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Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

49ers DT Solomon Thomas deserves praise for camp performance, Kyle Shanahan says

Aug 28, 2020 at 1:49 PM--

If his training camp performances are any indication, perhaps this could finally be the year defensive lineman Solomon Thomas breaks through and puts together the type of performance the 49ers have been waiting for since making him the third overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Thomas enters the season with 93 career tackles and six sacks, which aren't the type of numbers one would expect from a top-three pick. Thomas has seen time at defensive end and on the inside throughout his first three NFL seasons, producing mixed results in particular when placed on the outside. But this year, the 49ers seem completely focused on playing Thomas on the interior, which would put him in a more natural position for his skillset. Thomas's camp showing suggests he could be in for the best season of his 49ers career, and after adding two sacks against the first-team offense on Friday (per Matt Maiocco/NBC Sports Bay Area), he earned praise from head coach Kyle Shanahan, who says the improvement his former first-round pick has made this summer has been quite noticeable.

"Definitely. Solly, he got more reps inside last year," said Shanahan. "He's getting all reps inside this year except when we have emergencies and he's just got to fill in to help guys get through practice. And he had a heck of an offseason, put on some real good weight and it showed in the run and pass game throughout this whole camp. What people have been saying about him's true. I'm real happy for him because he's earning it and deserves it."

The 49ers have known for some time that Thomas may be best suited for play on the inside, but injuries to other linemen have continued to push him into occasional action at defensive end. The hope is there won't be a need to do that this season, given the depth the team currently has at the position.

"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,'" 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said after an August 23 practice. "But, with what we have now with being able to bring Kerry Hyder Jr., we have Ronnie [DE Ronald Blair] coming back from PUP, you've got Dee Ford, you've got [Nick] Bosa, you have Arik [Armstead] who can play outside, too. 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."

Staying on the inside would suit Thomas just fine, especially considering he's in the final year of his rookie contract. Sticking at defensive tackle would give him the best opportunity to maximize his impact on the defense, while also putting him in a position to solidify his future beyond the 2020 season.

"This year is huge for me," Thomas said on August 22. "Obviously, it's a contract year, but that's not what's important to you. That's not what is in the back of my mind. I take it as a year to come into myself. I'm back in the interior, where I played in college, where I got drafted for in college. So, I'm back in the spot where I can go wreak havoc, where I can go play."

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