SANTA CLARA – The 49ers are looking for ways to create more production from their best player.
DeForest Buckner got plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season, but he had just three sacks to show for it while rushing as an interior defensive lineman. That could change this season, if the two practices this week are any indication.
Buckner was excited to learn recently he would occasionally line up at defensive end.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Buckner said on Monday. “The coaches are experimenting with me on the edge. It changes the game up a little bit, shows my versatility. I’m just trying to affect the game.
“I went into meetings one day and they said, ‘Hey, Buck, you’re going to be at the end position in this package.’ So I was like, ‘OK, sounds good.’ It’s a confidence-booster that they can see that I’m able to rush on the edge.”
The 49ers have gone four consecutive seasons without a pass-rusher recording as many as seven sacks in a season.
The 49ers are expecting Buckner and Solomon Thomas, the team’s first-round picks of the 2016 and ’17 seasons, to make improvements in that area. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said that is where Thomas has made his biggest strides during his second NFL training camp.
“When you watch him on one-on-ones and pass rush, it’s much improved,” Saleh said of Thomas. “He’s winning consistently."
Offensive Play of the Day
There were no explosive offensive plays until the final snap of practice. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo lobbed a deep ball 45 yards down the field toward Marquise Goodwin. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon appeared to have good coverage but mistimed his leap. Goodwin kept his concentrations to come down with the ball inbounds for a touchdown. Goodwin had the other candidate for offensive play of the day when he held on to a 25-yard pass from Garoppolo despite absorbing an inadvertant hit from safety Adrian Colbert.
Defensive Play of the Day
In a move-the-chains period in practice, the 49ers’ offense faced a third-and-1 situation. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk got the call on a run play up the middle, but Thomas was not fooled. He blasted into the backfield between the guard and center and stopped Juszczyk for a 1-yard loss.
Ward Back in the Mix
Cornerback Jimmie Ward, who missed some practice time with a mild hamstring strain, was back with a full day of work on Monday. He saw some action with the first-team defense in Richard Sherman’s spot. He also lined up in the team’s dime package in a linebacker role. “He’s one of the better football players,” Saleh said of Ward, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. “The challenge for Jimmie is to get on the football field. And when he is on the football field, he is one of the better players.”
Nickel back K’Waun Williams will miss at least this week of practice due to a low-ankle sprain. He could progress back into practice next week.
Out this week, progress back: CB Williams (ankle), CB Sherman (hamstring), G Garnett (knee), G Flynn (knee), LB Brock Coyle (hip) Week to week: DL Armstead (hamstring) Day to day: LB Nzeocha (elbow). Limited: LB Warner (chest), TE Wick (knee), LB Coyle Cornerback Richard Sherman, offensive linemen Joshua Garnett (knee) and JP Flynn (knee), and linebacker Brock Coyle (hip) are listed as out this week and “progress back next week.”
Defensive lineman Arik Armstead (hamstring) is listed as “week to week,” while linebacker Mark Nzeocha (elbow) is “day to day.”
Linebackers Fred Warner (chest) and Brock Coyle (hip), and tight end Cole Wick (knee) were limited.
This ‘n’ That
Mike Person and Erik Magnuson are making their cases to open the season in the starting lineup. Person and Magnuson split time at center and right guard during practice on Monday. Starting center Weston Richburg took a veteran rest day. Person and Magnuson are the only two players competing for the right guard position, as Jonathan Cooper has yet to practice and Garnett is out indefinitely with a knee condition. . . Wide receiver Trent Taylor and tight end Cole Hikutini took part in 11-on-11 drills and made receptions. . . Rookie D.J. Reed lined up with the first-team defense in place of Williams. “He’s coming along well,” Saleh said. “He fights his tail off. He’s got a great mindset, a great mentality. He’s fighting. We’re asking him a lot for a rookie to learn free safety and nickel. He’s doing a good job with it.” . . . Defensive linemen Jeremiah Attaochu made a hustle play to strip receiver Steven Dunbar of the ball after a completion from Nick Mullens. . . Colbert forced a fumble of running back Jerick McKinnon. . . Rookie receiver Dante Pettis had two receptions from C.J. Beathard, including one of a throw that was not intended for him. Beathard delivered a pass that deflected off tight end Ross Dwelley on an underneath route. Pettis caught the pass further down the field. . . Linebacker Reuben Foster appeared to be slowed during one-on-one drills with some leg tightness, but he broke up a Garoppolo pass intended for Aaron Burbridge near the end of practice.