San Francisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas’ adjustment key for DeForest Buckner

Jun 13, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (99) stretches during the San Francisco 49ers minicamp at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 13, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (99) stretches during the San Francisco 49ers minicamp at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

Solomon Thomas missed San Francisco 49ers OTAs and minicamp, and how quickly he can catch up will be key for DeForest Buckner.

When the San Francisco 49ers begin training camp next month, their top pick, Solomon Thomas, will be behind the eight-ball, which is potentially bad news for one of his teammates on the defensive line. Thomas was not able to join up with the 49ers until their final day of minicamp because of an NFL rule that prevents rookies from participating in offseason workouts until their school’s final exams are done.

The 49ers did not practice on the last day of minicamp, meaning he has not been able to take advantages of those early sessions to adjust to Robert Saleh’s defensive system. San Francisco will naturally want Thomas to adapt as quickly as possible, but the ease of transition will be particularly important to DeForest Buckner, who needs some of the burden lifted on him after an arduous rookie season.

Buckner played over 1,000 snaps in his first year — a snap count Saleh, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, labeled “criminal” — and conceded he was “dead tired” at times in 2016. Despite his heavy workload, Buckner was still able to enjoy a strong campaign and put up six sacks.

But if the 49ers want Buckner to be able to build on his 2016 contribution, then they need to able to afford him more rest, and Thomas is key to that. Thomas will likely kick inside from his defensive end position on pass-rushing downs and play in tandem with Buckner.

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They have the ability to form a formidable partnership as interior rushers and, if Thomas is able to enjoy success and cause disruption in the backfield, the Niners will also be able to put more faith in him and occasionally rotate Buckner out should they wish to do so.

Although Thomas has missed time, the good news for Buckner and the 49ers is that he has busy during his absence, working out with Stanford and with DeMarcus Ware.

Learning from one of the best pass rushers of recent history should aid and Thomas’ development and he also has an opportunity to glean knowledge from a player whose role he will likely be copying with the 49ers in Michael Bennett of the Seahawks.

Playing on the edge, but moving inside on passing downs is what Bennett does for the Seahawks to great effect, and what Thomas is expected to do. Buckner recently revealed, per Niners Nation, that Thomas will try to join him, Arik Armstead, Ronald Blair and Eli Harold in training with Bennett in Hawaii in July.

Working out with Bennett should also pay dividends for Thomas, however, it will take more than just a strong season from their top pick for the 49ers to take advantage of their obvious depth on the defensive side of the trenches.

It is debatable whether Armstead has the athleticism to excel at the LEO pass rusher position from which he has spent much of the offseason practicing but, if he can avoid another injury-ravaged season, then the 2015 first-round pick has obvious value having ranked second in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush productivity metric for 3-4 defensive ends since entering the league.

San Francisco will also hope Ronald Blair can build on a rookie season in which he made an impact playing inside and out, recording three sacks.

The pressure on Buckner will also be lifted should Aaron Lynch ease concerns over his fluctuating weight and veteran free-agent acquisition Elvis Dumervil rebound to contribute off the edge after a disappointing end to his Ravens career.

How Armstead, Blair, Lynch and Dumervil perform will impact how much the 49ers believe they can rest Buckner, but the key will be Thomas.

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If Thomas can get up to speed quickly, then he and Buckner should be able to cause havoc as interior rushers. If not, the onus will be firmly on Buckner, leaving the 49ers in a position where they may not be able to decrease his snap count to the extent they wish and placing added burden on a player who put plenty of tread on the tires in his rookie year.