The 49ers owned one of the worst pass-rushes in the league last season, and arguably their two top threats from a year ago are gone.
Although outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Andre Carter came nowhere close to living up to the expectations the 49ers had for them, both had shown ability to rush the passer earlier in their careers.
Aside from 34-year-old defensive end Bryant Young, this 49ers defense has nobody who has experienced NFL success in getting to the quarterback. So coach Mike Nolan is relying on rookie Manny Lawson, a first-round pick from North Carolina State, to be among the team's top sack artists.
"I can't say later who it's going to be because that's why we're going through this process now," Nolan said when asked whom he believes will be the team's sack leaders. "But I would like to think that Manny Lawson would be one of them."
The 49ers last year recorded just 28 sacks. Their average of one sacks every 21.6 attempts ranked 31st in the league. Young led the team with eight sacks, doing all of his damage in the first seven games of the season. Brandon Moore was second with five sacks, but he is expected to return to his role as a reserve this season with a healthy Jeff Ulbrich.
Nolan said he is expecting Young and his other defensive linemen in the club's 3-4 scheme to contribute some sacks this season.
"Bryant Young is a good pass rusher, and Anthony Adams does a pretty good job," Nolan said. "We need Isaac (Sopoaga) to push the pocket a little bit more on the pass rush."
At the outside linebacker spots, Lawson will team with Corey Smith and fellow rookie Parys Haralson at a spot that is severely lacking in players who have experienced NFL success. Lawson, the No. 22 overall pick in the April draft, will fill the role vacated when Carter signed with the Redskins. Carter had 4.5 sacks last season. Meanwhile, Peterson signed a lucrative deal with the Seahawks this offseason. Peterson recorded just three sacks last season, including 2.5 in the first game of the season.
"If somebody else shows up that'd be good," Nolan said. "And we have quite a blitz package on third down that we use as far as the way we try to do it."
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