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49ers' need at edge rusher could be fixed in free agency or NFL Draft

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USATSI

49ers' need at edge rusher could be fixed in free agency or NFL Draft

Editor's note: The 49ers season isn't over, but we'll keep one eye on the future with our weekly series on the team's biggest needs heading into 2019 and how voids can be filled best. This week's focus is on edge rushers.

The 49ers have tried to pattern their defense after the scheme and style the Seattle Seahawks have deployed for most of the past decade.

The biggest problem, however, is that the 49ers do not have the players to pull it off with as much success.

And it all starts with 49ers’ lack of an edge rusher.

[RELATED: 49ers promote pass-rusher Pita Taumoepenu from practice squad]

A year ago, the 49ers were able to fill the biggest need on the team with the acquisition of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade from the New England Patriots. But they have made no progress when it comes to getting production from the position coach Kyle Shanahan considers the defensive equivalent.

“A quarterback can hide a lot of problems, and so can a pass rush,” Shanahan said.

There were few – if any – options available last offseason in free agency or where the 49ers picked in the draft. However, this offseason could be a lot different, as the 49ers are positioned perfectly to make a  low-pressure decision to provide an immediate upgrade.

Players likely to stay in 2019

Ronald Blair: The third-year pro has remained healthy and developed into the team’s best outside pass-rusher. Blair, 25, is second on the 49ers with 4.5 sacks, and he still has a lot to learn and room to improve.

Cassius Marsh: He will have to earn his way back as a third or fourth outside pass-rusher after failing to provide a consistent pass rush while getting plenty of opportunities. He had more chances as an edge-rusher than anyone on the team, but has managed just 3.5 sacks on the season. He is likely to stick around, but will face more challengers for his spot.

Players likely to go

Arik Armstead: The 49ers have a difficult decision to make on Armstead, who is scheduled to make $9 millon next season on the fifth-year option. The one-year deal becomes guaranteed at the start of the new league year in March. The 49ers consider Armstead as an elite defensive lineman against the run. But that is a lot of money to play for someone who does not have the explosion to make a consistent impact as a pass-rusher. It could go either way.

[RELATED: 49ers' defense must make adjustments to fit their players]

Dekoda Watson: He will be 31, and coming off an injury-plagued season that saw him twice land on injured reserve. He has recorded just six sacks in nine NFL seasons, but 1.5 sacks came in his season debut in Week 9 against the Raiders. After that, he faded to the background.

49ers offseason plan

FREE AGENCY: There is a reason it’s rare that game-changing edge rushers switch teams. Once a team gets a good one, they are not going to let him go.

The Raiders were the exception. They had Khalil Mack, and they traded him to the Chicago Bears.

The 49ers made a competitive trade offer for Mack, according to general manager John Lynch, but did not close the deal to keep Mack in the Bay Area.

Detroit edge rusher Ziggy Ansah is playing under the franchise tag this season. He missed six games this season with a shoulder injury. He is not expected to be tagged for a second year in a row.

With an estimated $70 million in salary-cap space, the 49ers have plenty of money available to spend.

The free-agent market could be thin at edge rusher, as teams are likely to prevent their top guys from hitting the open market. Among the players who could receive franchise tags are Demarcus Lawrence (Dallas), Jadeveon Clowney (Houston), Dee Ford (Kansas City) and Frank Clark (Seattle). Keep an eye on Rams free agent Dante Fowler, whom defensive coordinator Robert Saleh worked with while they were both in Jacksonville.

DRAFT: The 49ers are four losses away from answering their most pressing need. With four more losses, the 49ers will own the No. 1 overall pick and can run their draft card up to select former Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa.

Well, that was easy.

Even if the 49ers defy the odds and win a game or two down the stretch, their first pick is still likely to be an edge rusher. The second-best guy on their list could be Josh Allen of Kentucky. Not only does he rank near the top of the nation with 14 sacks, but he has generated five forced fumbles. On a defense that lacks playmakers and guys with a nose for the football, Allen could be a nice consolation prize.

BOTTOM LINE: At the end of the regular season, the 49ers will know whether they will have the No. 1 overall pick and can select the top college player on their board. If the 49ers are picking elsewhere in the top-five, they would likely become a lot more aggressive in free agency to fill the need.

Source: 49ers, Nick Bosa scheduled to meet at Ohio State's Pro Day

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USATSI

Source: 49ers, Nick Bosa scheduled to meet at Ohio State's Pro Day

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The 49ers’ traveling party that includes general manager John Lynch and vice president of player personnel Adam Peters has moved on to Ohio State.

Lynch and Peters attended Alabama’s pro day on Tuesday and met with potential No. 2 overall pick Quinnen Williams, a defensive tackle.

On Wednesday, the 49ers are scheduled to meet with another possibility for the second overall selection, former Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, according to a source.

The 49ers and Bosa are scheduled to have dinner, reports Albert Breer of the MMQB. But a source has told NBC Sports Bay that the 49ers hope to move the date up to a late lunch.

Bosa is not scheduled to work out on Wednesday. The plan all along was to test well enough at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that any re-dos were not necessary. Bosa's marks ranked favorably against his brother Joey, the No. 3 overall pick in three years ago.

Nick Bosa is completely healthy after his final season at Ohio State was cut short due to a core muscle injury.

[RELATED: 49ers hire Dustin Little as head athletic trainer]

Among the other top draft prospects at Ohio State are quarterback Dwayne Haskins, defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, wide receivers Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin, and offensive linemen Michael Jordan and Isaiah Prince.

49ers hire Dustin Little as head athletic trainer, staff revamp continues

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AP

49ers hire Dustin Little as head athletic trainer, staff revamp continues

The 49ers named Dustin Little head athletic trainer Tuesday, locking in one of the final pieces of their new strength and conditioning and athletic training structure. 

After 17 players spent time on injured reserve during the 2018 season and 24 players the season prior, the 49ers sought change. The team fired longtime head athletic trainer Jeff Ferguson and head of strength and conditioning Ray Wright. 

General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan both identified streamlining the two programs as an offseason priority. 

“It’s about where we want to go, how we can make the overall process of it better,” Shanahan said after the season ended. “Injuries happen, and we’ve looked into that, and we’re going to do everything we can to improve that. We have to, because that has hurt us a lot in the last two years.”

“We consulted with some other teams,” Lynch said a few months ago. “Organizations in some other sports, looking for the right answers, and trying to put our own stamp on it. We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel. We’re just trying to get that deal right."

Hiring Ben Peterson as the head of player health and performance several weeks ago was the first step of that process. Peterson and Little will work together closely, as the 49ers model their structure after the NHL and NBA. 

[RELATED: Football kept Kwon Alexander going after adversity]

“We are excited to add Dustin to our health and performance team and believe he is a tremendous fit for our group,” Lynch said in a statement Tuesday. “A wide net was cast for this search, and we simply kept coming back to him. 

“Our due diligence and a great recommendation from the Broncos organization, which is highly regarded for the care of its players, made us extremely confident in bringing Dustin aboard.”

Little comes to Santa Clara after spending more than five years in Denver in a variety of roles, including as an assistant athletic trainer and director of rehabilitation.