49ers: Has Defensive Linemen Ronald Blair Been Underutilized?

Has San Francisco 49ers’ defensive linemen Ronald Blair, who stands at 6’2″ and weighs 270 pounds, been underutilized in DC Jim O’Neil’s defense? Here at Niners Live, we had to ask the question that all fans want to know: Why hasn’t Ronald Blair been utilized more? 

 

 

Niners Live continues its series of players not being utilized properly or effectively on offense and defense. Next up is Mr. Blair. Ronald Blair was drafted out of Appalachian State with the 142nd overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. Before we get into some scouting reports, breakdowns of his skill sets, attributes, and why he’s not being utilized, let’s recap some highlights on what he does well, shall we? Ok, let’s.

 

 

Next, the scouting reports? Via the team’s website

Blair won the Sun Belt Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2015, finishing his career with 70 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock had the 6-foot-2, 284-pound defensive lineman as a third-round prospect.

For more on Blair, take a look at NFL.com’s analysis:

“Flashes some polish in his game. Comes out of track stance and fires into blockers with knee bend and good pad level. Uses leverage and tremendous power at the point of attack to rock offensive linemen who let their pads get too high. Able to set a strong edge. Attacks and stresses the seam of double team blocks with power in his legs. His coaches rave about his leadership and work in the film room. Good lateral quickness with his feet and is very effective as a pass rusher in twists up front. Accelerates down the line to squeeze cutback lanes against the run. Bodies up and drives his legs through his tackles making sure running backs feel it. Has effective arm-­over as his go-­to move. Good length with big hands for his size. Can generate a quality bull rush.”

SEP 22 2012: Keon Williams (22) of the Chattanooga Mocs is tackled by Joel Ross (26) and Ronald Blair (49) of the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga TN.Appalachian State Mountaineers defeated Chattanooga Mocs 34 to 17 Photographer: David Scearce /Icon Sportswire

What does he do best? Here’s what Pro Football Focus had to say:
• Two years of production — top-six pass rush grade in both 2014 and 2015, graded above big name players including Henry Anderson and Grady Jarrett in 2014
• Wins inside and outside, not much bull rush – 52 percent of pressures came to outside, swim is go-to move.
• Maintains low pad level when setting the edge. Long arms, doesn’t always use length but very effective when he does
• Position-high run stop percentage at 13.8; 50 defensive stops were most of any edge or defensive lineman in the class

Position fit:
4-3 defensive end, 3-4 defensive end. Played inside on passing downs at times at App State

Stats to know:
• 13th overall grade in this class of 3-4 defensive ends and interior linemen; 27th in run defense
• Sixth-ranked pass rush grade (+24.9) with 8 sacks, 6 hits, 23 hurries
• No. 4 pass rush productivity rating in the class (10.2)
• Second-highest bench press among DL at combine with 32
• Just two penalties in more than 1,200 combined snaps over last two seasons

What’s that?

What does defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil think of Blair and his skill set? Here’s what O’Neil had to say before the season started, via the team’s website. 

“Doesn’t matter what group he plays with. He finds a way to make plays. He’s very different than anything else we have in that defensive line room. He’s a good change-up for us. I’ve been very impressed with him.”

“His ability to get off the ball, slip blocks, use his hands, pass rush. He’s different,” O’Neil continued. “He’s not that 320-pound man that’s going to knock you back at the line of scrimmage like some of the other guys are built. He’s more of a single-gap penetrator who can make some plays in the backfield. So, he’ll do well for us.”

“We’re playing him everywhere right now,” O’Neil explained. “We’re trying to find that out. He’s playing some on the edge. He’s playing some inside. He took a couple snaps yesterday at nose. But, he can be a problem athletically for guards and centers, just with his skill set. So, that’s something we’re going to work through in the preseason and try to find out where he can best help us along the front.”

“He’s got really long arms. He’s a lot stronger than you think,” O’Neil said. “It’s not like he’s small, but he’s just got a different skill set. He’s got a knack to just, what we call, to find the soft shoulder in pass game. He does a great job attacking the soft shoulder, getting skinny in some pretty tight spaces and he can make plays. Some of that stuff you can’t coach and you don’t want to make the mistake of coaching it out of him.

“Just because he’s not built like Quinton Dial, you don’t want to say, ‘You have to do it this way.’ I don’t think good coaches do that and I think (defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro) Azz has done a great job with him, letting him and allowing him to take advantage of the tools he has and let him make plays.”

Important to note: Blair has appeared in nine games, totaling five tackles and 0.5 sacks. His snap count? 121 total snaps, run 28, pass rush 89, and four in coverage. 

Allow me to leave you with this: 

O’Neil mentions he just makes plays, he’s a penetrator, his quickness is a problem for guards to handle, he can get skinny and make plays in tight space, and he’s stronger than you think. He’s different than anything we have on our depth chart and roster, so then why haven’t we seen a better utilization of Blair’s skill set and abilities? Good question. Could it be that O’Neil doesn’t truly even know yet how to fully use Blair’s skill set and incorporate what he does very well into his scheme? And, therefore, putting him into position to maximize his talent level for the benefit of the player’s individual growth and the success of the overall defense and team? Easier said than done, right? Right. However, consider this: a coach’s job is to put his players in position to make plays and alter his scheme to fit the player’s strengths to maximize what he does well while working on his weakness. They call it coaching up and developing your players.

Bonus Niners Live Notes: We knew you were going to ask that question: Does O’Neil have a track record in developing young talent from college to the pros? Especially defensive linemen? What do you think the answer is? O’Neil must, by hook or crook, play Blair more snaps and give him what we call at Niners Live the “Blair Package,” allowing him to use his quickness to create penetration in the backfield while being disruptive on running plays and obvious passing downs while in hot pursuit of the quarterback. At 1-8 and 0-4 on the road, what are you saving his much to be desired reps for? This Ronald Blair situation has been a hot topic of discussion for the last month or so amongst the 49er fan community and Niners Live wanted to finally take the time to address it on behalf of the 49er faithful, the best fans in sports. Remember: “Eyes wide open.”

All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus,49ers.com, ESPN.com , NFL.com unless otherwise indicated.