Pair of Ducks making San Francisco 49ers fly
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The calling card for the San Francisco 49ers through their unbeaten first half of the season has been defense.
And the twin bill doing the most damage up front has a distinct green and yellow shade to it.
Former Oregon standouts DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead have been fortresses on a defensive line that is the equal of any in the NFL this season.
And they're having a blast doing it together.
"We've been playing together since college," Buckner said Thursday night, dressing next to Armstead after the 49ers' 28-25 victory over Arizona at State Farm Stadium. "The two of us being able to have an impact on the defensive line has been so much fun. It's great to see all the success going around."
"We've been grinding together for about eight years now," Armstead said. "To have someone go through experiences with you, to have someone there who understands your life and the ups and downs, and you're working together for a common goal — it's been great for both of us."
The 6-7, 300-pound Buckner, 25, ranks third on the 49ers in total tackles with 33, including four sacks and five tackles-for-loss.
The 6-8, 280-pound Armstead, who turns 26 on Nov. 15, is fourth on the team with 28 tackles, has 5.5 sacks and second with seven tackles-for-loss. Armstead sacked Kyle Allen twice last week in a 51-13 rout of Carolina.
Buckner is his fourth season with San Francisco, all as a starter. He was named to the NFL All-Rookie team in 2016 and to the Pro Bowl last year.
Armstead is in his fifth season with the 49ers, his second as a full-time starter. Pro Football Focus rated him as the NFL's top edge run defender through week eight of the season.
"Arik has always had work ethic, he's always had a tremendous mind-set," San Francisco D-coordinator Robert Saleh told PFF. "He's playing exactly the way he's being asked to play and he's showing his dominance and he's only going to get better."
Buckner's early NFL career has been even more distinguished.
"Buck is filling up the stat sheet," Saleh said. "He is playing his tail off, and he's going to have his days where he goes off. He is one of the better interior defensive linemen in football. He is one of our better football players, if not our best player. He is everything you want out of a professional."
Saleh moves both Buckner and Armstead around on San Francisco's four-man front, though Buckner is usually on the inside. With their height, both look lean, and they cover a lot of territory.
One of the great stories in the NFL year has been the turnaround of the 49ers, who haven't had a winning season or made the playoffs since 2013. They were 4-12 last season and 12-36 the past three years, including 2-14 under Chip Kelly in 2016.
"It's been a lot of fun getting to 8-0," Buckner said. "(Coach Kyle) Shanahan and (general manager John) Lynch have done an amazing job putting it together the last couple of years. The talent we got, the guys we have in the locker room — it's been great to see it all coming together."
Said Armstead: "To be winning like this after the adversity we went through the previous years? It makes it that much sweeter after going through those hard times."
"We weren't finding ways to win games in the past," Armstead said. "We are now. We've added some pieces, and we have a complete team."
It looked like it might have happened a year ago, had not quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo torn an ACL in the third game and been lost for the season.
"We would have won a lot more with Jimmy, but we're looking at 2019," Armstead said. "All we can control is what we do this year."
The former Ducks kept a close eye on their college program.
"I watch all the games when I can," Armstead said. "They've really built things back up this year."
"I've been following them closely," Buckner said. "Mario Cristobal is a great recruiter and a great coach. I like the team he's been putting together. They should have beaten Auburn, but it's been fun to see the success they've had since then."
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