Nose tackle D.J. Jones had to take a moment to collect himself when reminded that two of his teammates along the 49ers’ defensive line from last season are now with the Indianapolis Colts.
“I just shed a tear when you said that,” Jones said on a video call Thursday with Bay Area reporters.
Jones certainly did not minimize the losses of DeForest Buckner and Sheldon Day. But he spoke with confidence about the returning players who will be asked to pick up the slack, along with a talented newcomer who is expected to step into a starting role.
“Those are two guys that were leaders in our room,” Jones said. “Sheldon was the smartest guy that I had the pleasure to play with on and off the field. Buck was just an all-around leader, as far as showing by example. He was always on time. Buck was the guy. If you wanted to know how to do something right, watch Buck.”
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The 49ers sent Buckner to the Colts in a trade this offseason for a first-round draft pick, while Day signed with the Colts as a free agent.
“Just losing those two guys was tough, but we have enough leaders in the room, like Arik (Armstead), even a young (Nick) Bosa, Dee Ford -- guys that can step up and fill that role,” Jones said.
The big acquisition along the 49ers’ front four this offseason was South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, whom the club selected with the No. 14 overall draft pick.
“I’m just excited to play with a South Carolina guy, to be honest,” said Jones, who was born and went to high school in Piedmont, South Carolina.
Jones, who played at Ole Miss, and Kinlaw both went to the junior-college route before earning scholarships in the SEC.
“He’s an animal,” Jones said of Kinlaw. “I think he’ll add versatility to the D-line. I don’t feel like anybody is just one dimensional on our D-line, and he’s adding on to that puzzle. Eventually, it’s all going to show, and we’ll finish next time.”
Kinlaw is expected to play three-technique and line up next to Jones on base downs. Jones said he is completely recovered from a high-ankle sprain that brought an early end to his season.
He and Kinlaw (6-foot-5, 319 pounds) figure to provide the 49ers with stout pair of interior linemen against the run. Both could factor into the equation as pass-rushers, too.
“Excuse my language, but he’s a grown-a-- man,” Jones said. “He’s bulky. He’s strong as all-get-out, which you can see on film.
“He’s driving linemen to the quarterback, which I love to see, which I know (49ers defensive line coach) Kris Kocurek loves to see. He looks like he has heavy hands. That’s one aspect to our D-line, we all have heavy hands, that he’ll add to the group.”