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San Francisco 49ers

Less-is-more approach would benefit DeForest Buckner in long run

San Francisco 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner (99) celebrates after sacking New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The San Francisco 49ers rode rookie defensive tackle DeForest Buckner into the ground last season. New defensive coordinator Robert Saleh wasn’t afraid to lambast last year’s player management, especially when it came to Buckner, and he assured fans things would be run much differently in the 2017 season.

“When you look at a guy like Buckner last year having played almost 1,000 snaps — in my mind, that’s criminal,” Saleh told the Sacramento Bee. “Ideally, all of them are working about 500, 600 snaps and trying to utilize everything they’ve got every snap that they’re on the football field.”

A simple look at last year’s statistics will show the woeful inefficiency of the 49ers defense, particularly on the defensive front.

They were the worst team in the NFL against the run. Buckner, the No. 7 overall draft pick out of Oregon, admitted he stayed on the field on many drives when he was too tired to help the team out. In some case, he actually felt like he was more of a detriment to the team by staying on the field.

That’s never a good sign for an organization that invests millions of dollars into its players.

“There were times out there last year where I was dead tired and they wouldn’t take me out,” said Bucker, via the Sac Bee. “I feel like I’m hurting the team more staying out there not being able to, you know, live up to my full potential when I’m out there. And if I’m going hard and the coach pulls me out for a play or two to catch my breath so I can get back out there and be more efficient, I’ll definitely take that.”

The 49ers should consider themselves fortunate that Buckner didn’t suffer any type of serious injury last season from being overworked. Players obviously perform at a higher level on fresh legs. It’s ideal to have some form of rotation in place where guys get an opportunity to take plays off and catch their breath.

That wasn’t necessarily easy to do with the 49ers dealing with significant injuries along the defensive front during the 2016 season. Arik Armstead spent half of the season on injured reserve, and Glenn Dorsey missed most of the year with a knee injury and never looked the same when he returned.

So the 49ers turned to Buckner to be the workhorse.

That should change in 2017 with Armstead finally healthy and the offseason additions of veteran defensive tackle Elvis Dumervil and rookies Solomon Thomas, D.J. Jones and Pita Taumoepenu. A rested and more energetic Buckner is exactly what the 49ers need to turn things around.

Honestly, it couldn’t get any worse.

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