Joe Staley is a Pro Bowl tackle who’s blocked some of the best defensive linemen in the NFL, so he knows good when he sees it.
Recently, Staley told young 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner that Buckner’s size and strength give him a problem. In fact, Staley told Buckner he has to change his technique to stop him.
“He was just saying with how big and strong (I am), he has to set a different way with guys like me,” Buckner told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “He can’t really do what he normally does, I guess.”
Buckner’s ability, in fact, is causing the 49ers to re-evaluate how they plan to use him in 2018, wrote Branch. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh now says the Niners will use Buckner as an edge rusher in some packages. That’s a change from what Saleh has said in the past.
As Branch noted, the 6-foot-7, 300-pound Buckner – entering his third season – has lived up to his billing as a No. 1 draft pick, becoming a force as a defensive tackle. Buckner puts pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the inside, but it’s hard for him to get sacks because he’s often double teamed. From the outside, he’d have a better chance, Saleh told Branch.
“The challenge for us is how to get Buck 1-on-1s as many times as possible,” Saleh said. “Testing him out there at that end spot to see what he looks like. I mean, he’s unbelievable. He is a special talent. It’s on us to make sure that we put him in position, however we need to. Now his best is when he is inside rushing the passer, but as a change-up, it could happen, for sure.”
Buckner will get his first opportunity Thursday night in the team’s exhibition opener vs. Dallas at Levi’s Stadium (7 o’clock kickoff), but it’s more likely the team will keep any such packages under wraps until the regular season.
New starting center Weston Richburg, who came over from the Giants, says it’s eye-opening to get to see Buckner and what he can do every day in practice. Richburg says Buckner is the type of player who will make his presence felt wherever he lines up.
“Going against guys like that is challenging,” Richburg told the media. “And it’s good though, because he really does a good job at what he does, obviously. If we get to see that every day, I think that will help us find things that we need to work on and take those things in to when we play other teams.”