A big emphasis on the latter.
This is not just a unit that places the best four options to wreck havoc along the offensive line, they put guys who are naturally defensive ends inside — setting up a disastrous scenario for guards who have to counter speed. Arden Key, Arik Armstead, even Nick Bosa have thrashed the interior by sliding inside.
But could this be a unit soon depleted by free agency 10 days from now?
ALL the latest 49ers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on 49ers newsletter here!
General manager John Lynch has admitted that D.J. Jones, one of the interior standouts from this past season, has made it hard for the ‘Niners to keep him. The aforementioned Key is an unrestricted free agent. Dee Ford is projected to be on his way out. Maurice Hurst is another free agent.
But if changes do occur, the 49ers do have this working for them: One quick and explosive defender got the chance to perform in front of 49er representatives in Indianapolis during the Saturday, March 5, NFL Combine workouts. It just so happens he starred nearly 20 minutes north of the ‘Niners in college and has an endorsement from his head coach in a conversation with Heavy.
Local Bay Area Prospect Could Appeal to the 49ers
Thomas Booker of nearby Stanford became one of the rising performers of Saturday’s session.
At 6-foot-3, 301-pounds, Booker still turned in two unofficial 40-yard dash times of under 5 flat: 4.94 and 4.95 in both runs.
Among interior trench defenders, Booker delivered the fifth-fastest 40 time.
His 40 time wasn’t just the only workout that blew away spectators and scouts.
Is there any thought that Booker’s former head coach David Shaw has regarding the chance Booker could stay in close proximity to his college alma mater?
“That would be great,” Shaw told Heavy following Stanford’s open spring practice on Saturday, March 5. “I know he can play the nose, but he can also play the three-technique, he can play in the 3-4, so with his versatility in the interior positions he can play in any of them. I think he fits in a lot of schemes (including the 49ers). He understands the game. His knowledge, his leadership, they ooze in every conversation.”
Shaw adds that Booker’s rare size/speed trench collaboration also got his stock to boost in the Senior Bowl — describing his game as “explosive.”
“For a guy that size, he’s got quickness, he’s physical, he’s explosive and he did a great job when he went to that All-Star game,” Shaw said. “He showed more pass-rushing ability than what people thought – which is awesome.”
Booker has Been a Swiss Army Knife in the Trenches
With having the ideal build for the “A” gap, and accompanied with speed, Booker looks to be the prototypical three-technique NFL defender.
Except, Stanford trusted him to take on offensive tackles and centers. If you watch No. 4 in white closely versus USC in Stanford romp of the Trojans, the Cardinal plugged him in multiple spots.
Even when engaged with blockers, Booker shows a strong sense of where the play is going — even if it means taking the blocker with him as seen in the upset of then-No. 3 Oregon during the 2021 season:
Before the combine, Booker was described as a future rotational player who can play in multiple fronts by nfl.com’s Lance Zierlein. And before Booker ran, Shaw believed that his former defensive lineman and team captain would see his stock go up and added he would be a mid-round selection.
Now, following his combine performance and with the 49ers facing possible interior needs, Booker could be an option to join Lynch with the 49ers’ Stanford representation.