USA TODAY Sports
Justin Smith returns for his 14 season in the NFL.
Although the 49ers typically play a three-man front on defense, they opted to keep nine defensive linemen.
One starting defensive end will be Justin Smith, who will be 35 years of age in September. Smith has earned Pro Bowl honors for five consecutive seasons.
Opposite Smith is Ray McDonald, but his status is uncertain following an arrest early Sunday morning on felony domestic abuse charges. Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee reports that McDonald was allegedly involved in an altercation with his fiancee, who is 10 weeks pregnant.
Details are still emerging from this incident, but suffice it to say, McDonald's future with the 49ers is in doubt. The new NFL policy on domestic violence just announced by Roger Goodell a few days earlier could result in a six-game suspension for McDonald.
In addition, San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh has also made it very clear what his thoughts are on domestic violence.
David Fucillo of Niners Nation highlights a statement made by former 49ers safety Donte Whitner to the San Francisco Press Democrat (h/t Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith) regarding Harbaugh's stance on this subject.
"According to Whitner, Jim Harbaugh will forgive players for most anything, but, '[i]f you put your hand on a woman then you're done in his book.'"
If McDonald is either suspended or released, Tank Carradine will likely move into his starting defensive end position. Carradine sat out all last season rehabilitating a knee injury that he sustained in his last year of college football.
Carradine appears fully recovered. He is strong, fast and should be able to step into McDonald's position, if necessary.
A key reserve lineman is Tony Jerod-Eddie. He has the ability to play both nose tackle and defensive end. Jerod-Eddie has steadily improved over the past couple of years and provides excellent depth.
Ian Williams will get the start at nose tackle, as last year's starter Glenn Dorsey was injured and will miss somewhere close to half the season.
Rounding out the defensive line are Quinton Dial and Demarcus Dobbs. Dial was a fifth-round draft selection in 2013, but he hardly played last year. In addition to being a rookie, he looked slow and out of shape.
Dial looks a lot better now and made some nice plays in the exhibition game. Look for Dial to make a contribution in 2014.
Dobbs provides added depth and can also play fullback, if needed.
Promising young linemen Mike Purcell and Lawrence Okoye were cut. It is possible that Purcell could be brought back if McDonald is suspended or released.
Defensive line grade: B+