Much of the 49ers’ defensive potential is reliant on the new regime’s first major investment, Solomon Thomas. The No. 3 overall pick from the 2017 draft enters his second season looking to improve on his three sacks from a year ago, and become one of the NFL’s cornerstone defenders, which his potential says he can be.
Fortunately for head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, he’s been putting in the necessary work away from the team in an effort to be that player.
Thomas this offseason connected with defensive line coach and pass-rush specialist Brandon Jordan. Formerly an assistant D-line coach at Austin Peay University, Jordan is now a full-time trainer with upward of 15 NFL clients, including Damon Harrison and Gerald McCoy, as well as projected 2019 top-10 pick Ed Oliver of Houston.
How’d Thomas get in touch with Jordan? With a little help from a division rival.
“Me and Solomon Thomas got in touch from Aqib Talib,” Jacobs told the Cover Four Podcast. “I work over with Aqib Talib in Dallas. Him and Solomon have the same agent [Todd France of CAA]… He contacted me and asked if he could come and work with me for a couple of days, and we started working.”
Jordan said Thomas visited with him in Dallas for a week, and they got in six total sessions this offseason, some of which included All-Pro defensive tackles in McCoy and Harrison.
“We did a combo day with Damon Harrison. [Harrison] is one of the run guys, so learning some things from him. [Thomas] was always asking questions … He was pushing himself every rep. He’s a worker.”
Harrison was a first-team All-Pro in 2016 and has staked his place as the best run-stuffer in the game. He’s led the league in run stops four of the last seven years, including the last three consecutive, per Pro Football Focus. Thomas stood out as a rookie against the run, but could only benefit from sessions with Harrison.
According to coach Jordan, it sounded like McCoy had an impact on Thomas in particular.
“He’s very coachable,” Jordan said of the 49ers’ defensive lineman. “Solomon is a student of the game, especially when he worked out with Gerald McCoy. He was a sponge out there, taking knowledge from Gerald. And Gerald is a very knowledgeable guy when it comes to rushing. Solomon was just taking those tips and running with it, just with drills and learning how to finish drills, and fighting through things.
“It was an awesome experience for me to be part of that workout.”
How they came up with a regimen:
“I just checked him out… When I start with my pro guys, I start with a baseline test. The way I train, I get those guys to go through a couple simple drills, and just see what type of movement they need to work on. Things that are just useful. With the first couple of workouts, I focus mainly on the get-off and then I do a lot of hand drills. I start with that, and then just move on and progress with them.”
What Jordan and Thomas focused on:
“I just worked on his get-off a little bit, working on running the path, running his angle and getting his hands active. But I did a lot of hand activity with him. That’s a big thing I’ve been using with a lot of these NFL guys that haven’t been using their hands as much. I’m just trying to get those guys to use their hands and react, instead of just moving their head.”
On Thomas’ development and coach-ability:
“It was natural to him... He had the technique already, it was just a brush up. He’s an athlete, he’s big, strong, fast. He has all the tools to be a great one. He picked up everything quick.”
“I’ve been checking him out a little bit; a little bit of camp, and watched that first preseason game. He’s been using the tools, it looks like he’s about to have a major year. He’s been using his hands a lot, instead of just finishing on the first move, he’s been having counters and keeping his hands active, and getting off the ball. He’s so quick off the ball. So once he’s quick, they’re leaning, they’re trying to get on him and he’s able to use his hands to make a move on ‘em.”
Best utilization of Thomas on the 49ers:
“I think the way they’re using him now on first and second down, and run downs, having him play that end is perfect. Then third down, put him inside, let him use his speed and athletic ability against the guard. When I watched that first game, I thought that’s the perfect way to use him.
What’s special about Thomas:
“He’s natural. What I liked about [Thomas], and him and Gerald both, after every rush they finished everything.
"They finished like they was going to the quarterback. They didn’t just finish after they finished their move on me, they finished on the quarterback, running the hoop or just running downhill. Everything was natural for him.”
How many of his players finish like that:
“To be honest with you, the great ones. The best ones are the ones who finish. The guys that just need to learn, and add that into their tools, they don’t finish it. But him, McCoy, Snacks, Ed Oliver, those guys finish every rep.”
Media courtesy Getty Images, Brandon Jordan