a 3rd-and-long play late in the first quarter:

Kinlaw did see extensive time in the first half before being removed in favor of additional depth and reservists.

Yet even those backups managed to impress, too.

49ers may have themselves a steal with Drake Jackson

Unlike Kinlaw, who is pegged as a starter to open up 2022, rookie EDGE Drake Jackson continued his red-hot start to his first preseason game.

The Niners’ top pick from this year’s NFL Draft not only recorded a tipped pass for the second consecutive week, but he also brought the pressure that forced Mond to toss the game’s first interception, which sailed easily into the hands of safety George Odum:

Jackson finished with two tackles, that pass broken up and four quarterback pressures during the game.

Yet the rookie still isn’t expected to be a starter this season. No, it’s still likely San Francisco rolls with a more experienced defensive end like Samson Ebukam on base downs, only bringing Jackson in for specific pass-rushing formations.

With efforts like the one Jackson showed on Saturday, though, the rotations could end up changing awfully soon.

49ers defensive line depth shows its teeth in win vs. Vikings

The 49ers elected not to play Ebukam, and they also didn’t field starters in EDGE Nick Bosa and defensive tackle Arik Armstead either, meaning outside of Kinlaw, the D-line was comprised entirely of backups and roster hopefuls.

That should be scary for other teams.

Granted, this should be expected when considering how much the Niners have invested in their D-line under head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, Jackson being the latest in early draft investments to be added to the flock.

However, even the supplemental players contributed in a good way.

Defensive end Jordan Willis recorded four pressures, too, and he’s going from a fringe player on the bubble to someone San Francisco will have a tough time cutting. EDGE Kemoko Turay, who received extensive snaps into the second half, might be this year’s version of now-Jacksonville Jaguars pass-rusher Arden Key, who enjoyed a career-best 6.5 sack campaign with the 49ers a season ago.

Even depth options Hassan Ridgeway and Charles Omenihu each registered a quarterback hit.

One or two of the 49ers’ better-performing reserves aren’t even going to make the 53-man roster, yet that’s no slight. Rather it’s just a case example of how deep this particular unit is.

And if the momentum carries into the regular season, the Niners’ D-line may again prove itself to be among the best in the NFL, if not the best overall.

Next. 49ers studs, duds from preseason win over Vikings. dark