Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE
DT (7): Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald, Ricky Jean Francois, Ian Williams, Demarcus Dobbs and Will Tukuafu
It goes without saying that Justin Smith will be back leading this defensive line group which is perhaps the best in football; certainly for a traditional, disciplined 3-4 defense. Smith is coming off a huge year where he was a Defensive MVP candidate, but he's looking for a different sort of trophy in 2012.
Sopoaga is entering his second year as the starting nose tackle in the 49ers defense. He made a difference for the 49ers at the nucleus of the defensive line. Sopoaga should see development in his game from year one to year two.
McDonald had a major year in his first as a starter. McDonald cracked the starting roster the old fashioned way: He was drafted, developed, inserted and excelled. In his mid-20s, one has to like where McDonald's career is headed. McDonald will start at the left defensive tackle spot in 2012.
R. Jean Francois
Jean Francois continues to come into his own among the 49ers' best defensive linemen. He has stepped in at times to fill in at all three spots, showing his value as a versatile player.
Williams made the team in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame. His presence provides depth on the defensive front and competition amongst backups.
With Williams, Demarcus Dobbs made the 49ers last season as an undrafted free agent. Dobbs filled a role on defense and special teams in 2011 but is looking to become a three-phase player this season. For a non-starter, Dobbs has some of the best value for a 49er.
Tukuafu has also played multiple phases, providing versatility and learning the game from different perspectives. Like Williams and Dobbs, Tukuafu will give San Francisco depth and hopefully show promise for the future.