MOBILE, Ala. -- 49ers defesive coordinator Robert Saleh knows a big question for San Francisco's defense heading into 2019 is how they plan to use defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Saleh explained new coach Kris Kocurek is going to have a lot of influence in that decision.
“Kris Kocurek is studying him,” Saleh said, “and we’re going to sit down. I want his thoughts unbiased so I’m not going to put anything out there right now. He knows what we did last year. He knows where our thoughts are initially. We’re going to have him study it.”
Kocurek was a coach that became available with the staff changes in Miami. Both coach Kyle Shanahan and Saleh said that it wasn’t anything against former defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina, as there was no plan to make a change. It was simply an opportunity they needed to take advantage of.
“We all want to see what he says and how he views him,” Saleh said. “From there as an organization, we’ll do what’s best for the organization and put Solly in the best position to be successful.”
Thomas will be entering his third season, which Saleh says is a very important one for players. It’s a chance for them to be able to show that they can decipher what an offense is going to do, fast enough to be able to make plays.
“You know the standard,” Saleh said. ‘You know the defense. You know what’s being asked of you. Can you recognize offenses fast enough now to be able to trigger and do things at a higher level? Usually a third year is a great year for players to play.
“I’ve been out here, I’ve seen the split, I’ve seen this release before. How quickly can you recognize it so now you can go make plays? It’s going to be a big year in terms of offensive identification for these guys to really showcase how good they’ve gotten.”
Thomas has been steadily making progress after missing much of the offseason his rookie year, which stunted his growth. He played in all 16 games in 2018, registering 31 total tackles (24 solo), three for a loss.
While Thomas only recorded one sack, he was a consistent disruption in the middle of the line. This was particularly notable in the 49ers' win over the Seahawks in Week 13 when he drew two holding calls late in the game that helped secure the victory.
There has been a lot of pressure on Thomas to be a game-changing player after being selected as the third overall pick in 2017. The defensive coaching staff has struggled to figure out where he can be the most productive. They had originally played him on the outside, even though he was very productive on the inside at Stanford.
The 49ers are hopeful Kocurek’s fresh set of eyes will help put Thomas in a better position to heighten his productivity and improve the team's struggling pass rush.