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NT Mike Purcell: I've grown both on and off the field

Mike Purcell had an inkling some good news might be coming his way on Saturday when word spread the day before that veteran Darnell Dockett had been released.

No disrespect to Dockett, but the three-time Pro Bowler being shown the door opened up a spot on the San Francisco 49ers' initial 53-man roster on the defensive line and all Purcell, a nose tackle, could do was wait and hope.

And hope and wait.

The congratulatory phone call came from coach Jim Tomsula.

“He said it was time to keep working even more,” Purcell said in a conference call.

“The play of that whole group impacted that decision,” to release Dockett, Tomsula said.

The work ethic of Purcell, who appeared in two games for the Niners last year, was never in question. Nor was his work in the classroom.

Rather, it was Purcell’s inability to put it all together in a game situation.

That changed this preseason. In a big way.

It was in the preseason opener at the Houston Texans when Purcell keyed the Niners’ goal line stand by dominating the line of scrimmage. On second-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Purcell broke through to drop Alfred Blue for a 3-yard loss. Two snaps later, he stuffed Kenny Hilliard for no gain at the 1-yard line.

Against the Texans, Purcell had six tackles.

Then, a week later against the Dallas Cowboys, he picked off Dustin Vaughan and returned the interception 37 yards for a touchdown, running as fast as any 303-pounder could, given the circumstances.

“I’ve grown overall, on and off the field,” Purcell said. “Making big plays on the field, I think that made the difference.”

Still, with Dockett gone, Justin Smith retired and Ray McDonald a bad memory, where will the veteran wisdom come from on the D-line, let alone a pass rush?

After all, the seven defensive linemen on the roster have combined for 12 sacks in 17 total seasons with Glenn Dorsey contributing half of those sacks.

“We all need to see who will step up,” Purcell said, “and be the next leader.”