Personnel changes are needed. Why? Because in order for the San Francisco 49ers (1-5) to return to glory, they need to first find out what they have with the young talent they already have. An average NFL roster at best, the time is now to see what their core players can and can’t do, which in turn, will place them in a better position for the off-season ahead.
Let’s be honest about one thing. The 49ers are not going to the playoffs this year. Which begs the question, why aren’t these first and second-year players on the field?
We all hear about the ‘potential’ of these young players the 49ers have. But at the end of the day, it’s all about results not potential. However it’s hard for players to produce from the sidelines.
RB Melvin Gordon
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) May 10, 2016
The 49ers currently rank dead last in rush defense. Don’t you think changes need to be made? It can’t possibly get any worse, and at this rate, the 49ers can afford the routine ‘rookie mistake.’ Which is why I believe they should start dedicating some of those reps to rookie fifth-round pick DE Ronald Blair.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) June 8, 2016
Blair is the most versatile defensive player on the 49ers roster. He can two-gap, play the nose, and be used as a pass-rusher in a two-point stance from the outside linebacker position.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) October 18, 2016
We saw this throughout the preseason. Just go back to the Green Bay Packers game where the Appalachian State product was utilized in more ways than one.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) September 7, 2016
“He’s going to wear a lot of different hats for us,” 49ers DC Jim O’Neil told me back in late August.
Fast forward to today and that hasn’t been the case. According to NFL stats, Blair has only seen the field 14.5% of the time. That’s not an ideal sample size to pull from when evaluating your “players of the future.” Which is why I believe, the time is now to let the kid play!
The majority of Blair’s snaps have came at defensive end.
“Most of my snaps in practice have came at defensive end as a three or four-technique,” Blair told me. I then asked Blair if he’s been used as a standing pass-rusher and nose tackle and Blair responded, “Yeah, but not much, mostly of my snaps are at d-end.”
That position is currently locked down by DE DeForest Buckner and DE Arik Armstead and I highly doubt that will change anytime soon since both are first-round picks.
But forget about the team’s 3-4 base defense, what about Blair being used in sub-packages? After all, the 49ers have been struggling in this department from a pass-rushing standpoint all season long…11.0 sacks will prove that.
Why not give those reps to Blair? He certainly displayed the strength, agility, and power to push the pocket in preseason play, while his knack for finding the football off the stack-and-shed is among the best on the team, yes even better than last year’s first-round pick (No. 17) DE Arik Armstead.
Last year, I said RG Andrew Tiller should be the staring right guard and we all know what happened there. This year, it’s Blair. He’s too good of a player to be watching from the sidelines. I asked 49ers DC Jim O’Neil if Blair would see a rise in playing time and coach said he would.
“He’s a guy that we might have to start getting involved some at outside backer [OLB]. So, you’re right on with that. He’s a guy that has shown a lot of versatility, has some playmaking ability, who can help us and we’ve got to use him that way.”
One week removed from playing the most snaps (34%) against the Arizona Cardinals, Blair played the least amount of snaps the following week against the Buffalo Bills (3%). So why was there a significant drop-off?
“The way that game [Bills] went, we ended up in a lot more base [3-4] than we did in some of our sub-packages,” Coach O’Neil told me.
So what should Forever Faithful expect from Blair in Week 7 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
Look for Blair to make the most of his opportunities, as the 49ers try to bolster their pass-rush on sub-packages. If Blair is going to see the field, it won’t be in base but instead as a pass-rush specialist in a two-point stance. I caught up with Blair in the locker room this afternoon and asked if Blair was seeing more snaps at outside linebacker.
“Yeah, today in practice. A little more than usual,” Blair told me.
And that should bode well for the 49ers pass-rush, as I predict Blair to rack up at least one sack, all while creating havoc at or near the line of scrimmage, as he goes up against the Bucs offensive line.