Exploring the Fit Between the San Francisco 49ers and Glenn Dorsey

Dylan DeSimone@@DeSimone80Correspondent IMarch 15, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 20:  Glenn Dorsey #72 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium on September 20, 2009 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Amidst a wave of activity on Day 2 of free agency, the San Francisco 49ers patiently operated, spending much of their day hosting two potential signees.

After meeting with a pair of defenders, Charles Woodson and Glenn Dorsey, the Niners signed the latter, a former defensive lineman from Kansas City. The five-year pro signed a two-year contract with the team, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com.   

After Isaac Sopoaga signed a three-year, $12 million deal with Philadelphia (h/t Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area), and Ricky Jean-Francois signed a four-year, $22 million contract with Indianapolis (h/t Josh Alper of PFT), the 49ers were left with a significant void along the defensive front.

Glenn Dorsey signing with the 49ers, courtesy of 49ers Twitter account

Though, with the expected losses, the 49ers were prepared to restructure the interior line in free agency, and kicked the tires on Dorsey early.

At first glance, this appears to be another well thought-out transaction by the 49ers’ savvy front office. It seems that another strong collaborative effort on their part may not have only saved them capital, but enhanced the roster.  

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To put it simply, the rundown on Dorsey is that he was an incredibly high-ceiling prospect that failed to materialize into the lineman the Chiefs thought he would be when they selected him fifth overall. 

Though, what most fail to mention is that Dorsey was forced to learn three different defensive schemes in his first three years. 

Coming out of the Tigers’ prestigious program, and having played for Nick Saban and Les Miles, Dorsey was viewed as the total package.

During his time in the NCAA, Dorsey was nothing short of dominant up front, bringing a rare combination of strength and athleticism to the trenches. He showed the power and explosion to control the line of scrimmage, but also possessed the quickness to run down plays in the backfield.

He displayed unparalleled college production, proving to NFL teams that he could be a difference-maker at the next level.

As a first-team All-American, Dorsey was a penetrating defensive lineman in the SEC and an overall disruptive force, making plays in the opponent’s backfield. In his last two seasons with the Tigers, he totaled 21 tackles for loss, including 10 sacks.

As a senior, Dorsey was recognized as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and took home the Lombardi Award, Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Lott Trophy.

Here are official 2008 scouting notes on Dorsey, via CBS Sports:

  • Rarely gives up ground vs. double teams (usually only when he gets too high in his stance and leaves his chest exposed) … Has the brute strength in his hands to neutralize … Splits and redirects with leverage, flashing good strength to penetrate 
  • When he stays low in his pads and keeps his hands inside the framework, he generates a good surge off the snap and into the blocker, doing a stellar job of clogging the rush lanes and collapsing the pocket
  • Shows good ability to redirect and make tackles in the backfield and has the initial burst that allows him to make plays to the outside … Shows good feet and body control working in space and plays with a high motor
  • Has a great work ethic and takes well to hard coaching … Good team leader who works hard in the training room …
  • Has become a physically dominant player who demands double-teams, as he does a good job in using his strength and explosiveness to close gaps and play with good leverage … Doesn't give up much ground to double-teams and creates good separation with his long arms … Reacts well to block pressure and locates the ball quickly … Strong inside run defender who consistently keeps his motor running, as he can make plays up and down the line of scrimmage

Once he declared for the draft, Dorsey was compared to Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp, according to NFL.com’s scouting reports. With that wide base and freakish athleticism, there was the belief that he would be a true impact player along the interior line.

The Kansas City Chiefs made Glenn Dorsey the No. 5 overall pick in 2008, following picks 1-4: Jake Long, Chris Long, Matt Ryan and Darren McFadden. 

And for those wondering, the 49ers spent their first round draft choice on DL Kentwan Balmer at No. 29 overall. Perhaps Dorsey can be the defensive lineman San Francisco had coveted that year.

“He’s the best defensive tackle I have seen in the 13 years of watching the elite level of college football,” said ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit from the 2008 draft on Dorsey’s selection. 

He has always had a high ceiling, but compatibility within the system and coaching are two fundamental elements. With all things considered, Dorsey played as well as anyone could have expected with a blundering Kansas City team.

Once he turned pro, he was largely perceived as a failure, mainly due to the fact that his presence at LSU did not equally translate to the next level. 

Now a five-year pro, Dorsey has accrued 236 tackles (159 solo, 77 assists) during his tenure in the league (h/t Pro Football Reference). In 2012, he started four games before being placed on injured reserve for the season.

The 49ers appeared ready to bring him in.

As their first real signing of the offseason, it was clear that he was a priority. And this may have been a plan long in the making, perhaps going back to midseason. The Niners were well aware of their contract situations and did not flinch when Sopoaga and Jean-Francois tested the market.

In fact, there is a strong chance San Francisco’s national scout, Matt Malaspina, was involved in the decision to acquire Dorsey. As the head scout, Malaspina specializes in the Southeast region, and was responsible for the drafting of Ricky Jean-Francois.

Dorsey, who played with Jean-Francois at LSU, drew legendary comparisons during the draft process. He was high in virtually every war room, having perhaps the strongest hype of any defensive prospect in the 2000 decade. 

The Niners certainly had some background on Dorsey; especially since they had taken a defensive lineman with their first pick that same year.

Now, for this first time in his pro career, Dorsey will have an opportunity to properly hone his skills in a winning environment. 

“I was excited, man,” Dorsey said. “I really look forward to the opportunity.”

Dorsey spoke with 49ers Digital Media Manager Scott Kegley following the contract signing. He appeared genuinely enthused, and excited for a fresh start.

“I think everyone can see that they have a winning formula. I’m just glad I have an opportunity to be part of that,” Dorsey said on his future with San Francisco.   

According to Pro Football Focus, Dorsey has been a silent killer in the run game, finishing with a +17.0 grade as recently as 2011 (h/t Ty Schalter of B/R).

PFF’s Sam Monson also made note that the Chiefs have utilized an “old-school two-gap defense,” which goes against the grain of most other 3-4 systems. Nowadays, the teams in the league that utilized three down linemen typically favor one-gap fronts.

He alluded to Dorsey as an effective run-stuffer and block absorber, which has led to Pro Bowl seasons by linebackers Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson.

Now with the 49ers, he is not expected to be a penetrating lineman in the sense that he would upgrade the pass rush. However, that is not an issue because Dorsey’s skills closely mirror that of Isaac Sopoaga, which fills a void.

One of the inspiring aspects about this deal is that this forgotten All-Star prospect now has an opportunity to work with one of the best position coaches in the league.

This season, 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula will get his hands on the highest-ceiling player he has ever coached.

With nearly 30 years of coaching experience, Tomsula is going to find out what Dorsey is made of. And judging by their first interaction, Tomsula seemed excited to work with the five-year pro. And by all accounts, Dorsey has been receptive to the idea. 

A half-decade later, Dorsey is still a lump of clay, but he has enough experience to circumvent the typical challenges of a young defensive line prospect because he is already acclimated to the pace of the NFL.

And according to his scouting report, he is adaptable and responds to hard coaching. Not to mention, the professionalism of All-Pro tackle Justin Smith may get Glenn Dorsey's motor running. This could be a big-time move by the San Francisco 49ers.