The San Francisco 49ers are counting on a big step forward from Solomon Thomas. It's as simple as that. The third-overall pick in 2017 was solid yet unspectacular as a rookie. Thomas' three-sack season left many 49ers fans nervous.
Making any final judgments about a 22-year-old after just one season is unwise. However, there's no questioning that the 49ers need more out of Thomas in 2018. The good news is that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has seen noticeable progress from his young defensive lineman so far in training camp.
But where has Thomas made strides? Well, that's the best part.
"Pass rush," Saleh said confidently. "He's got a plan. Last year he would get gobbled up, he'd run through the middle of people and then the play would be over. Right now, he's learning edges. For me just watching him, it's the second move after he's lost on the first move. That's where he's actually improved.
"When you watch his one-on-ones in pass rush, it's much improved. He's winning consistently. The plan with Solomon hasn't really changed. What you are seeing is his improvement and he's got to continue to improve."
DeForest Buckner has seen it, too.
"Solly has been doing a really good job of using his hands," Buckner said. "If his first move doesn't work, he's learning to finish. Just because your first move doesn't work doesn't mean you're done pass rushing – it doesn't mean the play is over. In 1-on-1s, he's been doing better with technique and finishing the play."
Thomas will continue to play LEO on base downs before moving inside on passing downs. He and Buckner figure to serve as San Francisco's only three-down defensive linemen. We all know what the 49ers have in Buckner, but it's yet to be seen what Thomas' ceiling could be.
Our first glimpse of Thomas and the rest of San Francisco's starting defense will take place on Thursday night's preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys. Kyle Shanahan said that all starters will play at least one series with the potential for more. A splash play from Thomas would improve the overall sentiment regarding the 49ers defense and its outlook in 2018.