The San Francisco 49ers finished dead last in total defense during the 2016 NFL season. Needless to say, new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has a tall task ahead of him to fix what was broken. However, he has one immediate fix in mind that, on the surface, seems like a no-brainer.
Last season, rookie defensive lineman DeForest Buckner was on the field for nearly 1,000 snaps. In fact, only Olivier Vernon played more than Buckner. That’s not happening under Saleh’s watch. In fact, the coach had some pretty strong words about the previous coaching staff having allowed it to happen in the first place.
“When you look at a guy like (DeForest) Buckner last year having played almost 1,000 snaps — in my mind, that’s criminal,” Robert Saleh said, per Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.
Saleh may not have intended to take a shot at last year’s coaching staff, but that’s exactly what he did. And, to be fair, the criticism is well deserved. While depth was an issue, you cannot allow a rookie to play that much and expect him to hold up over the long haul.
Buckner admitted he was “dead tired” at times last year. Still, he managed to put together an outstanding rookie campaign, and he’s clearly a player the 49ers will build around for the future. A future that hopefully extends many years.
The team has assembled quite an impressive group of linemen that should help this cause. Solomon Thomas should be an instant starter and impact player, along with 2015 first-round pick Arik Armstead, who wasn’t fully healthy last year.
“Ideally, all of them are working about 500, 600 snaps and trying to utilize everything they’ve got every snap that they’re on the football field. I believe in fresh bodies all the time,” he said. “I don’t like to see a guy play over a thousand snaps in a season like he did last year. Especially with a rookie – that’s a lot of snaps.”
Throw in the likes of NaVorro Bowman and rookie linebacker Reuben Foster (on track to be ready for training camp) and you have a tremendous well of talent up front.
Throw in a defensive coordinator who knows what he’s doing — something we can’t say for Jim O’Neil, last year’s defensive coordinator — and there is hope for a better future.