Thomas’ teammates are also believers that the second-year defensive lineman is going to take a big step forward this season. Thomas had an up and down season that featured plenty of good, but lacked the game-changing plays expected of a top five pick. He finished his rookie season with three sacks, 41 total tackles and one fumble recovery in 14 games.
“I think Solly had a solid year,” fellow defensive lineman DeForest Buckner said of Thomas. "He came out (of college) early and he still had a couple things to learn, but I think he had a solid year. I think this year is going to be a great year for him to have a breakout season.”
Buckner is among those in the San Francisco 49ers locker room who have seen growth in Thomas during the offseason program. DeFo shared that Thomas’ increased confidence is evident.
“Even in the meeting room he’s a lot more vocal,” Buckner said. “He interacts with everyone a lot more. Last year he was more shy and reserved. You can see that he’s a lot more comfortable around us. On the field, (granted) it’s early and we are still in shorts, but I can see the development from last year to this year.”
There has only been one practice open to media at this point of OTAs, but Thomas was a standout of that session. Thomas bested Najee Toran and Joshua Garnett twice each during 1-on-1 pass rush drills.
Buckner pointed to Thomas’ clear mind as an indicator of improvement. It’s easy to understand why Thomas would have been pressing a bit in 2017 with the pressures that come along with being a top five pick. But it sounds like Solly is happy and embracing his solidified role in Robert Saleh’s scheme.
Thomas is expected to play LEO on base downs before moving inside to rush the quarterback on passing downs.
“Last year he was frustrated here and there,” Buckner said. "I feel like this year he’s doing a lot better job with staying out of his (own) head.”
A sizeable step forward from Thomas would go a long way in the overall success of San Francisco’s defense. Buckner showed last year that he can be an elite interior pass rusher as he led the NFL with 19 quarterback hits. Thomas hopes to prove that he's of a similar caliber.