SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Quinton Dial put a punishing hit on running back Alfonso Smith late in 11-on-11 work. Tony Jerod-Eddie pounded Jonathan Martin not once but twice, even sending him to his backside.
In their first audition to become San Francisco's starting nose tackle, Dial and Jerod-Eddie each showed off impressive physical strength in the middle of the defensive line Sunday. They have a tough job to replace Glenn Dorsey, who went down with a torn left biceps on Friday and will need surgery. While he isn't being ruled out for the entire 2014 season, the recovery is expected to be extensive — perhaps three to four months.
"It was kind of a freaky thing," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Sunday. "Obviously, very disappointed for Glenn and him personally. He was in great shape. Played great for us last year."
The practice Sunday was a physical one away from the defensive line, too. Two days after wideout Anquan Boldin was sent to the locker room, cornerback Chris Culliver got banished to the sideline by coach Jim Harbaugh, who hollered to his team about clean play and not needing to be overly physical against teammates.
The coach walked toward the locker room chatting briefly with Culliver and patting him on the back.
Also in the mix to fill in at nose tackle is Mike Purcell, who signed as an undrafted free agent last year and would have to make a big leap up the depth chart from the practice squad.
"Tony did fine last year when he was in there," Fangio said. "We just got to get him re-honed up in there. We may look at Dial in there. So, we've got three guys right there, and we'll go from that."
There will be some mixing and matching in the first preseason game Thursday at Baltimore. A front seven that has long been among the most imposing in the NFL could be missing several familiar faces now that Dorsey is also down.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman is recovering from left knee surgery after suffering a devastating injury in the NFC championship game loss at Seattle, while fellow linebacker Aldon Smith could face a suspension from the league for his off-field legal issues.
Yet Ian Williams, who began the 2013 season as starting nose tackle, continues to make progress in his recovery from last year's season-ending ankle injury with the hope he could be ready sometime early in the season. He was injured in a Week 2 loss at Seattle on a cut block by Seattle right guard J.R. Sweezy. Williams has undergone multiple surgeries and is currently on the physically unable to perform list following an offseason setback. He went through side-to-side movement drills Sunday.
Dial insists playing nose tackle suits him well, given his physical, aggressive nature.
"I'm just a country boy," Dial said with a grin.
At age 12 in Alabama, he started doing chores that helped develop his toughness and strength.
"Just being outside moving trees, cutting up trees and being outside moving hay bales," Dial said. "Whatever needed to be done, I was out there doing it. I used to get out there and cut the grass."
With the depth the 49ers have in their close-knit defensive line group, everybody is confident San Francisco can adjust and succeed without Dorsey.
"Look at how Dorsey got his. Ian was ahead of him and he went down," Demarcus Dobbs said. "The good thing about our room, we've got a lot of talent in our room. We've got guys that can step up now that Dorsey's gone. He had an incredible year last year, he had big things going for him this year. Injuries happen. Make sure he gets better and Ian's looking to come back in the mix soon. "
Dial works on nose reads daily even while focusing on his defensive end spot. He played some nose tackle in college at Alabama.
"It's going to come back to me, it's just going to become second nature to me," he said. "It's going to be fun. We've got a great room of guys who are going to come out here every day and push each other. We're going to be all right on the D-line."
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