Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Saleh: 49ers ‘at all costs’ trying to keep Solomon Thomas along the interior this season

Aug 24, 2020 at 8:00 AM--

Solomon Thomas is more comfortable playing along the interior of the defensive line, and that's where the San Francisco 49ers hope to keep him this season.

"I prefer playing inside, so I like it," Thomas told reporters on Saturday. "I like playing nose. I like playing 3-tech."

If that's where Thomas is more comfortable and more productive, why isn't he there exclusively?

"For Solly, drafting him when we first got here ... you're trying to get your best players on the football field in any capacity possible," defensive coordinator Robert Saleh explained on Sunday. "So, you have [DeForest Buckner] on the inside, you had Arik (Armstead) moved outside, but got some inside work. You had Earl Mitchell early, so you had inside guys.

"But, just trying to get Solly on the football field, on the outside, was the best place that we could put him in terms of maximizing the men we had in that room. Year two, same thing. Just the evolution and the process of trying to bring in the players to make all this stuff work with everything."

The 49ers tried to make more of an effort to keep Thomas inside as much as possible last season, but injuries changed those plans.

"Then last year, coach (Kyle Shanahan) and (general manager) John (Lynch), just a phenomenal job," Saleh continued. "We get Dee Ford, we get Bosa, and we have a chance to play Solly inside more. So, in the first half of the year, he played a lot on the inside, but then injuries happen. Ronnie Blair III goes down. ... We lose a few more players and so Solly's one of our best players.

"We've got to get him on the football field somehow, and the best spot is outside. So, it's been our intent to try to keep him inside as much as possible, but he's such a talented football player that sometimes it's, 'Well, shoot, we've got to get him on the field.'"

Saleh is confident the 49ers are in a better position to utilize Thomas the way they initially intended.

"With what we have now with being able to bring Kerry Hyder Jr., we have Ronnie coming back from PUP, you've got Dee Ford, you've got Bosa, you have Arik who can play outside, too," Saleh added. "We're doing everything we can to make sure that Solly stays inside at all costs.

"When he is in there, if you look at his tape from a year ago, when he's inside and solely inside, he's a very, very effective football player. Made a lot of plays for us last year inside and so our intent is to try to keep him in there because you're right. That's where he excels the most.

"Hopefully, just by the fact that we have more defensive ends to withstand injury where it takes two, three, four injuries before Solly ever has to step out there. We have a chance to keep him inside for the entire season."

Thomas has endured the criticism that often comes with being a top pick and not boasting gaudy statistics in the years that follow.

"I feel like that will always be on my shoulders, with the label of being the third pick, but I have mentally learned to put that behind me," Thomas said. "That's not what I'm playing for. I'm playing to be the best me, no matter what."

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