Niners New Defensive Line Coach Praises Thomas

Kocurek believes team's top draft pick from 2017 has the talent and drive to have a breakout season in 2019

When you’re selected No. 3 overall in the NFL draft, you’re expected to produce. Immediately.

That fact that defensive lineman Solomon Thomas hasn’t – at least in a major way since being taken that high in the 2017 draft out of Stanford – has put a giant question mark on his back. Coaches and fans want to know when Thomas will start being a disruptive player on the defensive line in the same way fellow first-round pick DeForest Buckner has evolved.

Thomas had just three sacks as a rookie and only one in 2018. He’s also had just 17 quarterback hits in 30 games, with 72 tackles.

Those aren’t high-impact numbers.

But the 49ers new defensive line coach, Kris Kocurek, believes Thomas is ready to take his game to a much higher level now. On a defensive line with Buckner, No. 1 pick Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and ex-Kansas City Chiefs standout Dee Ford, Thomas – who’s ticketed to play more on the inside than the outside now – could be primed for success in 2019.

“Since the day I arrived here, I see a player with a chip on his shoulder, a player with a look in his eye that he’s ready to take the next step,” Kocurek told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group during organized team activities (OTAs) this week. “Everyone needs to realize Solomon is still a young player. He’s going into his third year. … They say NFL players usually take their biggest jump going from their second to third year.

“Based of the way he’s been working, whether it be in the classroom with film study, in the weight room and then on he practice field, he’s got that look in his eye. He’s ready to get better.”

Kocurek noted Thomas went through a lot last year, following the death of his sister.

“He overcame it and he’s going to be stronger because of it,” Kocurek said.

Thomas, too, feels the weight of expectations. But his own expectations are what drive him to raise his level of play.

“I was drafted third overall for a reason,” Thomas said recently. “Because I’m a good player. It’s time I just put all the expectations and pressure out of me, and just worry about me and what I know I can do.

“I know I’m a good player and I know I’m here for a reason. I know my strengths. I know who I am on the field.”

Now he’s ready to prove it to himself and everyone else.

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