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Robert Saleh excited for often-criticized 49ers defenders Solomon Thomas and Jimmie Ward

Oct 17, 2019 at 1:38 PM--

Fans are finally warming up to San Francisco 49ers defenders Solomon Thomas and Jimmie Ward. Both looked impressive during Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Rams, and both have had trouble earning the fans' respect since joining the Niners.

Thomas was the No. 3 overall pick in 2017 and the first draft pick of the John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan era. A selection that high should be able to make an immediate impact in a game.

Thomas managed just four sacks in his first two seasons in San Francisco, making many fans question the decision to select him with a top-3 pick.

Thomas earned his second sack of the season on Sunday. The jury is still out on the defender, but he at least seems to be playing in a position in which he is more comfortable. Nineteen of his 25 defensive snaps against the Rams came along the interior of the defensive line, according to Pro Football Focus. It was his most significant playing time since Week 2.

Thomas got the opportunity for more reps because of an injury to defensive tackle D.J. Jones, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said on Thursday.

"He was rolling, he was doing really well, and we just kept it rolling," Saleh said.

The coordinator was asked what went through his mind when Thomas brought down Rams quarterback Jared Goff.

"Excitement for Solomon; talking about what he's been through," Saleh replied. "He's been grinding. We've been able to play him inside a little bit more with having (Nick) Bosa and (Dee) Ford here, and he's getting better every single week. He plays his tail off. He's doing some really good things.

"I think his snap count last week was up there in terms of what he's had. So for him, he's only going to get better, in my opinion. But I was really excited for him because you could just see in his excitement, how big of a deal it was for him. Now he just needs to stack it up, continue building off it, and keep getting better."

Ward, the versatile player who has manned nearly every position in the defensive backfield, joined the 49ers as a first-round pick in 2014. More often than not, his seasons have ended on injured reserve. His durability came into question to the point where one reporter even asked Saleh if the defensive back was not getting enough milk.

The question came after Ward suffered a broken finger by getting it caught on another player's jersey during a practice leading up to the regular-season opener. Saleh always defended Ward, often saying the player was simply struck with bad luck.

"I'm so excited for Jimmie, God, for what he's been through," Saleh said. "It's not over yet. I mean, he's got -- he'll tell you the same -- he's got 11 regular-season games left, plus whatever happens after.

"Just pumped up for a guy like him, who's gone through struggles, who's gone through bad luck, in my opinion, who's been beaten up by the outside world. For him to stay focused, stay positive, stay driven, just waiting for his opportunity to seize the moment, I'm excited for him.

"He's nowhere near done, nowhere near a finished product, and he's only going to get better."

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