SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers' defensive linemen will not be asked to undergo a change in mentality on third downs this season.
Whereas the 49ers were in a read-and-react mode on first and second downs in the past, this year under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, there is an emphasis placed on getting into the backfield to blow up run plays.
“It’s going to be good,” 49ers nose tackle Quinton Dial said. “It’ll allow me to make some plays and get some TFLs (tackles for loss).”
With the aggressive, one-gap approach on run downs, it also places a premium on maintaining discipline. Last season, the 49ers’ defense was among the worst in NFL history, allowing 2,654 yards and 25 touchdowns.
“If we lose an edge, they can hit a home run on that play,” Dial said.
On the recent day that Dial spoke with NBC Sports Bay Area, he relayed a situation on the practice field on which defensive end Aaron Lynch “lost an edge" when he moved too far inside where he should have been stationed. As a result, the run play went the distance for a touchdown.
Said Dial, “The running back hit his head on the goal post. We all have to be coordinated together and play as a unit.”
Dial was exclusively a two-down player last season. Although he is currently lining up with the second-string defense behind veteran Earl Mitchell, Dial said his goal is to be a man for all downs.
“Being more efficient on third down, that’s what I really want to work on, so I can be an every-down guy,” Dial said.
“Last year, I don’t think I was given a fair shot to do that or coached the right way to use my strengths to use what I got to excel on the field. I don’t think I was used the right way. If you can rush the passer, they’re going to find a way to get you on the field. I’m trying to elevate my game now.”
After recording two sacks in 2014 and 2.5 sacks in 2015, Dial was held without a sack last season while appearing in 14 games. According to Pro Football Focus, Dial was on the field for 187 passing downs and produced nine quarterback hurries.
Dial said he is spending a lot of time working with assistant defensive line coach Vince Oghobaase this offseason to hone his pass-rush skills.
“It’s only like two or three moves, but once I master those moves, you’ll see,” Dial said. “I know everybody labeled me as a first- and second-down player, but I think I can do it."