The San Francisco 49ers had some problems with their defensive line and decided to fire Jeff Zgonina when Kris Kocurek became available. Now Kocurek has his first assignment: assess Solomon Thomas.
49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh met with the media Wednesday and said that Kocurek is hard at work watching film and evaluating Thomas. Here are some specific quotes taken from Jennifer Lee Chan’s story on the matter:
“Kris Kocurek is studying him,” Saleh said, “and we’re going to sit down. I want his thoughts unbiased so I’m not going to put anything out there right now. He knows what we did last year. He knows where our thoughts are initially. We’re going to have him study it.”...
...“We all want to see what he says and how he views him,” Saleh said. “From there as an organization, we’ll do what’s best for the organization and put Solly in the best position to be successful.”
Is this an assessment for Thomas’ job? Perhaps. This also could be an assessment on how he could be used by Kocurek’s brand of coaching in Saleh’s system. As Saleh said, it’s an unbiased opinion of a player. A player the 49ers have been unable to get to the level they want.
If there’s any question as to why one player is getting singled out for detailed analysis, it’s simple: Thomas was taken with the third pick of the 2017 NFL Draft and has four sacks in two seasons to show for it. The 49ers need to figure out why this is the case, and how best to improve the situation.
The 49ers also have a big decision to make with the second pick in the 2019 NFL Draft with Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams a possible addition to the 49ers—and a replacement for Thomas. Spending another high pick to replace a pick taken two years prior is not an ideal way to build a football team, so that’s another good reason to grind film on Thomas and get as much info on his first two seasons as possible. If the 49ers see a way to get Thomas coached up, or a better way to use him, it will no doubt trickle into their draft strategy.
If Thomas were a UDFA or a late, late pick, this type of detail may not be necessary—the 49ers could just move on or do normal film work when scheduled. The 49ers, however, invested a third overall pick in Thomas, and while he’s not near the level of a bust, he has not performed to the expectations of a player taken that high. Disappointments aside, the 49ers played Thomas out of position an awful lot, sometimes lining him up as an edge rusher on pass downs. When Thomas was kicked inside he fared much better.
Let’s also not forget that Thomas has been a year-removed from the death of his sister who took her own life January 23rd, 2018. A traumatic situation like that can linger for years and come with a mental effect.
The book isn’t shut on Thomas. The 49ers want to get their new defensive line coach familiar with him and to find a way they can get Thomas coached so they can use him to his full potential. It’s also so they can form a plan on how to use him going forward. And, of course, try to narrow down their needs along the defensive line with that No. 2 pick.