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Why rookie Thomas has been source of encouragement for 49ers

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Ambry Thomas

General manager John Lynch, who happens to be a Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back, spoke earlier this week with 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas.

His message was that Thomas is doing the difficult part of his job. He put himself in a position to make plays on the ball in the 49ers’ 31-13 victory Sunday over the Atlanta Falcons.

Now, he just has to finish.

In two NFL starts, Thomas has been up and down, as would be expected with any rookie. He has locked up opposing wide receivers on plays that do not get any attention because the ball goes elsewhere. And he has gotten beat in coverage on plays everyone can see.

The most impressive part for 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is watching how Thomas has handled his difficult assignment.

“He got beat a couple times, had some penalties, but his body language, his demeanor, he kept competing, kept trying to be physical,” Shanahan said. “And by watching him and how he was moving, you could tell he wasn't looking to hide or looking to get off. He was competing.”

Thomas surrendered four receptions on six targets, according to Pro Football Focus, for 95 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. He has also been called for three penalties: two for illegal use of hands, and one for defensive holding.

He was elevated to the starting lineup in the Week 14 game at Cincinnati after Emmanuel Moseley sustained a high ankle sprain that is expected to keep him out for at least two more games.


It appears Thomas will remain in the starting lineup Thursday night against the Tennessee Titans for a defense that ranks seventh in the league in pass defense, allowing 213.2 yards per game through the air.

The 49ers selected Thomas in the third round of the draft because they identified what they evaluated to be starting-level physical traits -- primarily, his speed, 6-foot-1 height and ability to locate the football.

He was a COVID-19 opt-out at Michigan last season and, clearly, must improve his strength to compete against the NFL's top wide receivers.

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Thomas is a work in progress. The 49ers believe he has shown dramatic improvement since training camp and will continue to get better with experience.

“I’ve seen a difference in his confidence level. I think he's fine,” 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “Mentally he's been doing a really good job. Great job in the meetings. Great job in practice, so I can tell that he's definitely moving in the right direction, becoming a pro, he's doing a much better job for us.

“And I'm encouraged with where he is now. He just has to continue to keep growing. Go challenge guys, don't back down, keep challenging guys and keep fighting to make plays.”

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