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Donte Whitner thinks Solomon Thomas isn’t a scheme fit for 49ers

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This might be an unfortunate reality.

One of the more disappointing players for the San Francisco 49ers has been defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Drafted with the third overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, Thomas has been solid at stopping the run but sub-par in his pass-rushing abilities. Thomas is by no means a bust, but he’s definitely not reached the high expectations set for a third overall pick.

Former 49ers safety Donte Whitner was on KNBR’s Gary & Larry Podcast and had his own assessment to Thomas’ struggles—it’s not a schematic fit:

“I think that he was put into the wrong situation. I believe that when you watch him come out of Stanford, and you watch him play on the edge and run down quick screens and make plays on the football and tackle in the open field, he’s a outside 3-4 linebacker that can rush the quarterback and drop some in coverage. He’s not a 4-3 defensive tackle, he’s not a 4-3 defensive end. He’s a guy that needs to be able to stand up, see what’s going on and pursue the football. Just go back and watch his Stanford film, he’s an outside linebacker, he reminds me of Ahmad Brooks. Ahmad Brooks and him are pretty much identical in size, weight, and everything ...

“... I don’t see him as a good fit for this scheme. This is a 4-3 scheme where you’ve got two defensive tackles and two traditional defensive ends. He’s none of them. He is an outside linebacker, a rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Sometimes a rush outside linebacker is a little bigger than everybody. Ahmad Brooks was a little bigger than everybody, but he put a lot of pressure on, had a lot of quarterback hurries, and he added to our pass rush. I think if he goes to a 3-4 defense and plays outside rush ‘backer, you’ll see a totally different player.”

The 49ers have been plugging Thomas all over the place it seems like and none of it has yielded anything more than good run stops. The 49ers experimented with putting him on the edge on run downs and kicking him inside on pass-rush downs (which was the plan for his senior year at Stanford until he declared for the 2017 NFL Draft). Thomas has had a difficulty getting to the quarterback, and it feels like something is off.

On Friday, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was asked for his evaluation of Thomas at this point. Specifically, he was asked what went into deciding where he played along the line given some of his success inside.

“Again, it’s about getting opportunities to rush the passer. That’s the whole thing. When it’s a run down, not that he can’t do it, but to put him in there to take on double teams, to take on 600 pounds of people, it’s very, very bruising in there. To subject him to that for the sake of trying to get a pass rush that’s probably a play fake anyway, I don’t know if that would be the smartest thing in the world. So, he’s still on run downs, to us, a very good edge rush defender. But, when it comes to pass opportunities, we had a great plan going into that Cardinals game to try to get more opportunities for them to rush inside, but it came down to third down again. So, when he does get those third down opportunities, that’s where they show up. Or two-minute where it’s an obvious passing situation where he can get inside and you’re talking about 15 to 20 reps a game if the situation presents itself. But again, it all comes back to us, too. Where can we get those guys into obvious passing situations in a normal down so it’s first-and-10 or second-and-11 after a negative play where you just feel like the offense is about to throw and you can go take as hot with smaller guys on the football field. But, all of that goes with the flow of the game and just having opportunities to do it.”

There’s still a lot of football to play until 2018 ends and the 49ers can take a look at themselves schematically, but until then, I’ll just leave this here: