49ers believe full offseason can help Solomon Thomas reach potential

From ESPN - January 15, 2018

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas entered his rookie season well aware of the expectations that come with such a lofty draft position.

"I mean, you know, definitely at the beginning of the season, of course," Thomas said. "Then I just calmed down, focused on playing football and having fun. Its just part of the process of being a rookie -- understanding the pressure and the mental game. Ive grown a lot, and Im just going to continue to grow going into my second year."

Thomas' rookie season was something of a mixed bag. Based on the numbers alone, it's fair to say he did not immediately meet those outsized standards.

Thomas played in 14 games with 12 starts, posting 41 tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery on 655 defensive snaps. For the most part, he was an effective run defender, finishing tied for second on the team in tackles for loss, with 10. But he often struggled as a pass-rusher, moving around the defensive line as the Niners sought the best place for him to have opportunities to get after the quarterback.

Without a strong pass rush for most of the season, Thomas' inability to consistently help in that regard stood out because of the belief that he was supposed to provide immediate help there. Pro Football Focus gave Thomas a grade of 53.2 for the season, which was better than just nine other first-round picks.

Regardless, the 49ers were pleased with Thomas' progress, noting that he got better as the season went along and as he got further removed from a knee injury he suffered in Week 8 against Philadelphia.

Im very pleased," 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. "I think we all are, really. Hes a very explosive athlete, he plays really good with his hands, he gets knock-back in the run game. Theres the developmental part that we need to get to with regards to consistency in pass rush, which I think hell reach. Im not really concerned about it. But as far as his growth, Im very pleased with where hes at.

Much of the Niners' belief in what Thomas can become stems from what this offseason could bring. Perhaps more than any other player on the roster, this year's offseason program should offer Thomas a chance to take a big step forward.

Because Thomas attended Stanford, which is on a quarters system and does not finish classes until mid-June, he got a late start with the Niners due to a rule that does not allow rookies to join their NFL teams until their schools have conducted graduation ceremonies. That cost Thomas all of the organized team activities and left him trying to play catch-up after he joined the team at the start of training camp.

Once Thomas did arrive, the Niners found themselves trying to figure out his best position. He started at the "big" end spot, sharing time with Tank Carradine while also kicking inside to be an interior rusher on obvious passing downs. The 49ers also tried him at the "Leo" spot, rushing from the other edge. All the moving around was difficult for Thomas, especially since he did not have a full offseason to digest any one position.


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