SANTA CLARA -- Solomon Thomas no longer has the expectations that come with being the No. 3 overall draft pick weighing him down.
The 49ers this offseason declined the fifth-year option for the 2021 season for Thomas, who was chosen after Myles Garrett and Mitchell Trubisky to kick off the 2017 NFL Draft.
His lack of production during his first three NFL seasons did not even warrant a discussion whether he was worth retaining on a one-year deal that would pay him nearly $12.5 million.
Thomas has something to prove this season. He realizes the onus is on him to show he can be a valuable member of a defensive line rotation and convince the 49ers there is a spot for him on the team next season.
“This year is huge for me,” Thomas said during a video call with Bay Area reporters. “Obviously, it’s a contract year. But that’s not what’s important. That’s not in the back of my mind. I take it as a year to come into myself. I’m back inside, on the interior, where I played in college, what I got drafted for.”
Thomas has gained more than 15 pounds, up to 280, for training camp. He is lining up exclusively at defensive tackle, and said he enjoys working in the close quarters of the nose tackle spot -- a position directly over center that is generally manned by players in excess of 300 pounds.
"I prefer playing inside, so I like it," Thomas said. "I like playing nose. I like playing (three-technique).”
Thomas cross-trained across the 49ers’ defensive line in his first three seasons. He might play defensive end in base situations, and move inside to rush the passer. He never established himself as a starter-quality player at either spot on the 49ers’ deep and talented line.
In 46 career games (28 starts), Thomas has 93 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said he is confident Thomas can perform well at defensive tackle because he has shown in game situations that he “won’t get displaced.”
His quickness at the snap -- a strength of his in the past -- looks even more explosive this summer. He figures to be an important piece to the team’s interior defensive line.
DeForest Buckner was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. Rookie Javon Kinlaw is being groomed as the starter. But Kinlaw figures to be only a two-down player while he becomes more of a factor with his pass rush. The 49ers will be without starting nose tackle D.J. Jones indefinitely, as he goes through the NFL’s concussion protocol.
“I’m back in a spot I can wreak havoc and go play,” Thomas said. “It’s a year for me to go off and play, to have fun and ball out. I have nothing to lose. I’m here to play for my teammates, play for those next to me and go ball.”