Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Is DeForest Buckner the next dominant edge rusher? ‘That’s a great question,’ he says

Aug 6, 2018 at 3:27 PM--

The lack of a true edge rusher has the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff getting creative. One idea being worked on during training camp practices is having defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, who typically plays and dominates inside, line up along the edge in specific packages. After all, he appears to excel at everything he does on the football field.

Is Buckner the NFL's next great edge rusher?

"That's a great question," Buckner responded after Monday's practice. "That's why we've got training camp. We're going to work on that. I think it's pretty cool how the coaches are experimenting with me being on the edge. It changes the game up a little bit. It shows my versatility. I'm just trying to affect the game."

While Buckner isn't preparing himself for a permanent move from the inside to the outside, he is fine with getting those reps in training camp because he will be better prepared should the need arise — or should the 49ers decide to surprise a few opposing offensive tackles.

"We're working through it through training camp, seeing how things go, and, hopefully, it's a thing we can do throughout the year," Buckner said.

One NFL player who flourishes as a pass rusher is Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell, who ranked second in the league in sacks (14.5) last year. Buckner has been doing his homework on him.

"I've watched a little bit of his edge-rushing style and everything," Bucker said. "With him, he just closes the gap between him and the tackle. (I'm) just working on closing that space as fast as possible. That's just what every edge rusher tries to do, and that's what I've been trying to work on."

Buckner got to work on that while going against veteran tackle Joe Staley during Sunday's practice. You can see how effective he was in the video below from Grant Cohn of the Press Democrat (full video available on his YouTube page), which was edited by Rob Lowder of Niners Wire.

"It's always fun being able to go against [Staley], especially on one-on-ones and everything, because we're both trying to get better," Buckner said. Staley told Buckner that he has to change his game a bit when going against someone as big and strong as him.

While Buckner had just three sacks last season, the 49ers coaching staff knows he is by far the team's best pass rusher. He ranked second in total pressures (52) among interior defenders last year, according to Pro Football Focus.

"Going against guys like that is challenging," center Weston Richburg said on Friday, "and it's good though because he does a really good job at what he does, obviously. If we get to see that every day, I think that will help us find things that we need to work on and take those things in to when we play other teams."

"[Buckner is] a special talent," defensive coordinator Robert Saleh told reporters on Monday. "I'll back up the three sacks with the fact that he was in the quarterback's face probably the second-most of all defensive tackles. So, he gets consistent pressure in the backfield.

"The challenge for us is how to get Buck one-on-ones as many times as possible. Testing him out there at that end spot to see what he looks like. I mean, he's unbelievable. He is a special talent. It's on us to make sure that we put him in position, however we need to."

Buckner knows teams are finding ways to double-team him. That's why the coaching staff is looking to be a bit creative in potentially forcing more one-on-ones against the young defensive lineman.

"I went into meetings one day, and they told me, 'Hey Buck, you're going to be at the end position in this package,'" Bucker explained. "So I was like, 'Alright, sounds good.' It's a confidence booster that they can see that I'm able to rush on the edge. I did it a little bit (during) my rookie year, and it's kind of fun being able to be back out there."

Buckner feels comfortable at either spot but believes that he has more freedom on the outside.

"On the inside, it's tight quarters, and you don't have much time to work what you want to work," he said. "I feel like, on the outside, I'm able to work a little bit more."

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