SANTA CLARA (AP) — Two players the San Francisco 49ers could not depend upon last year will be counted on to play big roles this season.
Linebacker Aldon Smith missed the first nine games last season serving a suspension handed down by the NFL. Defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey sat out last season with a biceps tear.
Patrick Willis, a linebacker, and defensive lineman Justin Smith retired after the season and defensive lineman Ray McDonald was released, leaving big holes to be filled.
With the field in good condition, the 49ers were able to hold their practice inside the stadium as scheduled.
Linebacker Chris Borland, who led the team in tackles with 128, retired after one year in the league. Three of the 49ers top five tacklers from last season are gone.
Enter Smith and Dorsey, who bring experience and add depth.
“I’m feeling really good,” Smith said. “My body feels good. I’m ready to go.”
Smith, who had an NFL-record 33½ sacks over his first two seasons, slipped to 10½ the past two years.
“I’m really happy for and excited for Aldon,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. “I respect the road he’s on. Life throws things at you and the answer is how you handle it. You see the conditioning he’s doing.”
Tomsula was the defensive line coach through Smith’s first four years. And the two appear to have a solid relationship, adding to Smith’s positive outlook for the season.
“When I look around the locker room, I just see a lot of new faces,” Smith said. “If anybody underestimates us, that’s their problem. We’re confident in ourselves and we’ll be where we need to be when the season starts.”
Dorsey will be used as a defensive end, as well as at nose tackle a year after injuring his triceps during camp.
“Glenn is just, he’s wonderful and he’s a really, really good player,” Tomsula said.
Dorsey, a first-round draft pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, appeared in 16 games, including 13 starts, for the 49ers in 2013.
“He can pick up where he left off,” Smith said. “Anyone who fills Justin’s spot has to create chemistry. Justin was the guy beside me all those years. We have so much talent that we are able to do many things.”
Nose tackle Ian Williams may feel the void more than anyone, as he lined up between McDonald and Smith last season.
“You just don’t replace McDonald and Smith,” he said. “But you can have a guy like Glenn, a great player with ability and technique.”
The defensive line looked sharp, as much as it could without pads on the second day of practice.
Defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, a 12-year veteran who missed last season with an ACL injury, participated in individual drills but not team drills.
“He’s ready to go and there are no limitations,” Tomsula said. “We’re using him in nickel stuff. He has great value in that role. He can do it all and we’ll sort it out later.”
Wide receiver Issac Blakeney was held out of practice with a muscle pull. Running back Reggie Bush also sat out practice.
Tomsula said there were no issues on the field during team drills and that only individual drills were moved to avoid some of the poorer conditions.
“It all lays on me with that decision,” Tomsula said. “We’re going on to the game field. We feel like we are in a good spot with the game field.”