Solomon Thomas

Why Solomon Thomas calls 'love' key to 49ers' Super Bowl appearance

Why Solomon Thomas calls 'love' key to 49ers' Super Bowl appearance

SANTA CLARA -- The thoughts of defensive lineman Solomon Thomas drifted toward three young members of the 49ers family who were not at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday night to participate in the celebration.

In the past two years, Thomas, the York family and C.J. Beathard dealt with tragic deaths of young loved ones.

Thomas’ sister, Ella, 24, died on Jan. 23, 2018.

Tony York, 35, son of 49ers owners John and Denise York, and brother of CEO Jed York, died on Dec. 7, 2018.

And Clayton Beathard, 22, younger brother of 49ers quarterback C.J., was the victim of a fatal stabbing on Dec. 21.

“I wish she was here to celebrate with me, but I know she’s smiling up there,” Thomas said of his sister after the 49ers’ 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

“I’m happy for the Yorks. I know Tony is watching. And I know C.J.’s brother, Clayton, is watching, as well. This team has been through a lot. That’s why we love each other. That’s why this brotherhood is so strong. We’ve all been here for each other since Day 1. That’s why we’re here.”

The 49ers’ victory on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium earned the organization its seventh trip to the Super Bowl. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, Feb. 2, in Miami.

Thomas, 24, has played just three NFL seasons, but he has experienced so much after coming to the 49ers as the first draft pick of general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan after they were hired together in 2017.

The No. 3 overall pick from Stanford has experienced difficult times on and off the field. Now, where Thomas was selected in the draft is of little importance. He is fitting in as a key rotational player on the 49ers’ deep and talented defensive line.

“Those seasons where we were losing, we kept fighting,” Thomas said. “We never stopped. We believed in coach. And it paid off, and we still have one game to go. We love this team. We love each other and we keep playing for each other. That’s why we’re here. We’re not going to stop until we win that thing, so let’s go do it.”

After starting 25 games in his first two NFL seasons, Thomas’ role was decreased this season after the club added veteran Dee Ford in a trade and Nick Bosa in the draft. But Thomas brings value to the team.

He registered a sack in the 49ers’ divisional-round victory over the Minnesota Vikings, and Thomas played 23 snaps, fifth-most among the team’s defensive linemen, in the win over the Packers. Thomas said his focus for the next two weeks is on preparing to do whatever is asked of him to contribute to a win over the Chiefs.

“I just want to do my part, doing my 1/11,” he said. “I want to be there for the guy next to me. I want to be accountable. I want to show up. I got a lot left to prove, and it’s not about me. It’s about this team, and I just want to do my part and do what I can for this team to make sure we win.”

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There is an unmistakable bond that the 49ers have created in their locker room that was forged out of the shared experiences of work, determination, trust and compassion. Thomas believes those factors are major reasons why the 49ers went from being a team that won just 10 games in two seasons to the Super Bowl.

“It’s how much we love each other and why we fight for each other,” Thomas said. “It’s not a selfish team. We make sacrifices for each other. We play for each other. That’s what this game is all about. That’s why we’re here.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).

49ers' Nick Bosa feels fortunate for landing with playoff-ready team

49ers' Nick Bosa feels fortunate for landing with playoff-ready team

SANTA CLARA -- Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa might not be an NFL talent evaluator, but he knew whichever player was selected No. 2 overall was going into an ideal situation with the 49ers.

The 49ers had a lot of talent returning, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who played just three games before sustaining a torn ACL in 2018. The 49ers slid to a 4-12 record and were set to pick behind only the two-win Arizona Cardinals.

Moreover, the 49ers had already made significant gains in the offseason with the acquisition of edge rusher Dee Ford in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs by the time the NFL draft rolled around.

“Just being a football fan last year, knowing what kind of players they had on the roster,” said Bosa, who was named NFL Rookie of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America this week. “I didn't know to this extent how good the depth was and stuff like that, but I just knew that of the top teams picking, this was definitely the most playoff-ready team.”

Bosa and Ford did not line up together as much as either player would have liked during the regular season. But that makes little difference now.

Ford missed all but four snaps in the final six games of the regular season with a hamstring injury. He was back on the field in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, and Bosa could feel the benefits.

“Just having Dee is a mismatch for just about anybody, which opens up things for the other guys and everybody reaps the benefit,” Bosa said.

Bosa registered two sacks and Ford had a sack of his own in the 49ers’ 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday. The 49ers advanced to the NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium.

Ford brings a unique ability to threaten offensive linemen off the snap of the ball with his quickness. And that kind of ability to get around the edge is something that helps everyone on the 49ers’ defensive line, including defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead.

“Just speed. It makes the O-Line think,” Bosa said. “They usually know something's up and then we can catch them off guard with some other things. Then, obviously the other side of the line has to deal with Buck and Armstead.”

The key to the 49ers’ pass rush against the Vikings, in many ways, was a direct result of the team’s ability to handle running back Dalvin Cook on the early downs. That will be an equally important part of dealing with the Packers’ offense on Sunday.

The key to defending the passing attack of Aaron Rodgers will be to keep running back Aaron Jones in check. Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek always makes stopping the run his top priority.

“The same thing needs to happen for us to win,” Bosa said. “It usually revolves around stopping the run, setting edges, stuff like that. Just being physical is probably his biggest message every week.”

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General manager John Lynch sought out to build a dominant defensive line after inheriting a team that included first-round picks Armstead and Buckner.

The 49ers drafted Solomon Thomas at No. 3 overall in 2017. Ford, a 2014 first-round pick of the Chiefs, was added in a trade for a second-round pick. And Bosa gave the 49ers a fifth first-round selection along the defensive line.

Each of those players got into the sack column against the Vikings. And they are expecting more to come in the postseason.

“From the beginning of the year, we knew there was a lot invested in the room and if the team wanted to go where we wanted to go, we had to be a part of it,” Bosa said. “And, obviously, it's not all up to us because we've had bad games and everybody else has picked up the slack for us. We just need to finish this year out strong.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday)

Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m.

How 49ers' D-line has grown in eyes of returning veteran Earl Mitchell

How 49ers' D-line has grown in eyes of returning veteran Earl Mitchell

SANTA CLARA -- It had been more than a year since veteran defensive tackle Earl Mitchell played for the 49ers.

It did not take him long after re-signing with the club after the conclusion of the regular season to notice a difference from the past two years.

“It was awesome just to see how much these guys have grown,” Mitchell said after playing 11 snaps in a backup role in the 49ers’ 27-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

Mitchell, 32, a 10-year NFL veteran, came out of retirement to add depth to the 49ers’ defensive line after not playing a down for any team during the regular season.

Now, the 49ers are moving on to the NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Mitchell started 28 of the 30 games in which he appeared for the 49ers in 2017 and ’18. He played with Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas, and he can clearly see how much the players he lined up alongside have come along in their careers.

“It’s a totally different team than what I witnessed down the line from Solomon, Buckner, Armstead,” Mitchell said. “They’re playing fast and free and they’re comfortable and they know themselves. It’s really just a great atmosphere.”

Mitchell was particularly impressed with a sequence he saw from Thomas early in the fourth quarter.

“That screen play that Solomon made that play on, he called it out before he even made that play,” Mitchell said. “I can’t tell you how proud of him I was, just as a vet to see these guys grow and actually be able to see something and capitalize on it is just growth.

“We knew what they were going to do, but literally right before the play started, Solomon called it. He gave me the word. ‘This is going to be a screen. Be prepared.’ We were both were on top of it.”

Thomas lined up at right defensive tackle with Mitchell to his left. As soon as Vikings running back Dalvin Cook started to leave the backfield, Thomas changed course to track him. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw also knew what was coming, and he dropped Cook behind the line of scrimmage and forced a fumble with Thomas right there.

“Just the confidence, to be able to call out something and look me in the eye, like, ‘All right,’ rather than being apprehensive and being slow, and being able to play fast and trusting what you’re seeing,” Mitchell said.

Thomas had three tackles and a sack while playing 14 snaps.

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Mitchell also credited 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and first-year defensive line coach Kris Kocurek for having the defense properly prepared for the Vikings. Mitchell said he remembers communication on the sideline being an issue the past two seasons. But he was impressed with the efficiency of making corrections between defensive series Saturday.

“They came out with their normal game plan,” Mitchell said of the Vikings. “I think we were just well-prepared. Coach Kocurek harped on them trying to run to our weak side on our defense, and we keyed on that pretty much and we stayed true to our keys and got after it. We knew what they were going to try to do and kudos to Saleh and everybody.”

The 49ers held Minnesota to just 147 total yards of offense, including just 21 yards rushing. Cook had 18 yards rushing on nine rushing attempts and just 8 yards on six receptions.

 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday)

Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 5:30 p.m.