Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers


DeMeco Ryans talks 49ers defensive philosophy, moving up the coaching ranks

Jun 2, 2021 at 5:11 PM--


San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans spoke with reporters today, during the second week of organized team activities. Here is everything he had to say.

Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers Communications staff.

This is the first time I think we've had the opportunity to talk to you since you were named defensive coordinator. Can you just kind of take us through what your defensive philosophy is and what are going to be your main coaching points and what you want to instill in your guys as far as when they get out there on the field and execute your game plan?

"Oh yes. Our defense will be a fast, attacking, aggressive defense. I want guys to play fast. I want guys who are smart. I want guys who are going to play physical. That's one thing for me is just growing up, watching the 49ers play defense. The defense has always stood out here. This has been a defensive organization. They played great defense in the past, and we just want to continue that tradition of playing aggressive defense. And we want guys to be precise with what they're doing. We want guys that know the details of their job, be able to be on their fundamentals because at this league where we are right now, everyone is good, but you separate yourself when you focus in on the small, minor details and you hone in on the fundamentals of your job. And when you're doing that, you're executing your fundamentals at a high level, we're going to be a really great defense."

I believe it was about four years ago when you kind of came here as what a quality control coach. Did you figure that you would be able to rise up to the defensive coordinator level this quickly? And how prepared do you feel like you are for it?

"Yes, it's been a progression since I first came here, you know, in 2017, just being under coach [head coach Kyle] Shanahan, just learning the system under coach [New York Jets head coach Robert] Saleh, all the guys here and just the coaching staff we've had, I was just able to sit back and absorb and learn a lot from a lot of talented, great coaches. So my progression as a coach, it's really, it's been a smooth transition, it's been a smooth progression. Yes, it is something that I've always been preparing for and I've always wanted to get into coaching. I always love and seeing the effect that coaches have had on my life growing up and coaches have been really important and integral in me and instilling a lot of things in me, not only football, but as far as things pertaining to life outside of football. So I've just always seen that as a way for me to reach back and be able to help players and being in their shoes before I feel like it's been a natural transition to me, and it's been easy to relate to our players and help them not only on the field, but off the field as well."

We heard your predecessor there, Robert Saleh, say there was a couple of things just adjustments for him taking over as the head coach and going to the defensive side and not be with the whole team. What has the adjustment been like? What have been some of the things that maybe jumped out to you with working with a whole defensive instead of just a position group?

"Yeah, it's a lot of big picture things. Now just having my eyes on, you know, D-Line linebackers and the secondary, just being able to interact with all of the guys a lot more than I have been able to in the past where I'm not just focused on the linebackers, when I'm able to, you know, get to know the guys on the D-Line better, get to know the secondary guys better and just making sure we all gel together as a tight-knit group, as a brotherhood. And I think that's really the big picture thing is just dealing with all of the guys, all the different personalities, just being able to manage that. And it's been going really well."

You mentioned that some other coaches have helped you develop outside the field as well. Who are those coaches and what were the most important things that they said to you and how does that affect how you are as a coach?

"Yeah, I think thank you for that as well. But you know, I think one of the main coaches, a guy who is here with me now is coach [linebackers coach] Johnny Holland, a coach I've had as a rookie coming into the National Football League and just seeing the way he carries himself as a coach and off the field, it's just not a better mentor to have than coach Johnny Holland. He's meant a lot to me professionally in my football career, but also just off the field when it comes to just players coming in young, just how to handle money. How do you handle relationships and family? Those are things that kind of get overlooked and everyone is focused on football, but Johnny has taught me how to manage both and you can teach both in a football setting. So that is the one coach I've had who's been very instrumental in my life."

As a player, you always have to prove yourself. And I'm sure you feel like you have to prove yourself now, you know, as mentioned you were just a quality control coach a second ago. Do you feel, I don't know if it's good pressure or whatever, but do you feel some sort of pressure and if so, is it kind of different from what the way that emotion was as a player?

"No, thank you. It's I think when it comes to pressure, it's all about just your preparation and what have you done to prepare? Is there pressures like playing, like you get those butterflies before you run out of the tunnel, but is there pressure? There's no pressure, but it's just, have you prepared yourself for the moment? I think for me, it's just putting in the work now in the offseason, putting into work during the season, you just put the work in to put yourself in a position to where you feel as prepared as possible for each week."

How do you balance retaining the things that made the 49ers defense successful over the last several years under Robert Saleh, but also incorporating your own style and your own way of doing things?

"Oh yeah. Thank you. For me, I am my own person and Saleh has taught me a lot. He's taught me, probably one of the coaches who has taught me the most football that I've been around. He's been very integral to my development as a coach and I can't thank him enough for all of the things that he's instilled in me. And so there will be some of the similar, you know, scheme things that we've done in the past where you will see some similarities there, but you will see some wrinkles. You will see some wrinkles, you will see my brand of football on it. Like I talked about earlier, I want to be known as an attacking defensive line. Our D-Line is going to attack. Our linebackers and secondary, they're going to play with base fundamentals. We're going to play off our defensive line. We're going to let our D-Line just get off the ball and attack, and we're going to clean up things behind them, but we will be a more, I feel like aggressive, attacking defense."

Along those lines, you have some experience in the secondary. I think CB Jason Verrett, CB K'Waun Williams, S Jaquiski Tartt, all those guys will be 30 by the time the season starts. Does that give you a little bit more leeway, a little bit more ability to be variable and to kind of mix things up, specifically that secondary group?

"It was very comforting and I was very excited when we were able to sign back Verrett, sign back [CB Emmanuel Moseley] E-Man, sign back K'Waun Williams, getting Tartt back, you know, [DB] Jimmie ward, all those guys who have been here, played under our scheme in the previous years. So it was very comforting to have those guys who you know are veteran guys who can handle a lot of things that we throw at them. And those guys have been awesome. And I just love them, not only as players, but the way they've been taking the younger guys under their wings. I think that's the advantage you have when you get good veteran players who are not selfish and all about themselves, but they've done a good job of coaching the younger guys, helping the younger guys as much as they can. So I'm thrilled to have all those guys in the secondary and excited to work with them."

What do you anticipate will be the biggest challenge you'll face as a first-year defensive coordinator?

"Well, I think there's different challenges every week. Depending on the opponent you're facing, we'll handle those challenges when they come. But when it comes to game planning and calling plays, last year I kind of took on that role of more of a big-picture type role, kind of putting myself in those positions of what would I have called here? What would I have done different here? So, as I talked about earlier, it's just that preparation and putting yourself in those positions now to be different because this would be my first time doing it live. But I think, again, it's all about, you know, it's all about your preparation."

How is DT Javon Kinlaw looking now heading into year two?

"Kinlaw is looking, he's looking awesome. I think it's really vital for him to really have these OTAs. And it's been great that all our guys have showed up and we've been able to practice and Kinlaw was able to really hone in and focus on his techniques, which he missed. You know, coming in as a rookie, OTAs are very, very important. And for him to miss that time last year, I think this has been, he's going to take a huge jump this year. Just we're able to slow things down and really emphasize foot work, hand placement and technique, eyes. And he's been doing an awesome job. I mean, I can already see how much better he's gotten in the couple of weeks that we've been together."

Before I ask my question, on our little chat here, everybody wants to know if you're going to be upstairs or on the field?

"I'll be on the field."

And so for a guy who played 10 years, and you're just, you know, you're a player in 2015, I'm sure you had your idea of what a defensive coordinator should be and the kind of defensive coordinator you wanted to play under. How much now as the defensive coordinator do you balance what the players like to do as opposed to just what's smart football?

"I think there is a healthy balance, but at the end of the day, it's all about the players. For me, it's all about the players and what can they do? Not only what can they do, but what can they excel at a very high level to where they're not overthinking things. They're able to have their cleats in the ground, so to speak, and ready to play as fast as possible. And that's one thing that I've learned is just going through playing and coaching for the past couple of years, if no matter what I know what I want to do, it's all about what the players can absorb and what can they go out and execute on the field."

Since you've been hired, what's the best piece of advice you've been given? And also, maybe you don't know the answer to this, but Saleh was known for kind of freaking out, you know, after good plays and be super intense on the field. Is that what you imagine is going to be your sideline demeanor or who knows? Do you have to wait and see?

"Yeah, we'll have to wait and see on that. Just naturally as a competitor, like my guys making a play, I'm going to be excited. I'm going to be enthusiastic about that play. That's just who I am as a person. And that's why I encourage my guys to be as well, be enthusiastic when your teammate makes a play, you should be fired up and excited for him. And for me as a coach, it won't change. Like when I see a player make a play, no matter who it is, I'm going to be fired up for that player because I'm so happy that he was able to execute and make a big play."

Obviously within the division, there are three pretty good quarterbacks at least, I guess you could say that, but in terms of just how you evaluate everybody that you're going to go against in the NFC West, what stands out to you about the quarterbacks you're going to face and how big of a challenge is that going to be, especially for a first-year guy?

"Yeah. I think when you look at the quarterbacks in our division, first starting at Seattle with [Seattle Seahawks QB] Russell Wilson, just seeing him over the years, he is a true competitor. He's going to keep his team in the game. He's able to make plays not only with his arm, but also with his legs. He is a competitor. So it's someone we've went against in the past and have a history with. He's gotten us a couple of times, we've gotten him, but we kind of know him, but you know it's always going to be close there with Russell because of the competitor that he is. Then you go down to L.A. with the addition of [Los Angeles Rams QB] Matt Stafford. I think it was a really great addition for them and their office and the things that Stafford has been able to do throughout his career, he's really been a top quarterback in his league when it comes to the fourth quarter comebacks, which he's very known for. But, he provides leadership to that offense and he's going to be a playmaker for them. So he'll present a lot of challenges, whether it's calling it at the line of scrimmage, whether he gets more leeway with that, we'll see. But we'll see how their offense comes along with him, a few unknowns there, but kind of waiting to see. And then you go down to Arizona and [Arizona Cardinals QB] Kyler Murray is a fantastic young player, dynamic player who is electric when he's running with the ball, has a big arm to sling it across the field as well. So we know he's definitely a hard out, so to speak. He's a hard out. But again, it's a guy that we've grown to kind of know. You know the type of competitor that he is, you know the playmakers that they surrounded him with. So, I feel like they'll be better this year and they'll have a ton of challenges as well."

You mentioned just how this organization has a history of playing great defense. And obviously it helps to have the Jimmie's and the Joe's or in your case, the Freds and the Nicks. I know we're in June, but is there a player on defense that's scratching the surface of breaking out? And if not, is there a position battle that you're kind of looking forward to seeing them at minicamp and as training camp gets closer?

"Yeah, I think when you talk about young players who are on the verge of breaking out, I look at a young guy like [DL] Kevin Givens and the way he's been working, it's been outstanding to see him work. He's getting better and better each day. I mentioned Kinlaw earlier. He's another player. He's a second-year player who's going to take a huge jump for us. When you look at another young player, I still see a young player talk about [LB] Dre Greenlaw and just how he's developed. And he's gotten better throughout these OTAs and I'm fired up to see his growth this year. So those are three of the young guys that I see taking a huge jump this next year. And we have a lot of guys who are very vital to our defense when it comes to [DL Nick] Bosa. When it comes to Fred, Jason Verrett Jimmie Ward, you know, three guys who are very vital, important to our defense. [DL] Arik Armstead, you know, guys who have been here, leaders who will help guide this defense. This defense is theirs and I'm just here to help them go out and perform as good as they possibly can."





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