49ers

Solomon Thomas expects 49ers' D-line to form dominating combinations

Solomon Thomas expects 49ers' D-line to form dominating combinations

While Solomon Thomas is determined to prove he is worthy of his lofty draft status of two years ago, he is under no pressure to do it alone.

The 49ers’ defensive line is stacked with five players who entered the league as recent first-round draft picks.

Only Dee Ford, chosen No. 23 overall by the Kansas City in 2014, is on his second NFL contract. The 49ers acquired him in a trade for a second-round pick in 2020 after the Chiefs designated him as their franchise player.

Ford, 28, has registered double-digit sacks in two of the past three seasons, including a career-best 13 last season. DeForest Buckner, the No. 7 overall pick of the 49ers in 2016, earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl after a career-high 12 sacks.

Thomas, Buckner, Arik Armstead, chosen No. 17 overall in 2015, and recent No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa give the 49ers depth, as well as plenty of hope the defensive line can emerge as the clear strength of the team.

“Yeah, and we kind of love it,” Thomas said of the expectations for the season. “We’re excited for this year. We have some great players. Picked up a great player, a great kid, Nick Bosa. I love working with Nick so far. And Dee Ford has been a great leader. He’s a great player. He’s got one of the best first steps in football. It’s insane.”

Armstead had a strong season as a run defender and is looking to improve dramatically on his three sacks last season. Thomas admittedly struggled on the field in 2018 while trying to cope with the death of his sister, Ella, shortly after the conclusion of his rookie season.

The 49ers’ defensive line figures to consist of a rotation of those five players, along with Ronald Blair on nickel downs and nose tackle D.J. Jones in the base defense.

[RELATED: Mike McGlicnhey explains what makes Dee Ford special]

Ford and Bosa are strictly edge players, while Buckner is exclusively a defensive tackle. Armstead and Thomas are considered defensive end in base situations and inside pass-rushers on nickel downs.

“We’re excited,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be a fun year. We have great guys. Everyone in the room has a chance to contribute and be great and make this a great and fun year and a dominating year. That’s our goal, and that’s what we’re trying to do every day.”

49ers legend Steve Young presents Gatorade Player of the Year Award winner

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Gatorade

49ers legend Steve Young presents Gatorade Player of the Year Award winner

Sophie Jones runs the soccer field, both literally and figuratively. 

She tallied 18 goals, 16 assists and 1.55 points per game for the Knights of Menlo School in Atherton, Calif. Those stats helped lift her team to a 20-win season, which turned into a Central Coast Section Division 1 tournament title.

With those achievements, Jones walked away with the Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year honor Wednesday. 

A friend presented the senior with the trophy -- but not just any friend: 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young.

"It's such an honor, and I can't believe they chose me," Jones said in Gatorade's promotional presentation video.

Jones also maintains solid numbers off the field, with a 3.65 GPA that helps her be recruited by some of the nation's top athletic programs. According to Gatorade, she plans to attend Duke later this year.

A "stellar human being with a fierce inner strength," as her teachers describe her, Jones also volunteers for a U-14 youth soccer team and the Boys and Girls Club, and has worked at the Special Olympics Buddy Program. That shows in her playing abilities on the field as well, with her coach saying he's never witnessed such a selfless player.

"Sophie worked tirelessly to elevate her game year after year, becoming high-impact talent," said Chad Konecky, Gatorade Player of the Year director. "She wins balls, finishes, defends, disrupts and creates in transition, and arguably reads the game as well as any U-20 player in the world."

Young complimented Jones, calling the achievement an exciting one -- and one that very few have ever done. 

Congrats, Sophie!

49ers' Mitch Wishnowsky has deep repertoire of punts from Aussie rules days

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AP

49ers' Mitch Wishnowsky has deep repertoire of punts from Aussie rules days

Mitch Wishnowsky admits he could have been more consistent during the 49ers’ recently concluded offseason program.

The rookie punter, at his best, was very good and gave his teammates and coaches a reason to believe a fourth-round draft pick spent on a punter was a worthy investment.

The 49ers selected the native of Australia with the No. 110 overall selection. General manager John Lynch opted to fill the spot vacated when Bradley Pinion signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rather than select a defensive back or an offensive lineman.

Wishnowsky has an assortment of different punts, which he picked up playing a sport in which punters are not considered specialists. Everyone must learn to punt, oftentimes while on the move, in the game Wishnowsky played back home.

“A lot of the punts you sort of learn growing up playing Australian rules football,” Wishnowsky said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “There’s tradeoffs with every punt.”

Wishnowsky explained his different styles:

“The stock-standard end-over-end punt is a lot more accurate but you can’t get quite as much height or distance on it.

“The spiral, obviously, is the biggest ball. It goes the highest and the furthest.

“The helicopter punt is great, very hard to catch. You can’t kick it quite as far as the spiral. But if you slightly mishit it, it’s going the opposite direction that you want it to.”

Wishnowsky moved to California to punt on the Santa Barbara City College football team in 2014. He transferred to the University of Utah, where he won the 2016 Ray Guy Award and was the only three-time finalist in the history of the award.

The only downside of his final college season was three blocked punts, something he worked to eliminate during his offseason with the 49ers.

“I’ve got to get the ball off in 1.3 seconds, which is what I’ve been doing pretty consistently,” Wishnowsky said. “And the snap is a .7. So if the whole operation is 2 seconds or below, you should be good. Then, also launch point. You want to pretty much as it hits your foot (you’re) directly behind the snapper, so you’re not at risk of getting it blocked.”

[RELATED: Why No. 2 QB job between Beathard and Mullens is toss-up entering camp]

Wishnowsky also will be the 49ers’ holder and, likely, handle kickoff duties. He said he has yet to speak with veteran kicker Robbie Gould, who remains unsigned as the team’s franchise player. Gould has demanded a trade. The 49ers said they will not trade him.

In the meantime, Jonathan Brown, who spent the three previous offseasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and has not appeared in an NFL regular-season game, was the only kicker in Santa Clara.

“The last two years, I’ve been with Matt (Gay), who was drafted to Tampa Bay (in the fifth round),” Wishnowsky said. “I’ve been around great kickers, and Jon is up there. He’s phenomenal the way he contacts the ball. Jon is a very impressive kicker.”