SANTA CLARA — After a season devastated by injuries, the 49ers' defensive line is gradually getting its mojo back.
On Tuesday, Dee Ford took his first team reps in pads since early in the 2020 season, and his presence was immediately felt on the other side of the ball. Attempting to throw the defensive line off with a variety of cadences, Kyle Shanahan’s offense committed multiple false start infractions.
Ford looked like his old self, quickly getting into the backfield. The team’s medical and training staff has worked the Pro Bowl pass rusher back in gradually after he dealt with a lingering neck and back injury that kept him off the field for nearly the entire 2020 season.
“He ran by me a bunch of times,” Shanahan said. “So when I saw him walking in, I told him to quit teasing me like that because he looked like the Dee Ford I remember. So hopefully he can keep that up and can be smart with him as we go.”
Nick Bosa, another vital piece of the line, has not returned to the rotation yet but was suited up in pads participating in individual drills. Like Ford, the team is being careful with the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The goal is to ensure the team’s two star pass rushers have the opportunity to bookend each other again in 2021. Jimmy Garoppolo is looking forward to the challenge of facing them both at the same time.
“It's been fun,” Garoppolo said of Ford’s return. “It's exciting to get him back out there. Just the energy he brings, the speed he brings. I mean, you have to be aware of where he's at and they've been moving him around a little bit trying to get the overloaded fronts and things like that.
“It's always a pleasure to have him out there. Waiting to get Bosa back. Can’t wait for those two to be together again.”
Javon Kinlaw also has been making his way back from injury. After a knee procedure during the offseason, the second-year lineman has been itching to get back on the field during team drills. On both Tuesday and Wednesday, Kinlaw got his wish.
The massive lineman has been at the facility since February laser-focused on becoming one of the best to ever play at his position.
“Kinlaw is chomping at the bit to get out there,” Shanahan said. “He didn't personally let me know it, but I could feel his energy. I think he let the trainers know it a bunch. That's what you want. You don't want a guy to celebrate that we’re limiting them. You want a guy who wants to play football, who wants to get out there and who wants to be as best.
“The offense doesn't want him out as much as he was today, because he messes a lot of stuff up for us. But it was good to see him. And I know he was pumped to get the pads on today too.”
Like Shanahan, Garoppolo definitely felt Kinlaw's presence. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound defender already has shown how he can make an impact defending the run.
In his rookie season, the South Carolina product showed his potential with 33 tackles,15 solo, three for a loss and four quarterback hits. Kinlaw isn’t satisfied and wants to show how a full offseason has helped him improve.
“He hit a couple of plays today,” Garoppolo said. “He just pushes two people out of the way and he's in the backfield. It's impressive, man. It really is. And when he gets angry, it's a different type of player out there. So I'm glad he's on our side right now. He's a tough one to go against.”
If the 49ers can keep everyone on the defensive line healthy, they have the speed and power to make opposing quarterbacks very uncomfortable.