Former Oregon stars Buckner, Armstead in hands of familiar 'Coach Azz' for 49ers
Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner checks off plenty of boxes for the 49ers including size, need, production and familiarity. Here's one more: stamina. Per Pro Football Focus, Buckner's 951 snaps last season were the most in the nation by an interior defensive lineman.
Buckner said he platooned in and out of games early on at Oregon. Last year, however, was different.
"After losing some veterans this year, my coach -- we had a bunch of young guys on the d-line -- so my coach didn’t really have the trust that he had with the guys before," Buckner said. "So this year he kept me in a lot more and I got a lot more snaps.”
That caught Trent Baalke's eye as well. "You look at most of these guys coming out, d-linemen, they play 50, 60 percent of the snaps," the 49ers general manager said. "DeForest the last two years has played plus-80 (percent)."
That statistic, of course, is a big deal on a Chip Kelly-led team. Because his offenses are so fast-paced, his defenses tend to be on the field more than an average team's. The Eagles, for instance, led the league in defensive snaps in each of the last three seasons, and some players griped that it was the reason why Philadelphia's defenses slumped late in the season.
Buckner says he's used to that kind of pressure.
“Yeah, definitely at times it kind of hurt us on our defense because they were scoring so fast and we just get right back on the field," he said. "But, you know, that’s why we practice against them every day, to get our conditioning up and everything and be in shape.”
The scouting report on guard Joshua Garnett is that he's excellent as a run blocker and would be a perfect fit for a power-blocking team. In that way, a number of observers were puzzled that the 49ers, who will be a zone blocking, not power-blocking, team this year, traded ahead nine spots to grab Garnett.
To the 49ers, however, Garnett was worth the expense -- the 49ers gave up second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks to get him and a seventh rounder -- because they want to run the ball. In fact, Kelly sounded a lot like previous 49ers head coaches when it comes to football philosophy.
"I think we’ve finished first, eighth and 14th in the last three years in the league running the football when I was in Philadelphia," he said. "We’re going to continue to do that. When you have someone like Carlos Hyde in the backfield, I think that’s what we want here. We’re going to play great defense and we’re going to be really good at running the football."
By trading ahead to get Garnett, the 49ers jumped in front of the Seattle Seahawks, who had a big need along the offensive line and who have not been shy about taking Stanford products in the past. Were the 49ers nervous about seeing Garnett on a division rival?
“Well, I don’t know fearful for facing him twice a year," Baalke said. "We looked at the next seven, eight picks and who was sitting there and their needs and for us, it just, you know, why not? We like the guy, we like him a lot. We have that kind of value placed on him. Let’s go get him and let’s not sweat it out over the next seven picks.”
Of the 23 draft picks Kelly has been a part of since entering the NFL in 2013, 11 have played in the Pac-12. In fact, he recruited both Buckner and Garnett to play at Oregon. Former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh never drafted one of his former Stanford pupils. Kelly now has taken three Ducks: Buckner, wide receiver Josh Huff (3rd round, 2014) and defensive end Taylor Hart (5th round, 2014).
There's no question that a guard drafted in the first round -- especially one for one so much capital was expended -- is expected to start in Year 1. But where will Garnett line up? My initial thought was that, because of his strength as a run blocker and his lack of speed (5.32-second 40-yard dash), he would play next to Trent Brown on the right side. Teams typically put their muscle on that side of the line. Others note, however, that it may be wiser to pair a rookie with a multi-year veteran like left tackle Joe Staley. The 49ers, for example, put Mike Iupati on the left side in 2010 when Iupati was a rookie. And Garnett played left guard exclusively last season. Either way, the 49ers offensive line already seems much better than it did a year ago.