SANTA CLARA — Samson Ebukam and the 49ers could be the perfect match.
After four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, the defensive lineman is excited to have a simplified role of rushing the passer in San Francisco. Instead of the responsibilities of an outside linebacker, Ebukam now can play faster, and he already feels more at home.
“It’s so much easier mentally, definitely harder physically, but I’d never complain about that,” Ebukam said Friday. “Now I can just ‘go,' and that was kind of the block I had to get past, because I had so many things I had to think about in the past before a snap. Now it’s just a green light at all times.”
During his time in Los Angeles, Ebukam, 26, never missed a game and racked up 150 tackles — 95 solo, 16 for a loss. The fifth-year pro is credited with 14 sacks and 28 quarterback hits in his career, and his potential to add to those numbers is high because of DeMeco Ryans’ emphasis on playing faster.
Ryans, the 49ers' first-year defensive coordinator, has been impressed with Ebukam since his arrival last offseason on a two-year, $12 million contract. Ryans has noticed marked improvement in Ebukam, not only in his new role but also from a healthy competition with offensive tackles Mike McGlinchey and Trent Williams.
“Samson has been very active,” Ryans said. “He never stops rushing. He's always pushing the pocket forward. Samson has done a really good job. I talk about that iron sharpening iron, he's getting to go against an All-Pro tackle every day in practice.”
Ebukam appreciates the chance to face Williams, a eight-time Pro Bowl pick, every day in practice. Ebukam said his technique, which he saw as an area of opportunity, has improved since his arrival in Santa Clara, and that veteran left tackle deserves some of the credit for it.
“He’s a dog,” Ebukam said. "It’s so exhausting trying to rush against him every single play. [I] run out of moves to throw at him. It’s good, though, going up against him every day. Win or lose, I’m always learning something from the film, so I just kind of take the leash off and go after it.
“I like going up against him because I have to keep on my toes. Most of the time, he already knows what I’m going to do.”
Another positive influence on Ebukam has been 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, whose incredible energy is contagious. Ebukam has noted that in his short time with the 49ers he already has improved his get-off and his hand placement.
McGlinchey, familiar with Ebukam from facing him in Rams games, has noted the challenge the new 49er presents during practice, and is excited that he's now a teammate, not an opponent.
“He plays so hard,” McGlinchey said Saturday. “He’s a relentless player, always has been, and he’s been the same since he’s been here. He just constantly works. He’s fast, strong and sets the edge well in our scheme. The way he’s been able to have success in camp has been impressive.”
Ebukam could be a vital part of the 49ers' pass rush this season, with Dee Ford's return from injury not guaranteed. The Pro Bowl defender already has been a resource for the new arrival. Either way, Ebukam will find himself heavily used in the 49ers' defensive line rotation.