Help is on the way for pass rush
The 49ers activated defensive lineman Ray McDonald today off the physically-unable-to-perform list just three days after coach Mike Singletary said he did not know whether McDonald would be available for the regular-season opener.
If McDonald can get to the quarterback as quickly as he convinced Singletary that he’s 100-percent healthy, it could serve as a huge boon to the 49ers’ pass rush. McDonald is scheduled to return to practice today at 4 p.m.
McDonald probably will not be a starter this season for the 49ers, but he could become one of the four most-important players on the 49ers’ defense this season. That’s because if McDonald returns to form, he could line up next to Justin Smith as a defensive tackle on third downs.
In the 49ers’ nickel defense – when the opponent is likely to pass – the 49ers generally play a four-man line. Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson line up at the ends, with Justin Smith and another player at defensive tackle. Kentwan Balmer has been that person up to this point in the exhibition season. But McDonald’s quickness off the ball makes him a potentially more-explosive pass rusher.
Of course, the 49ers have other ways to generate pressure on the quarterback. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky can dial up a variety of blitzes in hopes of getting an unblocked man to the quarterback. But the 49ers will need to get some production from those four men in pass-rush situations.
Smith and Haralson are the 49ers’ proven pass rushers. They combined for 15 sacks last season, which is not bad. Lawson is the player who must step up and apply pressure to the quarterback this season.
What you might not know is that McDonald actually ranked second on the 49ers last season with 37 quarterback pressures. According to the stats that the team takes from the coaches’ film, Smith led the 49ers with 57 quarterback pressures, while McDonald had 37 and Haralson added 33.
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