SANTA CLARA — Quinton Dial is running with the first-team defense for the San Francisco 49ers, who are looking to once again turn a young, raw prospect into a producer along their defensive line after the departure of long-time starters Ray McDonald and five-time Pro Bowler Justin Smith.
As the team prepares for its first practice in pads Tuesday, Dial isn’t the only unheralded youngster that could play a prominent role on a line groomed the past eight seasons by Jim Tomsula, now entering his debut season as San Francisco’s head coach. The revamped front will have several faces who have followed a similar path.
Since joining the 49ers as their defensive line coach in 2007 — a position he held until being promoted in January to replace the departed Jim Harbaugh — Tomsula has mentored several projects and undrafted prospects into productive players along a unit that has anchored one of the NFL’s top defenses of the past five seasons.
Dial is one of them. Drafted in the fifth round out of Alabama in 2013, he appeared in only three games and recorded two tackles as a rookie. But last year, when injuries rocked San Francisco at nose tackle, the 6-foot-5, 318-pound Dial got an opportunity to step in and started six of the 49ers’ final seven games.
This summer, with Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey back from injuries that ended their seasons last year, Dial is sliding over to right tackle and relishing a chance to continue his progress at a new position now that the hitting finally will begin.
“I can’t wait, man,” Dial said Monday. “It’s a great opportunity and something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Doing all this offseason training, pushing weights, somebody’s got to pay for the work I’ve been putting in. Can’t wait.”
Without McDonald and Smith —regular starters at tackle since 2011 in San Francisco’s 3-4 defensive scheme — several youngsters whom Tomsula has developed are getting opportunities this summer for bigger roles.
Smith retired in May after 14 decorated seasons. McDonald was released abruptly last December due to off-field issues after starting San Francisco’s first 14 games at left tackle.“I watch a lot of tape of Justin,” Dial said.49ersJim TomsulaNFLQuinton Dial