Can the San Francisco 49ers Count on Glenn Dorsey at Nose Tackle?

Tom SmeatonContributor IIISeptember 20, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 02:  Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey #72 of the Kansas City Chiefs rushes the quarterback in a game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Tim Umphrey/Getty Images)
Tim Umphrey/Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey is on the verge of a career-altering opportunity, just not the way that he probably hoped to find it.

After Sunday night's dreadful performance against the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers will be counting on Dorsey to assume the vital nose tackle role in their vaunted 3-4 defense. Starter Ian Williams suffered a broken left ankle in the first quarter of Week 2 and was placed on season-ending IR on Tuesday.

However, to fill Williams' roster spot, the 49ers added former Cleveland Browns fullback Owen Marecic, who played under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. That leaves Dorsey and the inexperienced Tony Jerod-Eddie as the only options at at NT. 

Given Jerod-Eddie's two career appearances, this move speaks volumes to Harbaugh's confidence in Dorsey. 

Let's not forget: Dorsey was the fifth overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. This is a very talented player who was lauded as a top defensive tackle in college at LSU, achieving All-America honors before being drafted by Kansas City. 

However, those accolades came playing in a 4-3 defensive scheme. The Chiefs switched to a 3-4 alignment in 2009 after Dorsey's rookie season, but played him at defensive end. 

Dorsey wasn't necessarily a bust in Kansas City, but four sacks in five seasons didn't exactly take the league by storm either. A switch to nose tackle could better play to his strengths in a 3-4 defense, and Dorsey did record five tackles and a sack against Seattle.

According to CBS Sports' Pat Kirwan, however, an 3-4 nose tackle can't be defined by the numbers: 

Ideal size ranges from 6-foot-2 to 6-3 and 325 pounds to 375 pounds. These players are not going to wow anyone with stats... Ask any 3-4 coach and he will tell you this is a critical piece to his defense. These guys do the dirty work.

Dorsey is listed at 6'1" and 297 lbs, which would make him slightly undersized. Kirwan's analysis added that a player's weight can be closer to 300 lbs, and a nose tackle ideally needs to be able to play low and occupy multiple blockers.

With that in mind, Dorsey's size could actually be well-suited in the middle. 

Dorsey's NFL Combine scouting profile praised his bull-rush ability as well as his interior run defense. This style of play could benefit him in this this new role:

ESPN's Bill Williamson also believes in Dorsey's chance for redefining season, and he brings in a unique perspective. After all, he was ESPN's AFC West Blogger before switching to 49ers coverage this season. 

As of now, the 49ers don't have much of a sample size for Dorsey at nose tackle. However, the tape did show both flashes and inconsistencies throughout his play. 

Dorsey was in the game for a good amount of defensive snaps after Williams went down, both against both the pass and the run. However, his fourth-quarter snaps are slightly skewed by turnovers and the final kneel-down plays.

The veteran's first sack as a 49er was an exciting play, but appeared to come off of a missed blocking assignment. More telling is how Seattle attacked him overall and what Dorsey was able to do with it. 

Over the course of the game, Dorsey was generally blocked in one of two ways. In many rushing situations, Dorsey was engaged by the center and cut low by a guard. 

This essentially takes Dorsey out of the play, but occupies two blockers. Chalk that up as a success.

By occupying a second blocker (seen on the turf), Dorsey fulfills the NT role.
By occupying a second blocker (seen on the turf), Dorsey fulfills the NT role.

In comparison, when Dorsey was left to only the center, he often managed to power past the line of scrimmage. Even if he doesn't reach the ball-carrier, this will force extra respect going forward. 

And if Dorsey earns double-team respect from opposing guards, the entire defense benefits. 

Left with a single blocker, Dorsey pushed his way into the backfield.
Left with a single blocker, Dorsey pushed his way into the backfield.

Dorsey was pushed back a few times by single blockers, but he was also pressed into an unfamiliar role. Therefore, the next few weeks should prove a lot more on Dorsey's experiment at nose tackle. 

The talent is obviously there for Dorsey. The size is also pretty close and the skill set may prove to create a unique style for his new position. 

Dorsey's abilities as a run-stopper and bull-rusher should command enough respect to draw attention from fellow linemen Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. If he can continue to take an extra blocker off of those two, the 49ers will find themselves in good shape going forward at NT. 

His overall performance against Seattle was inspiring enough, even if the team effort wasn't. With time to acclimate, Dorsey can really grow into this role. 

The stars are aligned for Dorsey to finally realize his vast potential. Now it's up to him to take his chance and run with it.