San Francisco 49ers

49ers notes: Defense needs a better edge for next season

DeForest Buckner has only three sacks this season. But the 49ers feel he’s been plenty productive at his current position.
DeForest Buckner has only three sacks this season. But the 49ers feel he’s been plenty productive at his current position.

When the 49ers begin filling out their offseason to-do list, they might want to consider the following: The Jacksonville Jaguars’ two starting defensive ends have combined for 25 1/2 sacks this season; San Francisco’s entire defense has 26.

One of those defensive ends is familiar to the 49ers. Long-time Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell signed a four-year, $60 million free-agent deal with the Jaguars in March. In nine seasons with the Cardinals, the 6-foot-8, 300-pound Campbell, 31, mostly was used as an inside lineman tasked with protecting two gaps in the defense.

The Jaguars line him up at the so-called “big end” position where he can be a little more aggressive. The result: He has 14 1/2 sacks, second best in the NFL this year. The most he’s had in any previous season is nine and he’s headed for the Pro Bowl for the third time in his career.

“Having him over the tight end a lot – it wasn’t totally what I was expecting and then you turn on the tape and you see why,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s been a very good player there and they can move him around and put him wherever they need be in nickel.”

San Francisco’s starting defensive ends, Solomon Thomas and Tank Carradine, have combined for 3 1/2 sacks this season. Both have missed multiple games with injuries but the 49ers generally have had a hard time generating pressure off their edges no matter who’s been in the lineup.

They have a similarly built player to Campbell in DeForest Buckner, and they use the same scheme as the Jaguars, who have the top-ranked defense in the league this year.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said coaches initially discussed playing Buckner at “big end,“ but thought he would be most valuable at defensive tackle or three-technique, which is at the heart of the defense and a spot where Buckner can be most disruptive.

Saleh called Buckner “dominant” at that position. He has three sacks on the season after finishing last year with six. Saleh said if it wasn’t for bad luck – penalties, for example – Buckner would have six or seven sacks.

“We’ll always evaluate,” Saleh said of the defensive-line rotation. “But if I were a betting man, I’d say that Buck is a dominant three-technique and it will be really hard to move him at this point. I mean, he lives in people’s backfields, he dominates in the run game.”

Buckner missed Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices with an ankle injury, though the team seemed optimistic he’d be available Sunday.

Jacksonville’s other defensive end, the so-called “Leo,” is second-year player Yannick Ngakoue. He has 11 sacks and will mostly line up against veteran tackle Joe Staley on Sunday.

“(His) speed is super-unique and he also has power,” Staley said. “He creates a challenge.”

Special delivery – Jimmy Garoppolo was voted the FedEx Air Player of the Week for his 381-yard game against the Titans. With the win, $2,000 will be given to the United Service Organizations in Garoppolo’s name.

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley was the Ground Player of the Week after he rushed for 152 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams’ 42-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

The Rams and 49ers will meet in Los Angeles in the teams’ Week 17 regular-season finale.

Injuries – Receivers Trent Taylor (shoulder) and Aldrick Robinson (wrist, concussion) were out of their blue, no-contact jerseys for Thursday’s practice. Starting receiver Marquise Goodwin was back in Santa Clara after missing Wednesday’s practice for a personal matter.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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