San Francisco 49ers rookie defensive tackle DeForest Buckner had probably his best game of the season this past Sunday against the New York Jets. He had two sacks and 11 tackles to go along with four quarterback hits. Pro Football Focus credited him with a career-high seven stops. He also played every defensive snap for the second straight week.
And now he is being honored for the performance. The NFL has a rookie of the week popularity contest, which you can vote on here. This marks the first time Buckner has been nominated for the award. Other nominees include Eagles QB Carson Wentz, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones, and Browns defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. You can vote here, and it’s easy to vote over and over and again. I imagine Elliott and Wentz will get a lot of votes given their teams and being offensive skill position players, but maybe we can get Buckner the vote.
Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil talked about Buckner during his press conference today. He was excited about the stamina Buckner has, and his ability to keep going amidst pretty huge snap totals. It certainly provides a whole lot of opportunities for Buckner, and will get all sorts of tape for him to study in the offseason as he looks to take a step forward in year two.
How has DeForest Buckner improved as far as in the run game? It looked like early in the season, he was kind of part of the problem with the run defense. Now, it looks like he’s really taken steps.
“I don’t know if I ever thought he was part of the problem. I think he’s really progressed as the year went on. I thought early actually in the season, he was making most of his plays in the run game and then he was making a lot of plays with exceptional effort and I think we’ve seen him transform into a guy that can now make plays in the run-pass game and he’s been unbelievable. There’s just a couple little things that you probably don’t see unless you really study the tape, but he had a quarterback hit early in that game. We were running a pressure and he was able to get a pre-snap read on what the protection was. Instead of popping for contain, he just pressed the B-gap and he ended up getting a hit on the quarterback which caused an incomplete pass. He’s just grown so much mentally and his ability to gather pre-snap information and make plays because of that has been really fun to watch him throughout the year.”
Do you almost take it for granted now that you never have to take him off the field?
“It’s awesome, isn’t it? It’s so awesome. He wants to be out there. Obviously, there wasn’t a lot of plays for us defensively in the first three quarters and then you get into the fourth quarter and you’re trying to win the game and you get into overtime and there’s just no way you can take that guy out and there’s no way he wants to be out. So, just the reps he’s been able to get and how much he’s been able grow has been great for him.”
Is part of that, what you said earlier in the year in regards to him is when you’re a rookie basically just try to do your job, not be the one that makes the mistake and then you eventually get to the point where you’re doing your job but then you’re the one making a play, changing momentum. Do you feel like he, is it a confidence thing? Has he gotten to that point?
“Yeah and he’s had to step into that because of some of the guys that we’ve lost throughout the year. So, he’s probably had to get into that role a little bit sooner than we anticipated, but he’s done a great job. He has. He’s making some big time plays for us right now and that’s what you want when you draft a guy seven overall. He’s done a really nice job.”
Is his stamina unique?
“It’s very rare for a guy that’s that big and the amount of energy it takes to defeat offensive linemen in the run game and pass game and he’s able to be out there for 84 plays is rare and chase the ball the way he chases the ball. If you look at his numbers compared to the other defensive linemen in the league, it’s pretty impressive with how many contacts he has to the ball.”
Is it reminiscent of another player you’ve had?
“I’m not going to compare guys. He’s a young guy that I think that has a bright future that you can definitely build things around here.”
When you’re rotating defensive linemen to keep them fresh, who’s making those decisions? Is it defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro or is it the plans?
“We have a plan. We go into every game with a plan in each position group on how we’re going to roll guys. Like I said, early in that game, we were a lot of three-and-outs. I think there was only one drive that really extended us defensively in the first three quarters and then you want your best players to play in the fourth quarter when you’re trying to close a game out and you’re trying to win a game. So, there was no way Buck, personally if that’s who we’re talking about, was coming out of that game. There’s no way you’re taking an [S] Antoine Bethea out of the game. There’s no way you’re taking a Jimmie Ward of the game. We’re trying to get a win.”
Did you see his stamina as early as training camp? Did you know Week 1 this guy’s probably going to play a ton of snaps throughout the year?
“I think he’s been built that way probably his whole football life, coming from Oregon. He knows how to prepare himself. He’s a very mentally tough guy. So, it’s probably what he’s used to.”