Cassius Marsh entered his fifth training camp as an NFL player on Thursday and, did so with an opportunity before him that he has never had in his pro career.
It is Marsh's first San Francisco 49ers training camp, but is also be his first where he has the chance to be a team’s leading edge rusher.
He has this opportunity thanks, in large part, to a relentless playing style that helped him catch the eye in a six-game, late-season audition for the 49ers, earning a two-year extension off the back of it after being cut by the New England Patriots.
That the Patriots waived Marsh having traded draft capital for him tells you what they thought of his level of play. However, in May Marsh told The San Francisco Chronicle he had basically asked to be cut because he was unhappy playing coverage instead of being allowed to rush the passer.
Marsh's request provided a great example of his self-belief that, put in the right situation, he can thrive. And he appears to have landed in the right situation with the 49ers, whose defensive coordinator’s philosophy marries up with Marsh’s demeanor.
Describing Marsh as "relentless", per The Sacramento Bee, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of the former Seattle Seahawk: "He's the definition of 'all gas no brakes.'"
Marsh's aversion to the brake pedal was evident on last year’s tape, which suggested he could be a solution to a Niners pass rush that had just 30 sacks last year despite DeForest Buckner racking up 52 pressures on the interior, per Pro Football Focus.
His first game as a 49er came against the Seahawks and provided an early indication of his determination. On the play below Marsh keeps himself involved despite seeing his initial pass rush fail, working his way off the block and back up field before laying out to bring down Russell Wilson.
That play had little impact beyond limiting Wilson's gain, yet it did provide some foreshadowing of the effort to come as Marsh impacted a defense that improved down the stretch.
His first sack and forced fumble for the 49ers came a week later in a win over the Chicago Bears but came on a play where he had a free run to Mitchell Trubisky, with the below plays from games with the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans better examples of the consistent effort Marsh brought to the table.
First he gives outstanding pursuit in keeping Texans quarterback T.J. Yates from picking up possible first-down yardage on the run. On the second play you see Marsh barrel through the blocks of the tight end and the running back to force Marcus Mariota out of the pocket.
His desire to consistently give every ounce of effort on each snap paid dividends in the final game of the season with the Los Angeles Rams, Marsh showing wherewithal to go along with his relentlessness as, despite his rush eventually being slowed down, he leaps to bat the ball away from Sean Mannion as he winds up to throw.
Marsh, though, has more to his game than just effort and, while his bend can be considered inconsistent at best, he does have an inside move at his disposal, using it twice against the Rams to pressure Mannion, the second play the more impressive as he pairs an arm-over move with his hop back to the inside to again give himself a clear path to the quarterback.
His ability to win inside should see him used consistently on stunts, as he was on this play from the Titans game, performing a stunt with Solomon Thomas that was effective in that Marsh's pressure again helped force Mariota from the pocket.
Marsh's main role, though, may be to serve as a sweeper. Sweeper is a soccer term for a player who sits behind the last line of defense and attempts to clear up any looming danger, and for Marsh the job description is not too dissimilar in a pass rush attack unsurprisingly set to be centered around Buckner.
The Niners' new pass-rush specialist Chris Kiffin, per The Sacramento Bee, has spoken about setting a trap for opposing quarterbacks, funnelling them towards Buckner and then attempting to guess which way they will try to run when he penetrates the O-Line, as he did almost at will last year, to ensure the pressure is converted and the threat of them escaping is stopped.
It's a plan built around Buckner, but it also seems like one made for Marsh, whose ability to stay in the play should have a positive impact on the conversion rate of the pressures from the interior.
Marsh's relentlessness did not appear to be appreciated in Seattle or New England but, for the 49ers, it may well just be exactly what they need for their quarterback traps to have success.
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