In the 2017 NFL season, we witnessed the 49ers defensive line struggle to meet high expectations, as they finished tied for 26th in the NFL with only 30 sacks in 16 games.
This not only put pressure among the linebackers and secondary on the field, but it had also placed pressure upon the front office. In February, the 49ers hired Chris Kiffin from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) as their pass-rush specialist.
Kiffin’s addition to the coaching staff signifies the strong need to enhance this lackluster unit. By pairing Kiffin with defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina, head coach Kyle Shanahan anticipates a revamped defensive line that can create the pressure both the linebackers and secondary need to create turnovers.
"I wanted to get someone else in that could help Zgonina and also bring another taste to the pass game," Shanahan said. "We interviewed a number of guys, a bunch of guys. I think seven guys. Chris was our last guy and he was the most impressive, just from a teaching standpoint, the places he’s been, the people he has worked with, the different types of schemes he has done, and he was very good on the board. He has been very good here with the players so far.”
Not only have the 49ers added to their staff but also to their roster, adding defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu via free agency to reinforce the defensive line.
In spite of injuries that have sidelined Attaochu for a major part of his career, his low risk one-year deal will allow him to prove himself as he has already recorded 10 sacks over the course of his four-year NFL career.
It is still unclear whether the 49ers plan to bring back veteran Elvis Dumervil, who had 6.5 sacks in 2017. However, Attaochu will compete this offseason to potentially serve as his replacement in the 2018 NFL season.
Kiffin’s hiring has begun to prove itself in OTA’s as he is teaching the defensive linemen how to rush together and, in his words, “building a trap” for the quarterback. The main component of this trap, Kiffin said, will be the team’s defensive lineman, DeForest Buckner.
Although the 49ers defensive line does not have a lineman that has over 10 sacks in his pro career, both Kiffin and Zgonina seek to find various mismatches to gain the advantage. Their improvements in the 4-3 scheme, plus players returning from the injury bug such as defensive ends Arik Armstead and Ronald Blair, will create competition throughout the offseason, and rejuvenate a weak defensive line.
With Solomon Thomas’s agility and Buckner’s impressive block shedding, they will serve as the main components of the defensive line this upcoming year and prove how tenacious their defensive line will be with a polished form, capable of attacking the various offenses of the league.
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