In this Monday edition of Niners Daily, we spotlight an under-the-radar player who turned plenty of heads in the San Francisco 49ers preseason opener over the weekend.
During the first half of Saturday's road contest against the Houston Texans, you might have uttered something along the lines of, "Who is the guy with the long hair making all those plays?"
If you were unfamiliar with reserve nose tackle Mike Purcell before Week 1 of the preseason, you probably aren't anymore.
It's no secret that the defensive line is probably San Francisco's deepest position group. With players like Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey, Quinton Dial, Darnell Dockett, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Garrett Celek, Arik Armstead and Lawrence Okoye all competing beside him, Purcell isn't the flashiest of names.
But on Saturday night, the third-year undrafted lineman out of Wyoming showed that the 49ers have even more depth than most people realized. In his 21 snaps versus the Texans, Purcell amassed six tackles – all of which came near or behind the line of scrimmage.
"It feels great to get out there and play no matter what the circumstances," said Purcell, who spent the vast majority of his first two NFL seasons on the practice squad. "The experience that I've had since I've been here has definitely helped a lot. Just learning from players like Justin Smith, Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams. The amount of depth that we have, it's easy to learn from each other and get better."
The highlight of Purcell's night occurred midway through the first quarter, when the 49ers were backed up to their own goal line for seven consecutive plays. Purcell played a huge role in keeping the Texans out of the end zone, recording a three-yard tackle for loss of Alfred Blue and a stuff of Kenny Hilliard – both on plays snapped at the 1-yard line.
Even when he wasn't in on the tackle during the goal-line sequence, Purcell still made his presence felt by creating penetration in the backfield.
View the 20 best images from Game 1 of the preseason, which saw the San Francisco 49ers take on the Houston Texans.
"They had gotten in the end zone once already, so whenever they get us backed up we have to grind," Purcell said. "We had to make sure they didn't get in, no matter how many times it took. It was a good defensive effort as a whole to make sure we kept them out of the end zone."
Purcell is just the latest Jim Tomsula project to pay dividends for the 49ers. The longtime defensive line coach also helped Williams and Jerod-Eddie, both undrafted, earn jobs in the NFL. Purcell still has plenty of work remaining to earn a 53-man roster spot, but Tomsula beamed with pride when asked about his pupil's standout 2015 debut.
"The way Michael played, you feel great for him," Tomsula said. "He's got a lot of ability. You're rooting for him, you're pulling for him, and it excites you."