For Solomon Thomas, it was going back to where football was fun again and not a job.
There are a lot of things that the San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle had to deal with; criticism, his substandard play, and his sister’s suicide. That incident happened in early 2018 and defined his year, triggering everything else.
Now it’s 2019. Along with the typical offseason tradition of game tape, working out, and the long tradition of getting bigger, better, faster, stronger, Thomas has one more thing he’s doing: a mental reset.
“For me, it was just resetting,” Thomas said during a press conference after 49ers OTAs Tuesday. “Mentally resetting, physically resetting, and really finding out who I am again and coming back ready to go. Having fun with it [football] again, and that’s what I’ve done, so I feel great right now.”
Resetting to Thomas is part relaxing and part working. But the main objective is to do his job, playing professional football, fun again. An admitted perfectionist, Thomas wants, “To be perfect in everything I do.”
His 2018 campaign could be called anything but perfect. The grief and mental battle of his sister’s suicide didn’t alter his play on the field; it contaminated it. The tackle played in 16 games, started in 13 with 31 total tackles along with one (1) sack. That’s far from the numbers someone would expect from the third overall pick in 2017.
This isn’t just an analysis. By his own account, Solomon Thomas seems to agree.
“I had probably my worst season ever of my life last year,” Thomas said.
Or did he? Former 49ers defensive tackle Ian Williams would subscribe to the notion that stats lie, but the tape doesn’t:
Solomon Thomas said last year was his worst year of football. I thought the young man played very well actually. Showed up on film countless times! Shows what type of character and expectations he has for himself. I’m looking forward to see this man erupt this season #49ers— Ian Williams (@IWilliams95) May 22, 2019
Following his declaration of his worst season, Thomas followed it up, saying, “I’m the most confident I’ve ever been in my career right now.”
Regardless of how productive his first two seasons in the NFL were, rumors percolated that he was on the trading block in the days leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft. A report like that could ruin the relationship between a player and his organization. Thomas understands. When the reports came out, it was him and 49ers general manager John Lynch talking things out; the future, the new 49ers simplified scheme, and how he’ll be a fit in it moving forward. There was also a point in the conversation where Lynch told Thomas the 49ers had no intention of trading him.
“Everything’s in the past, in the past,” Thomas said.
The scheme, Thomas says, will mirror his final games of 2018. He’ll begin on edge for obvious running downs. When the opposing offense goes into passing situations or 3rd downs, Thomas will kick inside and rush the quarterback. This was the same plan his alma mater, Stanford had for him his senior year before he instead declared for the NFL Draft. It was also the same plan some analysts suggested he could be used best in. Solomon Thomas pass-rushing on edge seems to be a thing of the past.
So it can be the mental hurdles. Thomas has sought therapy and received the most exceptional medicine of all to clear his head: time. The 49ers supported him in any way they could. Now that he’s one year removed from the events of 2018, he can return to the game he loves playing and not going to work.
“I want to finish what I started.” He said. “I want to come here, and I want to show everyone why Kyle [Shanahan] and John [Lynch] got to me at number three.”