The San Francisco 49ers got a lot out of their 2017 rookie class, with seven of their draft picks getting starts this season, and all but running back Joe Williams getting some kind of snaps this year. One who saw limited playing time was linebacker Pita Taumoepenu. The sixth round pick was active for two games this year, and played exclusively on special teams in both games.
Coming out of the draft, there was talk that Taumoepenu would compete for the LEO role. However, since then, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has discussed him as a candidate to play SAM and backup at LEO.
“He’s a guy that I would see versatility wise. For us, we still envision the SAM being able to be cross trained as an extra LEO, as your third, fourth Leo.”
Saleh was asked what it will take for Taumoepenu to get on the field more in 2018. Saleh sees his offseason workout with the strength coach as being critical to his development.
“I’m excited for Pita in the offseason, we all are. We think an offseason with [head strength and conditioning coach] Ray Wright developing in the weight room and getting stronger, reaching another level of maturity, he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be very hard to keep off the field, I hope. The big thing for him is strength. He’s smart enough, he’s fast enough, he’s got enough instincts. Now that physical strength, I think he can play SAM linebacker and be an effective edge setter the way he is now. But, in terms of winning one-on-ones in pass rush and being a guy that demands linemen to block him rather than just backs, that’s going to be where he needs to get to next.”
Taumoepenu got to work with the 49ers strength coaches following the draft, but this year he gets the entire offseason to figure out a dedicated plan. Following Sunday’s season finale, the players will do process out for the end of the year, at which point they’ll discuss the offseason plan with the coaching staff.
The players can’t work with the coaching staff until the offseason workout program begins in April. They can work out with supervision from the strength staff, but no real coaching can happen. That means their final meetings next week following the close of the season will give them a chance to plan out how the next three months need to go. That will be huge for someone like Taumoepenu.