SANTA CLARA – Defensive tackle Solomon Thomas had a pedestrian rookie season after the 49ers chose him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 draft.
But that was nothing compared to Year 2, when he faced unimaginable tragedy with the suicide death of his older sister. Understandably, he was unproductive on the field as he struggled with his emotions and saw reduced playing time until a late-season surge.
Thomas’ name surfaced in trade rumors during the NFL draft.
Thomas said he is often guilty of over-thinking. But this time he did not give it much thought. He said he did not yearn for a fresh start elsewhere, because he wants to justify the faith general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan showed in him.
“In this business, whatever happens, happens. You don’t control it,” Thomas said on Tuesday. “But I love this organization. I love being here. And I want to finish what I started. I want to come here and want to show everyone why John and Kyle drafted me No. 3 and be who I am.”
After recording 41 tackles and three sacks in 14 games as a rookie, Thomas managed just 31 tackles and one sack in 16 games last season. The grief he felt off the field seemed to impact his performance at work.
“Last year I just wasn’t me,” Thomas said. “I’m not making excuses. I didn’t play well, and that’s on me. I should’ve played better. But I’m not making excuses for any of that. But what I’m saying that I wasn’t me last year. I put pressure on myself. But that’s over.”
Thomas said he sought therapy to better help him deal with the death of his sister, Ella. He continues to be an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness.
“That’s been a long process,” Thomas said. “It’s been hard to find. The first year was really hard for me, all the phases of anger, depression, sadness, guilt, grief, all that kind of stuff. So it’s hard for me to get healthy, and it took me a while. And once I was, I was a different person. I was light on my feet and could finally walk and move again.”
Shanahan said he sees an improvement in Thomas, who believes the team’s scheme adjustment under new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek fits his skills as an undersized defensive tackle. Thomas is expected to play defensive end in the 49ers' base defense, then move inside to rush the passer from defensive tackle.
“We all know what he went through and stuff, but you can see he’s got his aura back to him,” Shanahan said. “You can see it in his eyes. You can feel his energy a little bit better, and it definitely seems like he’s in a better place.
“We all know grieving can be as hard as it gets and takes people a long time, but you can see he’s doing better.”
After reports of the 49ers shopping Thomas in a trade, Lynch called Thomas into his office and denied the club was trying to get rid of him. Lynch talked to Thomas about how he should thrive in his new role.
“I can use my quickness and my explosion, being able to use that and just move, and having the green light,” Thomas said. “That’s what I need. I don’t need to be reading and sitting back. I need to be going and be able to press guards, get on the edge and crush tight ends. That’s how I play, and that’s the kind of scheme that can bring out my strengths.”
Thomas said he has always been a perfectionist. He admits that he often gets in his own head when he is dissatisfied with his own performance. He views this season as a fresh start without the change of scenary.
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“Everything in the past, is in the past,” he said. “I had probably my worst season ever in my life last year and I’m the most confident I’ve ever been in my career right now. That says a lot. I’m ready to move forward and show everyone who Solomon Thomas is and what I’m going to bring to the table.”