Thursday’s exhibition game didn’t mean a thing, but the 49ers’ Solomon Thomas was happy he played in it.
Thomas, San Francisco’s No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, started at defensive end in the 23-21 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers at Levi’s Stadium – a rarity on a night when many starters for both teams got the night off.
Yet Thomas got plenty of action in the first quarter and looked ready for the regular season opener Sept. 9 vs. the Minnesota Vikings.
As Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group noted, Thomas hadn’t gotten as much game action as he wanted in the first three games because of a concussion, so he got one final summer tune-up run. He dominated, making two run stops in the Chargers backfield while also getting a quarterback pressure.
“I didn’t get many reps in camp due to (the concussion),” he told reporters. “I just wanted to get back out there and get in a few reps and just get ready for Minnesota.”
Thomas is expected to start at the Leo position, left defensive end, on base downs, alongside Earl Mitchell and DeForest Buckner at the defensive tackles and Arik Armstead at right defensive end. Thomas will also be moved inside on occasions, according to Robert Saleh, the 49ers defensive coordinator.
The quarterback pressure Thomas recorded against the Chargers Thursday is reflective of what Saleh has seen from Thomas this summer. Saleh says Thomas’ biggest improvement has come as a pass rusher.
“He’s got a plan,” Saleh said recently. “Last year he would get gobbled up. He’d run through the middle of people and then the play would be over. Right now, he’s learning edges. For me just watching him, it’s the second move after he’s lost on the first move. That’s where he’s actually improved.
“When you watch his one-on-ones in pass rush, it’s much improved. He’s winning consistently.”
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan said he wanted to get Thomas some final action Thursday night.
“I thought it would be good for him,” Shanahan told Inman. “It was one long drive, he was able to make a couple plays and we got him out of there. He stayed healthy. It was a risk but something I thought could help him.”
The 49ers now need to evaluate players coming out of the final exhibition and make cuts to get down to a 53-man roster by the deadline on Saturday.