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Injuries have forced 49ers to rethink their defensive line

Signing Datone Jones will help the 49ers rebuild an injury ravaged defensive line. Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Injuries across the San Francisco 49ers defensive line have forced them to reconfigure their depth chart at the one position group that many pegged as a potential team strength entering the season.

Over the past couple of weeks, that's meant adding some new bodies, moving some players to injured reserve, and even working some previously injured players back into the mix.

The latest move came Tuesday when the Niners formally announced the signing of veteran defensive lineman Datone Jones, a former first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers, and the corresponding release of end Xavier Cooper.

"We've been pretty banged up there each week," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "We've been having to play a number of new guys. We struggled versus Dallas, wanted to see if we could upgrade ourselves at all, especially with our run support and everything, so we had to get a few bigger guys in here and he looked good in the workout. So, we made the move."

Jones has experience in the league playing a variety of positions, something that made him appealing to the Niners as they try to mix and match along the line following the loss of starting end Arik Armstead to a broken hand and the on-going calf injury to end Aaron Lynch.

"I think right now, with the injuries we've had, we need guys who are able to do both," Shanahan said. "He's capable of doing both, so we'll see what's the best way to use him as this week goes."

Jones is the latest addition to a line that last week brought on veteran end Tony McDaniel and defensive tackle Leger Douzable. McDaniel and Douzable were both active last week and played against the Dallas Cowboys. That trio, along with rookie D.J. Jones, offers some semblance of depth behind the likes of DeForest Buckner, Earl Mitchell, Elvis Dumervil and Solomon Thomas.

If there's good news for the 49ers' front, though, it could come in the form of reinforcements returning from the injured reserve list.

Versatile lineman Ronald Blair III began practicing last week and has opened his 21-day window for a possible comeback from a thumb ailment that had him on injured reserve. He could return as soon as the Nov. 5 game against Arizona.

"Hopefully everything goes well and he continues to show he's healthy," Shanahan said. "Looking forward to getting him back."

The same is true of starting defensive end Tank Carradine, who is also currently on injured reserve because of a high ankle sprain. He's not practicing yet but the earliest he could return would be against Seattle on Nov. 26. That would mean he'd have to return to practice soon but Shanahan indicated he might not be back quite that quick.

"He's still a week or a couple weeks away from the window, maybe three weeks away from the window," Shanahan said.

In the meantime, the Niners are hoping to get more from a defensive line that has been hit or miss -- with more misses -- through the first seven weeks.