After the 49ers' 26-23 win over the Bengals, Kyle Shanahan shared that he believed there were a lot of positives to take from Ambry Thomas’ first NFL start.
The head coach’s opinion did not change after watching game film on Monday.
“I just liked how he looked out there,” Shanahan said on a conference call with local media. “I thought it was the best I’ve seen him look, the way he was throwing his body around. He made some tackles and I thought he was really good with his jams off the line of scrimmage. So good, he got two penalties from them. He just has to lower his target area.”
Thomas’ penalties came at the most inopportune times. In the second quarter, the rookie was called for illegal hands to the face negating an interception by Jimmie Ward. And then later in the third quarter, Thomas was called for the same infraction negating Nick Bosa’s sack of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.
The head coach liked the aggressiveness that he saw from Thomas in the game. Additionally, Shanahan was understanding of who the defensive back was asked to cover - Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins who lead the team in receiving yards.
Chase has caught 60 of his 98 targets for 1,035 yards and 10 touchdowns through 13 games and Higgins has recorded 57 catches from 89 targets for 812 yards and four touchdowns. Thomas allowed three catches on four targets of the Bengals receivers for 81 yards and one touchdown in Cincinnati on Sunday.
“He was jamming receivers I think about as good as we’ve had,” Shanahan said. “Kept them from getting off the line. He had one that slipped up to the face mask and one that hit the guy on the chin which were penalties but I liked his intent on the plays.”
Prior to Thomas’ start in Cincinnati, the defensive back had only been on the field for 20 defensive snaps. The Michigan product has been making strides on special teams which influenced the coaching staff to give him the start in the absence of Emmanuel Moseley who was placed on short term IR with a high ankle sprain and Dontae Johnson who was away from the team after his mother passed away after suffering a heart attack.
Shanahan was proud of the rookie for not shying away from the challenge playing 62 of the defense’s 67 snaps.
“He wasn’t trying to hide,” Shanahan said. “He was putting himself out there going against a really good receiver who got him a couple of times but I thought there was a number of times that he covered really well that you don’t see the ball thrown there because he is covering well.
“First game and there’s a lot to learn from it but I was very encouraged with it.”