Don't Look Now, but Glenn Dorsey Making Most of Fresh Start in San Francisco

Tyson Langland@TysonNFLNFC West Lead WriterOctober 3, 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

As a football player, San Francisco 49ers nose tackle Glenn Dorsey hadn’t ever experienced failure until the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him in 2008. Coming out of high school, Dorsey was a highly touted 5-star recruit who was the second-best defensive tackle in the nation. 

Aside from LSU, he received offers from the University of Michigan and the University of Miami. Yet Dorsey never seriously considered the other two schools. One visit to LSU was all it took, and he was convinced.

Over the course of his collegiate career, Dorsey garnered six different awards and honors. He even received 30 points in the 2007 Heisman Trophy voting. Yes, he was a long shot to win the award, but his play on the field spoke for itself. 

In 52 career games, he registered 179 total tackles, 27 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. His impressive four-year stint in the SEC had scouts buzzing. Prior to the draft in 2008, he was a consensus first-round pick. Some even felt he was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick.

Dorsey didn’t end up going No. 1 overall, but he did go inside the top five. Despite concerns over a lingering stress fracture injury, Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards and general manager Carl Peterson believed he could be a dominant force as an interior defensive lineman.

Unfortunately for Dorsey, Edwards and Peterson were out after a 2-14 season. This, in turn, meant newly appointed head coach Todd Haley and his staff would be making a schematic shift on defense. Instead of playing defensive tackle in a 4-3, he would now have to play defensive end in a 3-4.

Without a doubt, the change not only effected Dorsey’s overall play, but it limited his ceiling as a player. As a member of the Chiefs from 2008-2012, the 297-pound behemoth was a slightly above-average player. He was an animal against the run, but his pass-rush skills were lacking.

According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Dorsey’s most productive season came in 2011. He was PFF’s highest-graded run-stuffing 3-4 end in the AFC with a plus-17.7 rating.

The 10 best 3-4 defensive ends against the run in 2011, via Pro Football Focus
The 10 best 3-4 defensive ends against the run in 2011, via Pro Football Focus

After an eye-opening season, head coach Romeo Crennel felt Dorsey would really come into his own in 2012. One can’t blame Crennel for feeling the way he did. The mastermind behind the Chiefs defense turned the once struggling player into a salvageable asset.

However, Kansas City’s defense regressed mightily in Crennel’s first full year as a head coach.

Dorsey only appeared in four games due to a recurring calf injury, and the Chiefs started the season 1-7. Subsequently, Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli were both fired at the end of the 2012 season after finishing with a 2-14 record.

During the offseason, Andy Reid was named head coach and John Dorsey was named general manager. Both men lobbied for Dorsey’s return in free agency, yet the six-year veteran felt like a fresh start away from Kansas City would be best.

Rather than staying with the Chiefs, Dorsey inked a two-year, $6 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers. When he signed his contract this past March, pundits wondered where he would play in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense.

It was only natural to think he would wind up playing defensive end. Nevertheless, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula had other plans for the 28-year-old budding star. Once training camp was under way, Tomsula was blown away by Dorsey’s ability at nose tackle.

At one point, during an interview on August, 16, 2013, Tomsula used the words “terrific” and “unbelievable” to describe Dorsey’s play, via Matthew Barrows of The Sacramento Bee. The nose tackle’s outstanding play carried over from training camp into the preseason.

In 75 preseason snaps, he tallied one quarterback pressure and five defensive stops against the run. The low-risk, high-reward offseason acquisition had already exceeded San Francisco’s expectations. Even though Ian Williams was the team’s starting nose tackle, the 49ers knew the importance of a deep defensive line rotation.

As a non-starter Week 1, Dorsey played nine measly snaps. Nonetheless, he managed to make his presence felt in the run game. Then, during Week 2 versus the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers lost Williams for the remainder of the season to a broken ankle.

This meant Dorsey was now entrenched as the Niners' starting nose tackle.

Williams’ injury and the increased reps for Dorsey could easily be viewed as a blessing in disguise. Ever since he was thrust into action on Sunday Night Football, the first-round pick has been making the most of his fresh start.

Heading into Week 5, Dorsey is PFF’s second-best nose tackle in the NFL with 11 defensive stops, 10 tackles and two quarterback sacks. His first sack of the season came against Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and his second was against Rams signal-caller Sam Bradford.

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Rushing the passer has never been Dorsey’s forte, but he has done a bang-up job in terms of collapsing the pocket through four games this season. In addition to looking quicker and stronger, his technique has been spot-on as well.

Following the 49ers' beatdown of the Rams last Thursday, head coach Jim Harbaugh singled out Dorsey’s play, via Ruthless Sports Guy of BayAreaSportsGuy.com. “Very good team defense. Glenn Dorsey played exceptionally well.” 

Harbaugh’s right: He did play exceptionally well. In fact, Dorsey’s top-notch play in Week 4 was his highest-graded game since Week 17 of the 2011 season, according to PFF. Will the seasoned vet continue to churn out superior performances on a weekly basis?

That is the one-million dollar question right now. But based on what we have seen so far this season, the answer has to be yes. Undoubtedly, a clean bill of health will be vital to Dorsey’s continued success.

Kudos to Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke—they brought in and coached up a guy who was once viewed as a bust. Sure, Dorsey will probably never live up to his first-round draft status, but his fresh start in the Bay Area has been a welcomed surprise.

And who knows? His unsuspecting play may end up paying huge dividends when the 49ers are making a late-season push for a particular playoff spot.


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