49ers: Why the Pass Rush Will Be Dominant Again

Last year the San Francisco 49ers struggled to get to the passer. Thanks to a well-stocked draft and the continued growth of some second- and third-year players, the pass rush will be productive once again.

After watching reel after reel of training camp film, and catching four preseason games during the passed two months, it’s safe to say that the San Francisco 49ers defense is looking pretty stout.

The players not only look faster, but they look as though they are playing with calculated anger.

As a matter a fact, in terms of pass rush and overall defensive pressure, this doesn’t look like the same 49ers defense. Their preseason numbers were not only impressive, but in a 16-game season, they would have been off the charts.

However, many fans are continuing to question the current team’s potential to get to the passer.

Here are three reasons why the pass rush has not only returned to the franchise, but it also figures to be in town for seasons to come.

The Return of the 5-Technique

After finishing No. 29 in overall defense and boasting the fourth lowest sack total in the NFL with 28, the 49ers were on the clock. They knew, regardless of their needs on both sides of the trenches, that their first pick should be spent on defense.

January 1, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (44) against the Florida State Seminoles in the 2015 Rose Bowl college football game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

January 1, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (44) against the Florida State Seminoles in the 2015 Rose Bowl college football game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With pick No. 7 in the 2016 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner.

His presence on the roster means many positive things for the youth movement that is taking over in Santa Clara. But, most importantly, it marks the return of the 5-technique. A position they haven’t seen since the retirement of defensive end Justin Smith.

Smith had a knack for double teaming the left side of the offensive line just long enough to get the outside linebacker into the backfield to record the sack.

At 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, Buckner has the size and the speed to replicate the performance of Smith.

Niner fans should be confident that with the return of this successful technique. It will be enough to free up linebackers Aaron Lynch or newly appointed edge-rusher, Cornellius “Tank” Carradine.

The New Edge-Rusher Position

In 2013, the 49ers drafted Carradine with the pick No. 40 overall.

Despite his torn ACL, the front office took a chance that, with a year of rest and rehab, he would be ready to go for the following season.

When he took the field for his highly anticipated debut, his performance was sub par to say the least.

Carradine’s passion for the game was obvious. And his speed to get free was astounding. But as a defensive end in the professional setting, he struggled to find an identity as a 3-4 DE.

After two seasons of holding out hope, the 49ers defense was about to turn their attention elsewhere. It was then that they found a position that would not only elevate the play of the young linebacker, but it would elevate the play of the entire defense.

Through four preseason games, recently signed practice squad member Marcus Rush and new edge-rusher Carradine led the league in pass-rush productivity. Not bad for a young guy who was thought to be on his way out.

The Steal of the Draft

Drafted in the fifth round with pick No. 142 overall, defensive end Ronald Blair was brought in to strengthen the pass rush. But according to Cover 32, what they got instead was “The Steal of the Draft.”

In two seasons as an upper classmen, the 2015 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year compiled 32 tackles for loss and 12.5 quarterback sacks. His versatility is more impressive given his ability to thrive in both the 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes.

Blair not only finished both years with a top-six rush grade, but he plays the game clean and flies under the radar.

In 1,200 combined snaps, he has committed only two penalties. This not only allows for smooth play, but on those crucial third-down plays he will do nothing to help opposing offenses move the chains.

For those who aren’t convinced that the pass rush is back for San Francisco, consider the fact that you have yet to see Buckner and Arik Armstead play together. You have yet to see Buckner draw the double team with Lynch coming up fast behind him.

And more importantly, you have yet to see all eleven starters take the field at the same time.

Defensive Coordinator Jim O’Neil has a plan for this young defense. And with Week 1 approaching quickly, it’s about to get interesting.

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Cover32.comProfootballfocus.com and Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.

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