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Notebook: Jim O'Neil Evaluates 49ers Rookie DL Ronald Blair

Ronald Blair III has flashed consistently throughout San Francisco 49ers training camp presented by SAP. On Thursday, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil had positive reviews for his rookie defensive lineman. 

"I think he's had a really good training camp," the coach said. "Doesn't matter what group he plays with. He finds a way to make plays. He's very different than anything else we have in that defensive line room. He's a good change-up for us. I've been very impressed with him."

Different how?

"His ability to get off the ball, slip blocks, use his hands, pass rush. He's different," O'Neil continued. "He's not that 320-pound man that's going to knock you back at the line of scrimmage like some of the other guys are built. He's more of a single-gap penetrator who can make some plays in the backfield. So, he'll do well for us."

Like so many players on San Francisco's roster, Blair is being cross-trained all over the defensive front. The fifth-round pick out of Appalachian State always finds a way into the backfield regardless of where he lines up.

"We're playing him everywhere right now," O'Neil explained. "We're trying to find that out. He's playing some on the edge. He's playing some inside. He took a couple snaps yesterday at nose. But, he can be a problem athletically for guards and centers, just with his skill set. So, that's something we're going to work through in the preseason and try to find out where he can best help us along the front."

O'Neil recalled Appalachian State's game against Clemson in 2015 as evidence that Blair can produce against top-end competition. Blair posted two sacks in that contest against the Tigers.

Now the question remains as to where the 49ers will ultimately deploy Blair this season. At 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, is he better off as a defensive lineman or linebacker?

O'Neil hinted that it's not a question that needs answering right away.

"He's got really long arms. He's a lot stronger than you think," O'Neil said. "It's not like he's small, but he's just got a different skill set. He's got a knack to just, what we call, to find the soft shoulder in pass game. He does a great job attacking the soft shoulder, getting skinny in some pretty tight spaces and he can make plays. Some of that stuff you can't coach and you don't want to make the mistake of coaching it out of him.

"Just because he's not built like Quinton Dial, you don't want to say, 'You have to do it this way.' I don't think good coaches do that and I think (defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro) Azz has done a great job with him, letting him and allowing him to take advantage of the tools he has and let him make plays."Niner Notes

  • O'Neil explained that he's been in touch with the Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey in preparations for Friday's practice. The coach said that he wants the practice to be "collaborative, not combative." Both coaching staffs will work together to make sure they get what they want out of what will be a competitive session.
  • Speaking of cross-training, cornerback Kenneth Acker has been getting work at safety. "We look for versatility. You only get so many up on gameday. If you get multiple injuries in a position, you need some guys that can go help out," O'Neil said. "He's done a really good job." Dontae Johnson and Chris Davis are two other defensive backs that O'Neil said are getting reps at multiple spots.
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