49ers rookie Buckner becoming bright spot in lost season
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Not much has gone right for the 49ers during their second straight woebegone season.
San Francisco (1-12) is mired in the longest losing streak in team history. The defense ranks last in most key statistics.
Then there's rookie defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, who has been a rare bright spot.
Buckner, the seventh-overall pick in this year's draft, has lived up to his billing. He's coming off his best performance of the season in the overtime loss to the Jets, when he had two sacks, 11 tackles and four quarterback hits. He tied for the team lead for the season with five sacks.
The rookie's value lies in both his production and availability. His 65 tackles are second among NFL defensive linemen, while he leads the league in snaps played at his position.
''It's awesome, isn't it? It's so awesome. He wants to be out there,'' 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said.
Buckner's listed at 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, making his stamina and athleticism all the more impressive, and a leading reason why he was a coveted prospect.
''It's very rare for a guy that's that big and the amount of energy it takes to defeat offensive linemen in the run game and pass game, and (the way) he's able to be out there for 84 plays is rare,'' said O'Neil.
Buckner's used to playing a lot opposite a no-huddle offense. He was recruited by 49ers head coach Chip Kelly back at Oregon and regularly played 80 to 90 snaps as a senior when he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year in 2015.
''He plays with such great effort and such a great motor and just loves playing football,'' Kelly said. ''I think he's been trained for this. I know the background that he came from. I think he's trained to play with great effort. I thought he was trained to understand what it takes. So, I think that's a benefit of getting a kid from where we got him from.''
The play of Buckner's supporting cast hasn't been nearly as encouraging. San Francisco's last-ranked defense has been decimated by injuries, losing six starters for the season, including Buckner's former college teammate and fellow first-round pick Arik Armstead.
The biggest loss has been four-time All-Pro NaVorro Bowman, who was lost for the year Oct. 2 with a torn Achilles. Bowman returned to the team's facility in recent weeks to start his rehab, which has gotten positive reviews.
''It's good to see (Bowman) around here,'' Kelly said. ''I think he's helped just kind of getting another set of eyes here. But, it's good to see him up moving around. Those guys say he's attacking rehab and are excited about the direction that he's headed in.''
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