DeForest Buckner

For Buckner, improving 49ers' pass rush is one-step process

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AP

For Buckner, improving 49ers' pass rush is one-step process

SAN JOSE -- The 49ers may need just one quick step in order to improve their biggest area of concern this season.

The 49ers ranked tied for 26th in the NFL last season with 30 quarterback sacks. The club declined this offseason to pick up the option on veteran Elvis Dumervil, who led the 49ers with 6.5 sacks. The 49ers have been unable to generate much of a pass rush since the release of Aldon Smith prior to the 2015 season.

So much of the onus for an improved pass rush falls onto the shoulders of DeForest Buckner, the team’s best defensive player. He recorded just three sacks last season but is clearly capable of so much more.

Buckner said the emphasis of his offseason training is to find that extra step. He led the NFL last season with 19 quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus.

“I had too many, you know, almosts," Buckner said at a gathering to announce events connected with the college football national championship game, which is coming to Levi's Stadium on Jan. 7, 2019. "And I’m just really trying to find that extra step in my game.

“And I really think it’s going to help me this year, especially working this offseason, finding that extra step – whether it’s footwork, getting my strength up in my lower half. I’m working on everything I can to get that extra step so I can really finish those sacks.”

Buckner has the ability to generate a pass rush from the interior of the line. The 49ers are counting on contributions from a long list of potential pass-rushers, including Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Ronald Blair, Cassius Marsh, Jeremiah Attaochu, Eli Harold and Pita Taumoepenu. The 49ers could also add a pass-rusher -- as early as No. 9 overall -- in the upcoming NFL Draft.

“I think we have the guys, the tools, to do it right now,” Buckner said. “And if they want to go out and get an extra guy to help out the team, it’s a benefit. Right now, we have the pieces to do it. We all know we have to be more consistent.”

49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future

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USATSI

49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future

The first wave of free agency is over, and the 49ers struck quickly.

The club identified two players coach Kyle Shanahan tabbed as fits for his offense and they paid the money it took to get them.

General manager John Lynch said there were five teams seriously interested in free-agent running back Jerick McKinnon. Even more teams were going after center Weston Richburg, he said.

That drove up the prices on McKinnon and Richburg to the point that they rank behind only quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ($37 million) as taking up the most cap space among the 72 players currently under contract to the 49ers.

McKinnon and Richburg account for $10.5 million and $9.26 million, respectively, on the 49ers' salary cap. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman's deal takes up $6.175 million on the 49ers' cap this season.

The big spending to attract free agents to the team is likely over. The 49ers have $45.1 million in cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. That figure does not include a projected $8.3 million to sign their 2018 rookie class, according to overthecap.com.

The major spending for this offseason is over because the 49ers have apparently looked to the future and set aside cap space with the idea of retaining some of their own players whose contracts are winding down.

The first decisions for the future must occur by May 3, the deadline for picking up the fifth-year options on first-round picks from the 2015 draft. The 49ers have decisions to make on defensive lineman Arik Armstread and left guard Laken Tomlinson, who was acquired from Detroit in a trade just prior to the start of the 2017 regular season.

It is still unclear how or if Armstead’s skills fit into the 49ers’ defense. He opened last season at the team's pass-rush end before moving to the "big end," which also appears to be first-round pick Solomon Thomas' best position.

Tomlinson showed reasons for the 49ers to be optimistic about his future as his play got better as he acclimated to the offense. Among the guards already on the 49ers’ roster, Tomlinson appears to be the most likely to be a starter in 2018.

Presumptive starting safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next offseason. Ward’s fifth-year option deal of one-year, $8.526 million became fully guaranteed last Wednesday. But in order for the 49ers to make a multi-year commitment, Ward would likely have to prove he can remain healthy and available for a full season.

DeForest Buckner is likely the target for the next blockbuster contract extension. Buckner has emerged as one of the top young defensive linemen in the league. Next offseason will be the first time the 49ers are permitted to negotiate a multi-year extension with him.

With a scarcity of offensive linemen available in the draft and free agency, right tackle Trent Brown could be set to cash in with an enormous deal next offseason – either with the 49ers or some other team.

UPCOMING 49ERS FREE AGENTS
2019
DL Arik Armstead
FS Jimmie Ward
SS Jaquiski Tartt
RT Trent Brown
LB Eli Harold
LG Laken Tomlinson
K Robbie Gould
P Bradley Pinion

2020
DL DeForest Buckner
LT Joe Staley
OG Joshua Garnett
DL Ronald Blair
TE Garrett Celek
RB Matt Breida (RFA)
WR Kendrick Bourne (RFA)

How high school coach in Hawaii challenged Buckner the moment he met him

How high school coach in Hawaii challenged Buckner the moment he met him

The moment DeForest Buckner was spotted ocn campus at Punahou School in Honolulu, football coach Kale Ane took particular notice.

“It was a great situation to see someone 6-foot-7 walking onto our campus,” Ane said. “I didn’t care what sport he was playing, I knew he was going to play football. So I was really happy.”

Ane, 65, played center for seven NFL seasons, mostly with the Kansas City Chiefs. Over the course of Buckner’s high school and college football experiences, Ane encouraged Buckner to set challenging goals for himself.

“He really opened that whole side of the game to me and about life in general,” Buckner said. “I was thinking small -- not that big -- and I thank him for that every day.”

Buckner chose to honor Ane for the Fourth Annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards because of the profound influence he has experienced from the long-time coach.

“He’s a very calm man,” Buckner said. “It was easy to have a conversation with him. He’s really open and genuine. In his presence, I felt very comfortable.

“I formed a bond with him quickly.”

Buckner remembers Ane took an interest in him even before he played his first snap of varsity football. Then-USC coach Pete Carroll came to the high school to visit linebacker Manti Te’o on a recruiting visit. Ane did not want Carroll to leave until he also got a chance to meet Buckner.

“I was a freshman and hadn’t played varsity ball, yet,” Buckner said. “And coach Kale was telling them, ‘This is one of our young guys. He’s going to be somebody one day. I just want you to get to know him real quick.’

“Coach saw the potential in me and wanted to get my name out there.”

Ane said he could tell that Buckner had vast potential – despite weighing a mere 200 pounds on his tall frame.

“You want to challenge your top athletes, and he was definitely one of our top athletes,” Ane said. “He had the potential to be a standout Division I player, and perhaps further than that.

“His work ethic allowed him to have those kinds of dreams and goals. We talked about where you want to go, and if you got hurt, how would you be treated? Does the system fit what you’re doing and are you happy? We had a few talks.”

Buckner accepted a full-ride scholarship to Oregon, where he played four seasons and graduated with a degree in criminology. The 49ers selected him with the No. 7 overall pick of the 2016 Draft, and he has developed into one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL.