49ers' DeForest Buckner knows he can improve on breakout season in 2019


49ers' DeForest Buckner knows he can improve on breakout season in 2019

SANTA CLARA — DeForest Buckner met his personal goals for the 2018 season. The defensive tackle is looking forward to what he wants to achieve in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, and is not concerned about ironing out a new multiyear deal with the 49ers.

At least not yet.

“I’m going to be honest,” Buckner said. “I haven’t really thought too far into it. I’m just focused on the offseason and what I need to do to get better and try to help my team to win.” 

Buckner started in all 16 games and finished with a personal best 12 sacks, the fourth-most by a 49ers defender since 2000. He also recorded 67 tackles, 44 of which were solo and 17 were for a loss. He was very productive disrupting the pocket, hitting opposing quarterbacks 20 times. 

After finishing 2017 with only three sacks, Buckner explained what helped improve his productivity. 

“Finishing,” Buckner said. “Finding that extra step to get to the quarterback, turning those pressures and hits into sacks. I really did a good job the past offseason on working on that, and I’m proud of the season that I put out there. And I can only get better from that.”

Buckner reiterated coach Kyle Shanahan’s message to the team when talking about what he hopes to see from the young members of the defense during the offseason. He urges them to take advantage of their time, in order to avoid the early-season slump that affected the team at the beginning of 2018.

Buckner wants the team to pick back up right where they left off. He also wants to see a vast improvement in the turnover department -- the 49ers had a mere seven takeaways all season. 

“We need to do a better job as a defense attacking the ball,” Buckner said. “This year we caused a lot of fumbles but the ball didn’t bounce our way. It was unfortunate how it happened, we dropped a couple of picks.” 

“So we just have to better job as a defense as a whole, making sure we take advantage of the opportunities that are given to us.” 

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Despite a career-best season, Buckner reflects on 2018 knowing there are still specific ways where he can get better.

“There’s a couple of sacks that I left out there too, where quarterbacks got out of my grasp," Buckner said. "Just got to continue on getting better. How to defeat blocks faster, working on my hands more, footwork, all of that. I just have to work on my technique cleaning it all up and put another season out there like I did this past year.

“I’m pretty satisfied with what I did,” Buckner said. “But I’m still hungry. I know I can do better and I know there’s still sacks that I left out there that I could have got. So it’s back to the grind.” 

Buckner still wouldn’t disclose the number of sacks that was his goal was for 2018. 

“Yeah, I got the number. I’m not going to say, but I got the number.” 

You can assume that number is even higher in 2019.

49ers training camp questions: Which defensive linemen will play together?

49ers training camp questions: Which defensive linemen will play together?

Editor's Note: This is the second installment in a five-part series on the 49ers' key competitions during training camp. Today, defensive end.

Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas are slated for similar roles this season.

Armstead, who is playing this season on the fifth-year option, and Thomas, a third-year pro, are viewed as defensive ends on base downs and interior pass-rushers in nickel situations.

There is enough playing time to go around for everyone on the 49ers' defensive line, but the priority will be set through competition beginning this week in training camp.

After all, Armstead and Thomas will also be going up against Dee Ford and rookie Nick Bosa for playing time when the 49ers deploy their base defense. Then, Armstead and Thomas will battle against each other for more snaps next to Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in passing situations.

Armstead is entering his contract season. The 49ers are paying him $9 million for his fifth year in the NFL. Armstead's strength is his run defense, but the club also believes he has potential as a pass-rusher that can be unlocked in the team's new wide-9 alignment.

Armstead is coming off his best season, appearing in all 16 games with career-highs in tackles (48) and sacks (three).

The team believes Thomas is on track for a breakout season. He made little impact in his first two years after the 49ers selected him with the No. 3 overall pick of the 2017 draft. Thomas admits his on-field performance was impacted by trying to cope with the tragedy of his older sister's death by suicide last year.

Thomas appeared refocused and determined to make a contribution during the team's offseason program. But he will have to earn his way onto the field among the most talented group of defensive linemen the 49ers have assembled in a while.

Ford was the 49ers' biggest veteran acquisition in the offseason, coming from Kansas City in a trade for a second-round draft pick. Ford registered a career-best 13 sacks last season. Kansas City placed the franchise tag on Ford before working out the deal to send him to the 49ers.

Ford will unquestionably be in the field on pass-rush downs. But listed at 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, Ford could be targeted in the run game as a defensive end on base downs.

[RELATED: Training camp questions: Backup quarterback]

Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, was universally regarded as the best edge rusher in the draft. His immense lower body strength also should enable him to set the edge in run defense. Depending on how quickly he adapts after sitting out the offseason program with a mild hamstring strain, Bosa could be used as a pass-rush specialist as a rookie.

Armstead, Thomas, Ford and Bosa will all see plenty of action through the course of the season. But the competition among this group will determine which combination -- along with Buckner -- takes the field when a game is on the line.

49ers sign NaVorro Bowman so he can formally retire with San Francisco

49ers sign NaVorro Bowman so he can formally retire with San Francisco

When NaVorro Bowman announced his retirement from the NFL last month, San Francisco was unable to allow him to formally retire as a member of the 49ers, since they would have had to open up a roster spot in order to do so.

Well, thanks to a new rule and the fact that San Francisco's top two draft selections have yet to sign their rookie contracts, the 49ers were able to rectify that matter Monday when they re-signed the four-time All-Pro linebacker.

While he still looks like he can play, Bowman and the 49ers have no illusions. They'll place him on the reserve/retired list in short order.

Selected in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Bowman will continue a tradition of ceremonial retirements for 49ers greats, including Roger Craig and Jerry Rice.

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San Francisco opens up training camp on Friday. Once Bowman is placed on the reserve/retired list, the 49ers will have enough open roster spots to fit both Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel, once they sign their rookie contracts.