Why DeForest Buckner-Arik Armstead partnership vital to 49ers' defense

Why DeForest Buckner-Arik Armstead partnership vital to 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA -- DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead have known each other for a long time now. They were roommates at the University of Oregon and leaders of a dominant Ducks defensive front, with a working partnership extended by the 49ers.

Armstead and Buckner were first-round picks in 2015 and '16 respectively, creating great potential along the 49ers' defensive line finally realized this season.

While flashy newcomers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford get a lion’s share of attention for 2019’s defensive dominance, let’s not forget that Buckner was a second-team All-Pro and Armstead led the team in sacks in a breakout year.

These two revel in each other’s success and are excited to play Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs together, especially after going through some hard times.

“It has been awesome,” Buckner said Friday. “Coming in as a rookie already having one of my good friends and college roommates on the team already, who's been in a similar position as me, getting drafted in the first round and being the team's first pick the year before, and really helping me transition into the locker room and having a guy to really bounce ideas off of throughout the year.

“It has been really beneficial for me, and it's been fun, especially this year. We had a lot of good times at Oregon and then we went through a rough patch here the past couple of years. To finally have this year, everything happening the right way and getting here to the “big dance,” it has been one hell of a ride.”

This ride isn’t over yet. There’s one more game to play on Feb. 2 against the Chiefs, where the Oregon alums will be vital to victory.

The 49ers rotate eight defensive linemen, but they make the most hay when Bosa, Buckner, Armstead and Ford line up together. Armstead generally plays end in the base package, frequently sliding inside next to Buckner on obvious passing downs.

That’s when these longtime friends can create havoc.

“It’s great to play next to him,” Armstead said. “Teams often give him a lot of attention, which makes my job easier. Or, sometimes the focus comes my way and he has a favorable matchup. He and I working together puts pressure on the offense.”

Interior pressure is always important. It prevents opposing quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket, often flushing signal callers out of their comfort zone. The 49ers have talked all week about executing a coordinated, disciplined pass rush that shuts down escape routes for Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, the reigning NFL MVP. 

He’s both a threat to run outright and sidestep pressure long enough to make plays down the field.

“As a defensive line, you need to go and attack all day and once you put out the run and you start pass-rushing," Buckner said, " you want to consistently put pressure in his face, whether it's just pressure up the middle, off the edge, getting hit and also getting sacks. So, you just want to make him uncomfortable. You don't want to have him back there because a quarterback like him, when he has time to throw, he'll make you pay. We just need to do a really good job rushing as a unit.”

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It’s hard, if not impossible, to find a more talented pass-rushing unit in the NFL. The 49ers work hard to stop the run, take teams off schedule and then release the hounds on third-and-long situations.

“It’s super important to get there in four,” Armstead said. “We want the most guys possible back in coverage while still generating pressure. We take pride in that.

“It has been great to play with those guys and work hard for one another. We have a lot of fun making plays in this defense. Big plays are contagious. When somebody makes one, the others want to join the party.”

Watch 49ers' Robbie Gould use kids as goal posts in kicking session

Watch 49ers' Robbie Gould use kids as goal posts in kicking session

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

With the global coronavirus pandemic forcing athletes to stay home, they are finding unique ways to train and stay in shape.

For 49ers kicker Robbie Gould, that means he can't practice his craft at the team's facility or any other football complex.

So, on Sunday, Gould got creative.

Yep. Gould lined his kids up as makeshift goalposts and picked footballs over them.

As Gould noted in his tweet, he did make sure his kids were wearing protective gear.

It's definitely an interesting way for Gould to bond with his kids, but again, the choices are limited while everyone is staying home in an effort to flatten the coronavirus curve.

Last year, Gould asked the 49ers to trade him, a request they did not fulfill. Instead, the two sides agreed to a new four-year contract.

By Gould's standards, he's coming off the worst season of his 15-year career. He made 23 of his 31 field goal attempts, a 74.2 percentage. The 37-year-old did make 41 of his 42 extra-point attempts in 2019.

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If Gould bounces back in 2020, you can give some of the credit to his kids.

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks is not shy about reaching out to his former NFL team to provide tips on college prospects he knows well.

Hanks, who played eight seasons with the 49ers (1991-98) and won a Super Bowl, is the Senior Associate Commissioner of Conference USA, which consists of 14 football-playing universities.

“We want to make sure and give our young men every opportunity to be viewed by NFL clubs,” Hanks said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “So I tend to call my peer group around the NFL to make sure they’re paying attention to our players.

“Oh, I bug everybody, (including) the 49ers with John Lynch and Martin Mayhew, that whole staff. They do a great job of sourcing talent from Division III all the way up to the (power five). They go to where the good players are, and we have some good players in the conference.”

The 49ers have six players from Conference USA on their roster, including such draft picks as safety Tarvarius Moore (Southern Mississippi), and receivers Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech) and Richie James (Middle Tennessee State).

The 49ers signed quarterback Nick Mullens (Southern Mississippi) as an undrafted rookie in 2017, and he started eight games for the club in 2018.

One of the top prospects from Conference USA this year is Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant, who undoubtedly is on the 49ers’ radar.

The 49ers will be looking to add a tight end in the draft to pair with George Kittle. Bryant was the 2019 Mackey Award winner as the top tight end in college football.

“He reminds me of Brent Jones,” Hanks said, “a good pass-catching tight end and a willing blocker.”

Hanks also mentioned defensive back Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech. Hanks envisions Robertson overcoming his less-than-ideal size (5-foot-8, 187 pounds) to carve out a 10-year NFL career with a playing style that reminds some of Tyrann Mathieu.

With the restrictions on private workouts and pro days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanks said he believes the college athletes from Conference USA or from any college program who were not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine are at an inherent disadvantage this year.

“Those players are in a bit of a tough spot, in the sense that teams won’t be able to circle back and get on campus and really take a look at them,” Hanks said.

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One Conference USA prospect who might not suffer from not being invited to the combine is Middle Tennessee defensive end Tyshun Render.

New England coach Bill Belichick went to campus in late-February to pace Render through a workout while most of his NFL peers were in Indianapolis for the combine.

“Conference USA has been fortunate,” Hanks said. “We’re a football-playing conference in every sense. We put a lot of resources toward football and NFL clubs understand that they can come get good players.”

LB Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
WR Richie James, Middle Tennessee State
S Tarvarius Moore, Southern Mississippi
QB Nick Mullens, Southern Mississippi
WR Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
RB Jeff Wilson Jr., North Texas