» Buckner was prepared for the possibility of being traded, and is ecstatic about his new destination: The 49ers have featured a wealth of talent along their defensive line the last few seasons; eventually that leads to some tough decisions that have to be made. Case in point: on Monday, San Francisco announced it had signed defensive end Arik Armstead to a contract extension; shortly thereafter, news of Buckner’s trade started making the rounds on social media.
Buckner said his agent had been keeping him in the loop the last few days leading up to the trade, and although he was naturally upset to be leaving a quality franchise like the 49ers that took a chance on him with the seventh-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, he was equally as excited to be joining another quality franchise like the Colts that by all accounts is on the up-and-up.
“I mean you can see the team that Chris Ballard has put together over the years. It’s a really special team,” Buckner said. “They have a lot of young talent and a lot of good key guys on all phases of the ball. Being able to be an addition, it’s kind of a win-now mentality, you know what I mean?
“So I am excited moving forward and just ready to get things rolling.”
» Buckner is bringing a championship mentality to the Colts’ defense: The 49ers were able to put it all together in 2019, advancing all the way to Super Bowl LIV, where they fell to the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-20.
For his part, Buckner shined under the brightest of lights, finishing that game with six tackles (one for a loss), 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits.
But most of all, Buckner’s experience in San Francisco taught him what it takes to build a top-ranked defensive unit from the bottom up. In fact, the 49ers averaged just four wins a year in Buckner’s first three seasons before making a huge jump to a 13-3 record in 2019.
Buckner said he isn’t easy on himself, and those expectations are passed on to his teammates, whether it’s on Sundays or on the practice field — which has to be music to the ears of Colts general manager Chris Ballard, who has spoke on the need to have more healthy “friction” between teammates on several occasions already this offseason.
“It all started with one, trust – being able to trust one another on the field, knowing that whoever it is they are going to do their job,” Buckner said of how the 49ers were able to build their defense over time. “All you’ve got to do is make sure you do your job and the guy next to you will do his. So just having that trust among each other and at the same time we always preached from OTAs when (Kris) Kocurek got in, it all starts upfront. Obviously, we brought in some key guys with Nick (Bosa) and Dee (Ford) and all them – and obviously Kwon (Alexander). We just believed in one another and we told each other, ‘It starts upfront.’ Everything is won and lost in the trenches whether it’s on offense or defense. So we just had to bring that mentality of playing championship defense and that was the mentality from day one.
“It all starts in practice,” Buckner continued. “I practice how I want to play in the game, whether it’ll piss somebody off I’m just trying to perfect my craft (laughs). Every day I approach the game where if I’m not getting better I’m getting worse.”
» The Colts wanted a dominant three technique up front; Buckner feels he’s the man for the job: Ballard said in early-January at his end-of-season press conference that “the three technique drives this thing,” referring to the need in the Colts’ 4-3 defensive scheme to have an athletic freak at defensive tackle who is dominant at both rushing the passer and stopping the run.
Those guys don’t exactly grow on trees, and when they do become available, you stop at nothing to try to acquire them — which, in this case, led to the Colts giving up a very valuable commodity, the 13th-overall pick in this year’s draft, to get someone they believe has been that type of player in his first four years in the league, and can only get better from here.
Buckner wasn’t gloating when asked what he brings to the table on Wednesday, but said matter-of-factly: “I mean, obviously they’re looking for a three technique, and I think I’m one of the best in the league.”
“I can stop the run, rush the passer, obviously I’m taller but I play with leverage. I have a lot power,” Buckner continued. “My length obviously helps me a lot with trucking down whether it’s a running back or a quarterback on the run and obviously if I can’t get to the quarterback then trying to disrupt the passing lanes with my length. Just little things like that.”
» Buckner already has a couple new defensive teammates he’s going to connect with as soon as possible: Buckner played his first and only season last year with pass-rushing stud Dee Ford, who spent the first five seasons of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs before being traded to the 49ers last March.
Ford got close in Kansas City with fellow pass rusher Justin Houston; Houston, too, was on the move last offseason, signing a two-year free agent deal with the Colts.
Buckner said he can’t wait to start picking up a thing or two from the veteran Houston.
“We’ve got a lot of great veterans like Justin Houston,” Buckner said of the Indy defense. “I am excited to get to work with Justin. Dee Ford has told me nothing but amazing things about him so I am ready to pick his brain a little bit.”
Another younger player on the Colts’ defense Buckner said he can’t wait to connect with? Darius Leonard, who in his first two years in the NFL has been selected First-Team All-Pro (2018) and Second-Team All-Pro, and already has made an impression on the newest member of the Indy defense.
“I mean, watching film – sometimes we watch film on Indy and you see that guy flying around everywhere,” Buckner said. “So I am excited to have a linebacker like him behind me. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”