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Often overlooked 49ers defensive lineman, Ronald Blair, making people take notice

Sep 20, 2019 at 8:10 AM--

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If you like winning, you like Ronald Blair. That's the message San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has frequently relayed to the media whenever he's asked about the team's fourth-year defensive end.

On a team with premier names like Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, it is easy to overlook Blair, who quietly turns in a solid performance each week. He recorded a sack on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals and now has 11.5 over his career. Last season, Blair racked up 5.5 quarterback takedowns through his 16 game appearances.

None of this is surprising to Saleh or Blair's teammates. They got to watch the defensive lineman proving himself all weekend, just as he has always done.

"He's just a model of consistency, man," Saleh told reporters on Thursday. "I love Ronnie. I've gushed about him up here, and I can do it for another 15 minutes if you all like. You guys know how I feel about him.

"He looked fantastic, and he's looked like that, to me, his entire career. It just goes unnoticed when he's not the big name; he's not the big draft pick."

General manager John Lynch joined KNBR on Thursday and called Blair a "kind young man." That's not exactly a description that casts fear on opposing offenses. Lynch notes that while Blair is kind off the field, but he plays with "a spirit on the field that you love."

"He's also incredibly versatile, and can do so many things for you," Lynch continued on the "Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks" show. "But I think we always felt like there was a little more in there than just a versatile player. [...] I think he showed he can be an extremely impactful player, as well, the other day. That's what we long have thought.

"He's embracing this new little tweak in our system — the Wide 9 looks, and he's a real good fit for it, and played at a very real high level."

Richard Sherman lit up when asked about Blair on Thursday and went on to shower the defender with compliments. What did the veteran defender think about Blair's outing versus the Bengals this past weekend?

"It was outstanding," Sherman responded. "Ronald Blair was outstanding. He was a menace. And he didn't have to do anything crazy, out of the ordinary. He didn't have to get out of his technique. He played within a scheme, just made fantastic plays, and it's good for him. I'm happy for him because he was able to get some sacks."

Several 49ers defenders have at least one sack through the first two games. Blair, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Nick Bosa, and Dee Ford each have one. Arik Armstead leads the team with two.

"You know, I think sacks are coming more often for our D-line," Sherman continued, "and they're spreading out pretty evenly. I think just about everybody got one, and I'm happy for all those guys. I think we're going to have a few guys who get double-digit sacks this year, and it's because guys are just playing hard, and playing within the scheme."

Saleh saw his defensive line come close last season to what he felt it could accomplish. Now he is seeing the unit finish plays.

"You know last year and years past, we've always challenged our D-ends that if you get blocked by a tight end, shame on you," Saleh said. "So, these guys have taken that to heart. They're playing with great technique on those guys, and so if they try to block them with the tight end, it's a challenge for those tight ends.

"I'm not saying that a tight end can't block them, that includes all of our D-linemen, but they're playing with a speed and physicality that we've been hoping to see out of that group, [Blair] included. It's coming to fruition, and again, for all of them, they've just got to maintain that consistency."

Saleh went on to compare Blair to a lunch pail. He is reliable and gets the job done. That's not to say Blair isn't a playmaker too.

"He's a playmaker. People have never noticed it," Saleh added.


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