Is this the end for Engelberger?

Where does the signing of Marques Douglas leave John Engelberger after the best season of his career? The most obvious answer is: No longer as the starting right end in the team's revamped 3-4 defensive scheme, even though Engelberger continues to be listed as the starter there on the team's official depth chart - ahead of of Douglas.

"Marques is one of those guys that doesn't want to hear that he is coming in as a starter," Niners coach Mike Nolan said last week when the team signed Douglas to a three-year deal.

So the Niners aren't telling him. But common logic says Douglas is being brought in to start at right end – where he started with productive results in Nolan's 3-4 scheme the past few years in Baltimore.

At 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds, Douglas has ideal size and skills to start at end that scheme. He also has the proven results.

At 6-4 and 268 pounds, Engelberger may be a little light.

"Yeah, I'm concerned a little bit that he is light, but until I see him play…" Nolan said.

Nolan didn't get an opportunity to see Engelberger on the field last week during the team's early minicamp for veterans because the sixth-year veteran still was nursing a wrist injury that hampered him last season.

Tony Brown – who at 6-1 and 285 pounds is similar in build to Douglas – took the snaps as the starting right end. Bryant Young – a four-time Pro Bowler at defensive tackle – is the left end in the new configuration. At 6-3 and 291 pounds, Young also is built for the position.

"The disappointment in this (last) minicamp was that I didn't get a chance to see (Engelberger) play because there are guys that can be on the lighter side (and be effective at the position)," Nolan said. "But if they can get good leverage. … A good example would be Michael McCrary, who played with us at the Ravens for a while. I think Michael only weighed about 250 some of the time he played, but he played very strong and with leverage."

Engelberger has added some muscle since he was drafted in the second round in 2000, but he still does not have the prototype size of the big, compact ends who have the bulk to hold up against the run but also the power and speed to contribute as a pass rusher. However, he does do a good job with his physical skills to create leverage.

Last year, while starting 15 games at left end, Engelberger led the 49ers with a career-high six quarterback sacks – twice as many as any of the team's other defensive linemen.

But he was only adequate against the run – sometimes, opposing linemen could simply overwhelm him with their size – and the demands on him in that area will increase substantially in the 3-4.

"If Engelberger can play with leverage, then he can play down in there the 15 or 20 percent of the time that he's asked to, and then we can get him out wide and utilize his strengths a little better," Nolan said. "But, he is probably a little light right now. The biggest test will be to see what kind of leverage player he is. If he's not, he can still play and certainly fit in well. We would just have to put him on the edges more than we would like to. But, if that is what is best for the team, then that is what we will do."

The Niners have made the decision to keep Engelberger at end while switching the team's other regular starting end from recent seasons – Andre Carter, who had 12.5 sacks in 2002 – to outside linebacker in the new scheme. Andrew Williams, who started the final three games last season in place of the injured Carter, also is being switched to outside linebacker, where he will be hard-pressed to find playing time.

That, ultimately, could be a place Engelberger is destined for if he can't hold up at end in the new scheme.

But the Niners don't see him as a "stand-up" type of end, which is an interchangeable position one of the edge players often will occupy in the 3-4.

"You know, he could stand up, but that is something that I want to look into this next month, just to see if he can," Nolan said. "I'll be honest with you – I don't think it is a good fit for him. But I want to do it anyway just to see if he can do it.

"If he can, it certainly gives us more flexibility and maybe taps into something that five years ago they thought he'd be doing, but yet he hasn't done it yet in the NFL only because they've been in a scheme where they said, ‘You're this,' they said, ‘You're an end and that is what you're going to do.' So, there's the possibility of us at least looking at him to do that, but I'm not encouraged that will be a good move for him."

But then, bringing in Douglas wasn't necessarily a good move for Engelberger, either. He's a 4-3 end now playing in a 3-4 defense, and it's up to him to make adjustments – or prove immediately that he can contribute – while the team figures out the best way to take advantage of his skills in the scheme.


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