• Nicholas McGee

Carradine a Key Player to Watch in 49ers' Preseason Opener

When the San Francisco 49ers line up for their preseason opener at Arrowhead Stadium on Friday, much of the attention will naturally be focused on the plethora of new recruits and rookies brought in by John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan.

But observers of the Niners' clash with the Chiefs should also be keeping a keen eye on a fifth-year player in defensive end Tank Carradine, who figures to line up as a starter having been listed ahead of rookie first-round pick Solomon Thomas at right defensive end on the unofficial depth chart.

Thomas is playing catchup having missed OTAs and minicamp but will be expected to leapfrog Carradine on the depth chart having been selected third overall by the 49ers.

But how Carradine performs in preseason will still be hugely important both for himself and the Niners, who head into the 2017 season blessed with interior rushers but lacking players who can make a difference off the edge.

Carradine is one such player who, in college at least, demonstrated the ability to do just that. However, in his previous three seasons with San Francisco -- he missed the 2013 campaign as he recovered from a torn ACL -- he has rarely been given the opportunity to do so having been miscast as a 5-technique defensive end and an outside linebacker in the 3-4 the 49ers have run throughout his time with the team.

The 2017 season brings a change to a 4-3 system under new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh that could be pivotal to his fortunes in what is a contract year for the former Florida State defender.

Playing the big end role in a 4-3, Carradine is back in the role he played in college, enjoying great levels of success with the Seminoles in 2012.

Indeed, Carradine racked up 11 sacks in 2012 for Florida State and, while his injury obviously severely damaged his draft stock, coming out of college he was praised for his explosion, strong hands and ability to play with the leverage of a much shorter player.

With Eric Reid not having entered contract talks with the 49ers over an extension and the organization having admitted to holding discussions over the possibility of trading Vance McDonald, Carradine could well represent the last bastion of hope for San Francisco's 2013 draft class, especially now that Quinton Dial finds himself facing huge amounts of competition for playing time on the interior of the D-Line.

Friday represents the first opportunity to see if Carradine, now 28, can recapture his collegiate form in what should be his prime years. If he can, then San Francisco's defensive line rotation will look even more imposing at the 49ers' hopes of building a dominant defense again will be substantially boosted.