Justin Smith

The last player in my 10-part series on key 49ers is …

Quinton Dial Tank Carradine

The 49ers shouldn’t have too much trouble stopping the run. Stopping the pass could be a lot more difficult for this group. Yesterday I wrote about one player who needs to beat first-year expectations and step into a much bigger role than the 49ers had planned. Here’s a third-year player who also must take a big leap forward, and he’s the last player in my 10-part series on key players (the other nine are at the bottom of this post).

10. Tank Carradine

There was a moth in my apartment a few weeks ago. This wasn’t any old moth, though. It appeared heavy, but flew absurdly fast. It looked like a miniature version of this WWII bomber.

I knew in an instant that if my wife saw this thing, she would’ve ordered me to kill it within seconds. So I opened the window as wide as it would go. No dice. It started zooming around the kitchen while I was washing dishes, so I looked away for a second to grab an instrument of insect death (in this case, a rolled up magazine). When I looked up, the moth had vanished.

Two nights later, we’re trying to sleep and hear a weird buzzing sound. The moth was circling the room at warp speed, bouncing into the ceiling every second or two. It was awful, and this was the point of no return, since my wife was aware that this moth existed. I had to turn on the light and swing one of my t-shirts wildly toward the ceiling in hopes of killing this dirty winged intruder.

After about eight tries, I finally knocked it senseless when it tried hiding in a curtain. Ha! Stupid moth. I picked it up from the floor with a tissue, walked to the bathroom triumphantly and dropped it into the toilet. Seconds later, it started moving! I flushed the toilet, barely sending the moth to a watery grave. That is, unless it climbs back up through the plumbing and terrorizes me once again.

I’ve overused the joke about Cornelius Carradine’s nickname (how fans wouldn’t think he was the second coming if his name were Lawrence, or Jon). However, I get why 49ers fans are enthralled with his potential.

It’s partly because Russell Wilson is to 49ers fans what that moth on steroids was to me. Since he joined the Seahawks, all 49ers fans have wanted is for someone wearing red, gold and white to catch that little bugger. And Tank Carradine did. Twice.

Sure, the sacks came on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, when the Seahawks had a 17-7 lead and were just trying to kill time. It didn’t matter. Other than Ahmad Brooks hitting Wilson hard a couple times after Wilson released the ball, Wilson is generally allowed to do his standard thing when he plays against the 49ers. He gets flushed out of the pocket, looks like he’s going to get sacked, then runs around in circles until a tight end is open 20 yards downfield. It’s like watching a bunch of giants try to catch a greased mouse.

But Carradine caught him. That, along with his draft status (second round, 2013) and excellent numbers at Florida State (16.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss in two years) provide a lot of reasons to be optimistic. The ACL rehab, along with a second surgery to remove scar tissue from his knee, slowed his progress. Another adjustment was moving from a nine-technique, where he’d line up outside the tight end at Florida State, to a three-technique with the 49ers. That puts him between a guard and tackle, and according to Jim Tomsula it might be an even tougher transition than it sounds.

“The analogy I’d use is Tank came from the backyard to a phone booth,” Tomsula said. “When you’re out there on the edge, you got all that space. There’s nobody outside as a blocking threat. Now you scoot down inside, you got stuff coming from both sides. The amount of space you’re working in is a lot smaller.”

Carradine is a member of what looks to be a deep defensive line. However, it’s a line that doesn’t have many pass rushers of note besides Darnell Dockett. Dockett is 34 and missed last season to a torn ACL.

With Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams, Mike Purcell, Quinton Dial and perhaps Tony Jerod-Eddie, the 49ers won’t have any problem stopping the run. But Justin Smith was a two-way 3-4 defensive end, and so was Ray McDonald (to a lesser extent). The 49ers can’t depend on crazy blitzes and their cornerbacks to keep opposing quarterbacks and receivers from dominating, their outside linebacking corps is sketchy in more ways than one, and they can’t depend on the older nickel defensive lineman to provide all of the pressure. This season is the time for Carradine to shine. If not now, when?


More keys to the 2015 season (10-part series)

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