In 2016, San Francisco 49ers rookie defensive tackle DeForest Buckner led the defensive line in snaps played. He was on the field for 1,006 plays. Only Antoine Bethea (1,127) and Tramaine Brock (1,102) played more snaps on the defense in 2016. The 49ers new defensive line coach, Jeff Zgonina will not allow that to happen again.
Buckner spoke to the media during minicamp and laughed as he reminisced about tapping his helmet once last season to come out of the game, but no one came in for him, so he stayed in.
Zgonina played 17 years in the league as a defensive lineman winning a Super Bowl with the Rams in 1999. He played for eight teams over his lengthy career and began his coaching career in 2013 with the Houston Texans. He has a lot of energy at practice but is not the yeller like the defensive coaches of the recent past. You will not hear him screaming “BLUDGEON” anytime soon. Also unlike his predecessors, he currently looks like he could still suit up and play for a team, even though it’s been more than seven years since he last donned an NFL jersey.
Zgonina’s philosophy for a long career is simple: “run to the ball.” He jokes, “if you’re holding onto the ball, that’s when you get hurt. If you’re standing around, someone’s going to roll you up. That’s what I preach. I believe in it. There ain’t no zippers on my knees.” With that in mind, he is cross training the defensive line to play more than one position.
SAM can play LEO, some LEOs could play SAM. It’s just so I can rotate and can always have fresh guys out there. On long drives I can substitute twice if I have to. Get some fresh guys in there, everybody always running to the ball, that’s what it’s all about.
It will be no different for first round draft pick Solomon Thomas who hasn’t been able to work with the team since rookie minicamp. He will be cross trained like everyone else.
I told all the guys, you have to at least know two positions because of the numbers on game day. I don’t want to pigeon hole a guy in one spot. Some guys will be pigeon holed in one spot and some guys are going to have to cross train. A guy like that is going to get cross trained.
Zgonina wouldn’t offer any specifics on who will be playing in what position even though there were several questions regarding that. He added that anything could change at this point because he needs to see the guys in pads first. He did reiterate that the group is getting better everyday learning the new scheme.
During minicamp, Eli Harold got some first team snaps while Ahmad Brooks played less. That was purely out of respect to the veteran. Zgonina said when he was a veteran he didn’t want all of the OTA reps either. In that vein, he detailed his thoughts on running to the ball and rotation.
I’m a rotate guy. If I’m allowed to rotate the guys as much as I want, I will do that. I I told those guys, you give me 4-5 hard plays, full tilt, I’m going to rotate you because I believe in fresh bodies all the time. I don’t like to see a guy play over 1,000 snaps in a season like he did last year, especially as a rookie. That’s a lot of snaps. That’s a lotto snaps for anybody especially on defense. I would hope everybody balances out, first string, second string, that doesn’t really mean anything to me, everyone’s going to play. Whoever is dressing on Sunday is going to play.