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49ers’ Buckner hungry for more QB sacks in 2018

SANTA CLARA — 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner looks back at last season and figures he should have had at least four more sacks, instances where he had an opportunity to bring the quarterback down but simply lost his grip.
Buckner in 2017 had an impressive 29 hurries and an NFL-best 19 hits on the quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus, but finished with just three sacks. The 49ers had 30 for the season, tied for 26th in the league.

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But at least two things are working in Buckner’s favor as he tries to increase his sack total in 2018: another year of experience in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme and a more-seasoned supporting cast around him.
“Pass rush-wise, it’s a unit,” Buckner said Tuesday after the 49ers went through their second day of OTAs. “Yeah, a guy wins his one-on-one, but like you saw last year, if I win my one-on-one on the inside, if the outside guy doesn’t contain the quarterback, he can just run to the outside and throw the ball away.
“You’ve got to rush as a unit. If one guy eats, everybody eats. So. it’s a unit thing.”
On base downs Tuesday, Buckner lined up as the 49ers’ left defensive tackle with Solomon Thomas to his left and Earl Mitchell and Arik Armstead to his right.

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It’s an intriguing group, with Thomas, Buckner and Armstead — the trio of recent first round draft picks looking to either improve or bounce back — plus the ever-steady Mitchell. The 49ers also have outside pass rushers Cassius Marsh and Jeremiah Attaochu as candidates to start, as well.
“Last year was a little struggle with me getting a lot of inside pressure and flushing the quarterback out,” Buckner said. “I think Cassius and Jerry and even Eli (Harold), all of those guys, Dekoda (Watson), they’re all stepping their game up this year. Having that outside presence will help guys like me, Arik and Solly inside to help turn those pressures into sacks.”
“Everybody improves with better play around them,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “As an inside guy, you can improve with outside edge rush. You can also improve with good corner play. You can improve with good hook players because as the quarterback, if no one is open, which gives you more of a second, more speed off the edge can give you more space against the guards.
“But, the better people get, the better our team gets overall, the better individuals get.”
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Another year under Saleh — who was calling plays for the first time last season — should help as well.
Saleh’s first priority last year when the 49ers switched from a 3-4 front to a 4-3 was to improve the rush defense, which allowed an NFL-worst  165.9 yards per game in 2016. San Francisco made strides, finishing 22nd with 116.3 yards allowed per game.
“I think he played in a 3-4, two-gap scheme a lot of his career,” Shanahan said. “Playing more one-gap last year. Hopefully his second year in that, you can think even less, and usually when people are thinking less, because it’s automatic, they know it, they start to play better.”
Now with a handful of projected starters back from last season, Buckner and the 49ers are hoping they can progress even further.
“It’s a lot easier,” Buckner said, adding that last year, “everything was different and everybody was still learning a lot of things. The guys that are still here can kind of pick up where we left off last year to get better and tune up all of the little details.”

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