It looks like nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin will not be returning to the 49ers in 2011. That's been the speculation since the 49ers neglected to place the franchise tag on Franklin when given the opportunity to do so - and it's probably a good idea that they didn't. He didn't have an exceedingly bad season in 2010, but after missing out on organized team activities and the preseason, Franklin entered the regular season out of shape and unprepared. It was bad for the 49ers and it was bad for him, considering the fact that if he had those eight games back, he might be playing on a lucrative tag this year, or he'd already be signed to a big free agent contract.
His status remains up in the air, but as Matt Barrows notes, he's likely not coming back. Case in point: defensive line coach Jim Tomsula's board with the depth chart on it had Isaac Sopoaga slotted in at the nose tackle position. Ray McDonald, who just agreed to a five-year deal with the team, presumably will be the starter at left defensive end, where Sopoaga played last season.
If the team wanted Franklin back or felt confident at all that they could acquire his services, there would have been no reason for Tomsula to not include him on the board.
So when the 49ers go for workouts on Friday, it will be Sopoaga in the middle of the defensive line, with Ricky Jean Francois presumably backing him up. It's not a new position for Sopoaga, who started his professional career as a nose tackle, before being most over to defensive end. It wasn't necessarily performance-related, because he wasn't very good at either position until this past season. Was his growth in 2010 all-around, or simply in the vein of a DE?
Only time will tell, but he did do well when it came to stopping the run last season, which will be the biggest part of his job at nose tackle. He doesn't have to hustle to get after the quarterback, he simply has to eat up space and not let running backs get through. Patrick Willis and whichever linebacker starts at TED, presumably NaVorro Bowman, will be depending on Sopoaga to plus up some holes and leave ideal gaps for them. The nose tackle position makes the 3-4 defense works, one can only hope that Sopoaga can play it well at this point.