In 2015, Jeremiah Attaochu looked as if he might be one of the NFL’s emerging pass-rushing stars.
For the Chargers that season, the former Georgia Tech standout had six sacks and 55 tackles. After that season, he was hungry for more.
“I want to hone my pass-rush and just really double my production in sacks and strip sacks,” Attaochu said in the spring of 2016. He was eager to become a star.
Instead, Attaochu’s career was sidelined by injuries and a lack of faith from a new Chargers coaching staff. The edge rusher – a 6-foot-3, 252-pound outside linebacker in the Chargers’ 3-4 scheme – was limited to just eight games in 2016 because of two injuries and then played just four games last season, even though he was healthy again.
Now he’s just days away from training camp with the 49ers, where he hopes to get his NFL career back on track as a defensive end/pass-rush specialist. The Chargers let him walk after four seasons and he signed with San Francisco in March on a one-year deal worth as much as $5.1 million.
While the 49ers are expecting a big improvement in their pass rush from holdovers DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas and Cassius Marsh in Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme, Attaochu was the only real addition this offseason. If he can stay healthy and prove during the exhibition season that he’s a good fit, he could be an under-the-radar gem for Saleh in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season.
When the 49ers signed him, general manager John Lynch called Attaochu a “disruptive defender” who is a “wonderful fit for our scheme.”
Attaochu, 25, believes he can be a hit on both defense and special teams with the way he plays.
“I’m just relentless,” he told reporters. “I have great burst, great speed off the edge. So I think that relentlessness is going to help us a lot with what the interior guys are doing.”
He also recently told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle that weathering injuries in 2016 and then being buried on the depth chart in 2017 under new Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn has been an education.
“I was used to being a front-runner my entire career,” he told Branch. “Not that I wanted this to happen, but sometimes when you trip, you learn how to get back up. And I didn’t know how to get back up.”
Next week, when players report for camp, Attaochu will be ready to show the coaching staff he can be a surprise impact player in 2018. Head coach Kyle Shanahan believes he can be, based on what he saw this spring from him.
“He’s gotten better each day and that’s to me a sign that (he’s) legit,” said Shanahan.