How the 49ers will calculate Maurice Hurst’s loss

Coach Kyle Shanahan announced during his Saturday morning press conference that defensive linebacker Maurice Hurst had a tear in his biceps that requires surgery and is likely to end his season.

This is a crushing blow to the depth the 49ers mustered on the inside of their defensive line, as Hearst was one of the best players on the field during the early stages of training camp thus far.

Now the 49ers have to pivot and find a way to replace the production they’ve been counting on from Hurst, particularly as passes in the three-way technique. Fortunately for them, they won’t have to go out of the organization looking for reinforcements right away, as there are a few players currently on the roster who have the ability to fill the void left by Hearst’s absence.

Hassan Ridgway is a player that immediately comes to mind for basic packages. Arguably Ridgeway’s greatest strength is his ability to gobble up space and fill in gaps in his running game, something he did very well through his first few boot camp drills.

That helps a bit in dealing with depth concerns about zero/one tech points, but the hardest thing to replace in Hearst’s absence is the finesse brought by a fast attacker from the three-point tech points. My initial guess is that Keri Haider’s already good chances of making the final 53-player roster have now increased to a “very” good chance given his ability to play on the edge and kick inward to all three technique.

Last season we saw DeMeco Ryans and Kris Kocurek get very creative with their passing defensive fronts, especially with the deployment of Arden Key. The success they had in lining up the Key over Guard in the three technique could be directly related to the return of the defensive lines during the second half of the season. I imagine there is a strong desire to replicate this strategy in 2022 with someone else.

Haider would likely be in the driver’s seat for this type of role, given his size and strength. But, of course, it also doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the “Kocurek men” and has a long history with the 49ers’ defensive line coach.

There are a couple of other players I can imagine being used in this capacity, including Charles Ominiho, who had the inside job of passing through the first few drills in camp.

Players like Jordan Willis and Shamson Ebokam have the power to kick inward if needed as well, which could lead to the panel’s approach when talking about the pecking order outside of Eric Armstead and Kevin Givens, who will likely see the lion’s share of reps from the interior on the pass.

Another name to watch out for during camp is former first-round pick Robert Nekimdic, who was signed last week and brought a lot of energy on the field during his first training sessions with the team.

Nkemdiche had a very impressive representative of all three techniques during the 11v11 portion of Friday’s practice, using a ripping motion that saw him jump through the B-gap while ripping through the guard and the right intervention to blast in the background and create instant pressure on the play.

The 49ers have had a track record in recent years with project players on the defensive line who have great traits but not proper production, and Nkemdiche could be Kocurek’s next project success story that turned.

Bottom line, there is not a single single player that I would confidently refer to that could take Hearst’s place, but the sum of all the parts should be enough to weather the storm. Losing a player like Hearst is always painful, but this 49er defensive line is deep enough that it doesn’t drastically change my view of the unit or the team as a whole for next season.

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