The 49ers closed out another practice in pads as they move closer to their match up against the Cowboys on Thursday. We saw a few players get closer to playing; Trent Taylor was back in 11-on-11s, Mark Nzeocha, Cole Wick, Brock Coyle, Cole Hikutini, and Fred Warner all participated in individual drills.
Yesterday we focused on the offense through this point in training camp, today we will focus on the defense. Here is what we learned through 8/6:
It was a goal of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s to eliminate the gray from the pass rush. By that, he means to make it more simple. He has worked with both DL coaches Chris Kiffin and Jeff Zgonina to make every lineman’s job more specific. He mentioned in his press conference that there were a lot of ideas out there last year, and that is no longer that case.
The second move
Another focus of the defensive line is to focus on their second move. If the first move fails, to stay specific to their edge instead of it turning into a “bull rush.” Saleh reports this has been very evident in the case of Solomon Thomas:
Last year he would get gobbled up, he’d run through the middle of people and then the play would be over. Right now, he’s learning edges. For me just watching him, it’s the second move when he’s lost on the first move is where he’s actually improved. It’s where all of them have made a great jump. A year ago, it was first move and that was it and it turned into bull rush, running down the middle of people. Right now, they’re continuing to work those edges.
The defensive line
DeForest Buckner continues to dominate on the line. The coaches have decided to try him on the edge and thus far it has been successful. Buckner actually likes it better having more room to get his moves in and he says facing Joe Staley has been fun. The under the radar players of the DL are Sheldon Day and D.J. Jones. Day has been getting pressure on the OL consistently and it will be great to see him in live game situations. D.J. Jones has also been steadily getting better and making a name for himself. With Arik Armstead rehabbing his hamstring, another player flashing at training camp is Jullian Taylor. Even Buckner has been impressed with the rookie.
There have been a lot of line up changes with the injury bug hitting this group. On the inside, Malcolm Smith is healthy and excited to get some reps in after so much time off. Reuben Foster has been flying around all over the field while working on the little tweaks to help him stay healthy. With Brock Coyle still getting healthy, Fred Warner saw first team reps until he had a minor injury set back. That means Elijah Lee and Korey Toomer will see some action come Thursday. On the outside, Dekoda Watson, Eli Harold, Mark Nzeocha and Pita Taumoepenu will likely all see the field on Thursday.
The starting safeties are set with Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt topping the roster but with Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams rehabbing their injuries, there has been a rotation at corner. Ahkello Witherspoon has been holding down his side of the field and he has been working opposite D.J. Reed, Greg Mabin and Tyvis Powell. Jimmie Ward has also been in the mix but they have limited his reps with some hamstring tightness. Reed has been matched up with all of the top receivers and has been holding his own for a rookie with a lot on his plate moving from safety to nickel/corner.
We will learn a lot more about the defense on Thursday when the players are allowed to tackle for the first time since early 2018.