SAN JOSE — DeForest Buckner is intent on turning “almosts” into sacks this season.
The 49ers defensive tackle led the NFL with 19 quarterback hits last year, according to Pro Football Focus. His three sacks in 2017, however, tied for 114th best and were three fewer than he had as a rookie in 2016.
“If I had that extra step, it definitely could have been 19 sacks or something,” Buckner said Wednesday at a San Jose event to celebrate the area’s upcoming college football national championship game. The game will be played at Levi’s Stadium on Jan. 7, 2019, with a host of concerts and other events in downtown San Jose in the days prior expected to attract as many as 100,000 fans.
The 49ers will begin their offseason program on Monday, although Buckner and a number of teammates have been getting a jump on the strength and conditioning drills that await them.
He said he’s been working alongside fellow defensive linemen Ronald Blair and Eli Harold, as well as offensive lineman Erik Magnuson — “Some shadowing stuff,” he said of the work he does with Magnuson — over the past few weeks.
“So we’re all not dying come week one with Ray Wright,” he said of the team’s strength coach.
As for turning near-misses into sacks, Buckner said he’ll be concentrating on his footwork and lower-body strength during the offseason.
“I had too many ‘almosts,’ you know?” he said. “And I’m really trying to find that extra step in my game.”
The 49ers’ front office and coaching staff also will be doing their part.
The team added edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu in free agency and extended the contract of another defensive end, Cassius Marsh.
General manager John Lynch also has said that Harold, who played outside linebacker on base downs last season, would get more of an opportunity to rush the quarterback this offseason.
The idea is that better pressure from the edges will force opposing quarterbacks to step up into the pocket and thus into the up-the-middle rush provided by Buckner and fellow former first-round draft pick Solomon Thomas.
The 49ers also have been taking a close look at the pass rushers available in the upcoming draft. That includes a Wednesday workout in Louisiana with LSU pass rusher Arden Key. The team also has conducted workouts with University of Texas-San Antonio pass rusher Marcus Davenport and Florida State defensive end Josh Sweat.
All of them are considered first- or second-day selections.