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Today, new San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil spoke to the media for the first time. It was the first time that the media had an opportunity to ask him about the team's plans for the defense.
"The thing that is great about this system, and I think the reason it's had so much success in the league, is it's built to fit the skillsets of the players. We don't force the players to fit the scheme. That's what we want to be and I like what I see so far," said O'Neil when asked what to expect from the defense this season. "I think that our mantra right now is we are going to stop the run on early downs and then we want to confuse and hit your quarterback."
RELATED Transcript: Jim O'Neil talks Jimmie Ward, ILB competition, more
The 49ers managed just 28 sacks as a team last season, ranking 29th in the NFL. O'Neil stated that pressuring the quarterback is going to be a big part of this defense. The defense they are running has been able to get pressure on the quarterback with just three or four pass rushers. However, that may not always be successful. "And then, when we haven't had a great pass rush, that's when you pressure and you blitz more. So, we're going to find ways to get after the quarterback, whether it's three, four, five, six, seven guys if we have to, because if you let quarterbacks be comfortable in the pocket, it's hard to win," said O'Neil.
O'Neil also identified DB Jimmie Ward as one of the defense's top 11 players. "We don't know what Jimmie is going to be right now. I know he's one of our best 11. That I do know. So, we're trying to find ways to get our best 11 on the field," said O'Neil. "So far, what he has shown out on the practice field, I'm confident that he could do it out there. So, he'll continue to be out there this week."
Ward was a first-round selection by the 49ers in 2014. He started eight games for the team last season.
O'Neil also stated that the ILB position next to NaVorro Bowman is currently a three-man race. He identified Ray-Ray Armstrong, Michael Wilhoite, and Gerald Hodges as the competitors. The 49ers have nine OTAs and O'Neil stated that each would get three starts. However, the coaching staff won't be able to make a decision until the players are allowed to put pads on. "I'm very comfortable with any one of those guys and if all three of them deserve to play, then they all will play," said O'Neil.
What does O'Neil like about Armstrong? "He's smart, athletic ability, he's tough, competitive. He's done a great job learning the scheme. He can blitz. So, there's not a lot to not like about him. I'm very excited about him," answered O'Neil.
The 49ers originally claimed Armstrong off of waivers from the Oakland Raiders back in November. They extended his contract in March.