49ers finally addressing DL situation

After hibernating during much of March, the 49ers spent this week making some contigency plans along their unsettled defensive line. They signed second-year end Dwayne Missouri on Monday, worked out former Pro Bowl tackle D'Marco Farr at their Santa Clara facility the next day, then signed seventh-year tackle Travis Kirschke to a one-year deal a day later. Of course, neither of these signings significantly improves the team in an area that this season could be without two starters from 2002.

But it provides the Niners with a few new bodies to throw into the mix and gives them some insurance if things don't work out as planned in the college draft later this month, or with the projected roles of Jim Flanigan and Josh Shaw, who now are prominently moving up in the team's plans for its 2003 DL rotation.

Missouri and Kirschke are marginal pickups at best as the Niners continue to relatively lay low during the NFL's free-agency period. Missouri appeared in two games with Dallas in 2001 and - while Kirschke has six years of previous experience with the Detroit Lions - he has started just 10 NFL games and doesn't appear likely to challenge for a starting role with the Niners.

But the Niners - who will be looking for a top DE or DT on the first day of the draft April 26 - needed to start addressing their situation on a line that lost starting tackle Dana Stubblefield (who was cut and later signed by Oakland) and may losing starting left end Chike Okeafor, who has made several visits with other teams as an unrestricted free agent but still remains unsigned. Negotiations remain open with the Niners, but Okeafor is unlikely to be back with the team if he receives a decent offer elsewhere. But he hasn't yet, and still could return to the team.

Niners general manager lauded Kirschke's experience, competitiveness and work ethic and said the former UCLA tackle "will come in here and compete for a starting job."

That may be an overstatement, but the Niners are hoping that Kirschke can push Flanigan for the starting role opposite Pro Bowl tackle Bryant Young and provide competition at the third DT for Shaw, whom the team is hoping will develop into a quality performer after fully recovering from several knee surgeries before his pro career started last season.

This scenario immediately changes if the Niners opt to go with a DT with their No. 26 pick in the first round. That potential prospect would immediately be penciled in to challenge Flanigan for the starting role, with Kirschke then expected to beat out Shaw if he wants to remain with the team as the No. 4 tackle.


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