Editor's Note: This is the second installment in a five-part series on the 49ers' key competitions during training camp. Today, defensive end.
Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas are slated for similar roles this season.
Armstead, who is playing this season on the fifth-year option, and Thomas, a third-year pro, are viewed as defensive ends on base downs and interior pass-rushers in nickel situations.
There is enough playing time to go around for everyone on the 49ers' defensive line, but the priority will be set through competition beginning this week in training camp.
After all, Armstead and Thomas will also be going up against Dee Ford and rookie Nick Bosa for playing time when the 49ers deploy their base defense. Then, Armstead and Thomas will battle against each other for more snaps next to Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in passing situations.
Armstead is entering his contract season. The 49ers are paying him $9 million for his fifth year in the NFL. Armstead's strength is his run defense, but the club also believes he has potential as a pass-rusher that can be unlocked in the team's new wide-9 alignment.
Armstead is coming off his best season, appearing in all 16 games with career-highs in tackles (48) and sacks (three).
The team believes Thomas is on track for a breakout season. He made little impact in his first two years after the 49ers selected him with the No. 3 overall pick of the 2017 draft. Thomas admits his on-field performance was impacted by trying to cope with the tragedy of his older sister's death by suicide last year.
Thomas appeared refocused and determined to make a contribution during the team's offseason program. But he will have to earn his way onto the field among the most talented group of defensive linemen the 49ers have assembled in a while.
Ford was the 49ers' biggest veteran acquisition in the offseason, coming from Kansas City in a trade for a second-round draft pick. Ford registered a career-best 13 sacks last season. Kansas City placed the franchise tag on Ford before working out the deal to send him to the 49ers.
Ford will unquestionably be in the field on pass-rush downs. But listed at 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, Ford could be targeted in the run game as a defensive end on base downs.
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Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, was universally regarded as the best edge rusher in the draft. His immense lower body strength also should enable him to set the edge in run defense. Depending on how quickly he adapts after sitting out the offseason program with a mild hamstring strain, Bosa could be used as a pass-rush specialist as a rookie.
Armstead, Thomas, Ford and Bosa will all see plenty of action through the course of the season. But the competition among this group will determine which combination -- along with Buckner -- takes the field when a game is on the line.