Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Shanahan envisions the 49ers maximizing Solomon Thomas’ strengths this season

Aug 8, 2019 at 11:37 AM--

Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas always seemed like a square peg that the San Francisco 49ers were trying to fit into a round hole. The round hole, of course, being an outside pass rusher along the defensive line. The square holes are along the interior. That's where Thomas flourished in college.

Perhaps not the best idiomatic expression to use, but it gets the point across. It was often frustrating for fans to see Thomas moved around the defensive line as if the 49ers didn't really know what to do with the defender. Head coach Kyle Shanahan indicated on Thursday during a KNBR interview that wasn't the case. The 49ers simply lacked productive outside pass rushers and needed to be creative to generate pressure along the edges.

While defensive tackle DeForest Buckner racked up a career-high 12 sacks last season, no other player had six or more. Thomas had one.

Shanahan now hopes added depth on the edges will allow Thomas to play where he is, and always has been, more of a natural fit.

"I'm real excited about Solly," Shanahan said on the "Murph and Mac" show. "It's been a tough situation these last two years for him. First of all, we didn't have the amount of edge rushers we wanted, and Solly's got the ability to play any of the four positions (along the defensive line).

"But his strength is rushing inside on third down. That's also Buckner's (strength). That's also (Arik) Armstead's. And so you've got to think of guys to put on the outside, so Solly didn't get as many opportunities that fit his number one skillset. So I do think we'll be able to use him more in the right spots, now that we've got some other guys to do that job."

Of course, the 49ers are down a few defensive ends with the team's first preseason game right around the corner. Rookie Nick Bosa will miss at least the entire preseason with an ankle injury. Dee Ford is missing time as he deals with knee tendinitis. San Francisco has been without Arik Armstead (calf) and Ronald Blair (groin).

Still, once healthy, the 49ers defensive line is deeper than it has been in years. That will only help Thomas flourish at his natural position.

Also contributing to a down sophomore NFL season for Thomas was the loss of his sister early last year. It impacted him and his play throughout most of the season.

"Everyone knows that he was struggling," Shanahan said. "Just to watch how different he is this year, and to watch just how he talks to you and carries a conversation, and just to see it in his face, you can tell how much that bothered him and affected him.

"I feel (he's) a guy who's got a clear mind, who has a lot of confidence right now. I love the style in how we're coaching him. He's just going and reacting, and using really what his true skills are."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Shanahan below.

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