GM John Lynch, HC Kyle Shanahan and DC Robert Saleh have to be happy with what they’ve seen.
The defensive line for the San Francisco 49ers has been undergoing its own mini rebuild over the last few years. They’ve used 3 1st round picks, 1 3rd round pick, 1 6th round pick and a few free agency acquisitions to help retool a once-elite defensive line that after retirements, arrests and bad roster makeup fell into extreme disarray. Even former GM Trent Baalke recognized how bad it got, spending first round picks on Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner.
Thankfully, gone are the days of misplaced biases towards players rehabbing from injury and misvalued offensive players. Lynch and Shanahan aren’t beholden to “reliable” vets like Tony Jerod-Eddie and Mike Purcell. Adding in another 1st round pick in Solomon Thomas and a 6th round pick in DJ Jones has done wonders for the depth of the line and the performance thus far. Coming into this weeks matchuo against Washington, one has to wonder how this line would do with one of the best coaches in the league and a former member of the 49ers coaching staff, Jim Tomsula.
As a preface to this exercise, let’s first acknowledge that the situation in which Tomsula was head coach of the 49ers was a disservice to his tenure as defensive line coach as well as a disservice to his character as a person. We here at the hub are proud of the work he is doing in Washington and wish him the best.
Looking at the defensive line play so far this year, there are a few things that pop out. DeForest Buckner looks to be the player that we all hoped he was and is well worth the 7th overall pick. The free agency acquisitions of Earl Mitchell and Elvis Dumervil seem to be paying off well in the short term, and seem to be adding some much needed vet leadership to this young group. Solomon Thomas, after a frustratingly late start to his offseason conditioning, seems to slowly be coming into his own. Most interestingly to me, you can start to see similarities between this line and the line that had Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.
There are a handful of coaches in the NFL who can bring out not only the best in players, but bring more out of subpar players that others aren’t able to do. That is Jim Tomsula’s specialty. Tomsula helped make players like Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois look and perform better than they should have. He helped the 49ers take a free agent acquisition in Glenn Dorsey who no one expected much from after his time with Kansas City, and made him look like one of the better nose tackles in the league.
To look at the talent that is now on the defensive line in Thomas, Armstead and Buckner, Tomsula likely feels that pinge in the back of his neck of excitement. The feeling of creativity, in which the juices start flowing and you get numerous ideas of how to work with the people in front of you. There is absolutely no question that Tomsula would make this group better, but thankfully the 49ers have coach Jeff Zgonina. While not a better coach than Tomsula, is hopefully a coach that Tomsula can be proud to see working with this group.
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