D-line discoveries

Names such as Josh Shaw, Demetrius Maxie, Christian Ferrara, Riddick Parker, Bryan Save and Michael Landry might not pique much interest right now to the casual 49ers observer, but they are paramount on the team's radar of objectives for its preseason opener vs. Oakland. The Niners desperately need to discover who will be their third, fourth - and maybe even fifth - defensive tackles this season, and the team needs a few of those names to begin emerging prominently from that list come Saturday.

Right now, those relatively anonymous names are clumped together in a group behind starters Bryant Young and Anthony Adams, who won't play against the Raiders as he continues to rest his injured right ankle.

They also sit behind rookie Isaac Sopoaga, who will make the team because of his size, potential and the fact the team spent a fourth-round draft pick on him in April.

But Sopoaga - who was expected to be the third tackle and make an impact in the defensive line rotation this year - hasn't shown the Niners much so far in the spring and summer. His technique is very raw and offensive linemen are able to handle him when he attempts to use his power and grapple with them up high.

Of course, Sopoaga hasn't had a whole lot of opportunities to show otherwise lately - or develop, for that matter - because of a lower back problem that has kept him out of practice for the past week. Like Adams, he won't play Saturday.

That leaves even more time for others to step up. And, for the Niners' sake, somebody is going to have to.

"There are about four or five defensive linemen that we have got to evaluate in the next three games," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "They practice really well, now we have to see them play. Who is going to be the fourth tackle, who is going to be the third tackle? That is stuff that we have to identify."

Landry, the biggest of the bunch at 317 pounds, has spent a lot of time with the first team during the spring and summer and has had some impressive moments during training camp. But when the team released its first summer depth chart the other day, it had Parker - a seventh-year veteran - listed with the second unit.

The Niners like Parker's veteran experience and the fact he can play inside or on the outside. But the team needs some big bodies to stuff the middle, and that's where the improving Landry has an advantage.

The rest of the prospects are youngsters who are fighting it out to stay in the mix and scratching for playing time to prove they belong. Shaw, the team's fifth-round draft pick in 2002, is getting another shot after being waived four times in his first two NFL seasons. This could be his last shot, but his potential still intrigues the team.

The Niners want to see if he has what it takes to help them this season. Or not. It's like that with several of these young defensive linemen, who will be watched as closely as anybody on the team during four exhibitions over the next 20 days.

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