Defensive lineman Ronald Blair has been receiving a lot of praise from the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff. In his first preseason game against the Texans, he nearly had his first sack, which was recorded as a QB hit. He has been used in several positions on the defensive front including taking a few snaps at NT.
Earlier this week, defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil spoke about Blair’s talent:
His ability to get off the ball, slip blocks, use his hands, pass rush. He’s different. He’s not that 320-pound man that’s going to knock you back at the line of scrimmage like some of the other guys are built. He’s more of a single-gap penetrator who can make some plays in the backfield. So, he’ll do well for us.
After Sunday’s game, Blair spoke about how his physical stature (6’2, 284 pounds at the NFL Combine) isn’t a hindrance at all, especially because of DL coach Jerry Azzinaro’s methods. He also actually finds it very interesting how DeForest Buckner and Arik Amsted (both 6’7) approach the game, and has learned from their techniques. He sees the group being underrated as an advantage, as they all have a chip on their shoulder.
Here is my whole interview with Blair:
You have been praised for you versatility. How do you prepare to be in multiple positions?
Really, I just love the game of football so it’s really easy to prepare when you are doing something that you love to do. I love studying the different positions and how people play the game differently so it’s easy when you’re trying to convert outside to inside, it’s different physically but I like the different techniques.
What is it like working with Coach Azzinaro
Oh man, I love Coach Azzinaro. He’s one of the best defensive line coaches, if not the best, that I’ve ever had. He knows how to talk to different types of players with different types of mentalities. I really like him. He’s a funny guy. He’s a real smart guy. He really takes account of everything that’s in the big picture. He really knows his players and how to get the best out of them and I really love his coaching style.
Would you say he coaches for your body type and abilities?
Exactly. You hit the nail on the head. He doesn’t try to make you do something that you can’t do. He makes you do what you can, inside your abilities and I really appreciate that because some coaches really think a one size fits all approach works, but he’s not like that at all, he sees the type of player you are and makes you use your strengths and not your weaknesses. I like that.
And you’re working with DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead who are very tall.
It’s fun because I learned how they see the game, then I try to compare it to how I play the game and it’s completely different, which is fun. You learn a lot from watching football, how people play completely different ways but they're playing the same position, so it’s fun to see that. It’s really a game within a game, there’s so many things that you have to take into account. [From] the outside you don’t really know, but on the inside it’s really unique looking at it so I’m very appreciative.
Who has helped with your transition to the NFL?
Really everybody in the D line room has helped me along the way, Mike Purcell, Quinton Dial, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Arik Armstead, everybody in that D line room. I’m really surprised that a nucleus like this has gone unnoticed because they’re really good and very humble and well spoken and I’m very glad that I got the chance to come here and learn from them.
Is it different from other D line rooms you’ve been in?
I would say it’s pretty similar to what I’ve had because I’ve had a pretty tight knit, close group in all of my D line rooms. I think that’s pretty typical to have a good core D line group. I really have to credit Azzinaro for really helping us stick together because he’s really the head of the household when it comes to that because he’s always fun and in a jolly mood and it really helps us stick together because we all know he’s working with us and for us, he’s not working against us and is not out for ulterior motives. It’s really good to have a coach like that.
Do think this group is underrated?
Oh yeah, by far. By far. Outside the league you wouldn’t hear the names that I just said before but when I come in here and see these guys work everyday, they deserve to get mentioned some the top names in the league and I’m very appreciative of that and as long as they’re under the radar, it’s fine. I just keep learning from them and once they get on the radar and they go where they go and do what they want to do, but for now I’m very appreciative for all of the information they’ve given me along the way.
Does that put a chip on everyone’s shoulder in this room?
I think it does. I really think it does. They’re really overlooked. It’s kind of like a bigger college scene, so to speak because guys have been overlooked coming into the league and they really just want to show people that they’re good and they’re talented and I really think some of these guys are a prime example. Some of the technique that Purcell uses and Quinton uses, they’re so consistent and you never hear about them. You usually just hear about the flashy guys that can make a play every four or five plays but these guys, every play is technically sound. It’s really a shock to see that everyday on a day in and day out basis.
What are the goals of the D line group for the season?
We really just want to make sure to keep our linebackers free and when we get the chance to make plays, make plays. We really just want to work as a tight knit unit, making sure that the three or four that’s on the field at the time, making sure that the whole 11 are rolling in the same direction. We really just want to be successful and make a whole lot of turn overs and just have fun. Once you’re not having fun you kind of dread coming here everyday.
What do you see from Mike Purcell, who is replacing Ian Williams?
Everything. You see him, he’s a big guy but he doesn’t move at all like he’s a big guy. I always joke around with him all the time. He had a pick six and he underplays it so much, he’s such a humble guy. He had a pick six against an NFL team and he just doesn’t talk much about it. I’m like if that’s me, I’m still talking about that to this day and I’m a humble guy myself. I’m really just thankful to be around those guys every day. They are such good people and great men and it’s great to see great men translate onto the football field everyday. I’m really thankful for that.