Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

What to expect from new 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks

Rohan Chakravarthi
Feb 7, 2023 at 11:35 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers are expected to hire former Carolina Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks as their new defensive coordinator, per reports, providing Kyle Shanahan with the answer to his biggest personnel question heading into the 2023 season.

Wilks, 50, interviewed at length with the 49ers on Monday, with the two sides reportedly coming to an agreement a day later, pairing Kyle Shanahan with a defensive coordinator that has extensive experience in that role.

With the hire expected to happen, let's dive into what 49ers fans can expect from their new defensive coordinator.

1. Aggressive scheme

Wilks provides a different strategy with his defensive personnel, favoring blitzes and the nickel look that has become popular in today's game with passing attacks becoming more and more of an emphasis.

During his last three seasons as an NFL coordinator, Wilks's defenses blitzed at top-four rates in the NFL, despite seeing time at three different destinations: with the Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, and Cleveland Browns.

While Wilks is a heavy blitzer, the defensive coordinator is well-known for utilizing lighter boxes and sticking in nickel personnel, essentially running a form of 4-2-5 with three cornerbacks and two safeties in the secondary.

Now, it'll be intriguing to see what sticks with Wilks's scheme and what he changes, given head coach Kyle Shanahan's request that the defense remains similar in scheme to DeMeco Ryans's defensive style, which involved the Wide-9 on defensive fronts, as well as a lower blitz rate.

However, with the unique personnel that the 49ers have, it wouldn't be surprising if San Francisco incorporates different elements that work well with Wilks's mindset, posing more of an aggressive scheme, while placing more trust in their secondary to hold up in man-coverage.

2. Trusted leader

It can be argued that Steve Wilks's biggest selling point is his leadership, which was clearly seen through his short stint as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, where he led a Christian McCaffrey-less team to a 6-6 finish and a near-division title after a sluggish start.

That trait has been valued by the 49ers with the defensive coordinator position, as head coach Kyle Shanahan targeted Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans, who were two candidates that didn't have experience calling plays, but brought infectious energy with them that rubbed off on their players.

Wilks is different, as he provides extensive experience as a coordinator, while sharing similarities with his leadership, which should bode well in the strong culture that San Francisco possesses.

3. Compensatory picks?

Just like the 49ers earned two third-round compensatory selections due to Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans being hired as head coaches, they could earn another pair if Steve Wilks, a minority coach, is hired to a head-coaching position after two years as an assistant with the 49ers.

Wilks, a two-time head coach, could certainly be looking to reach that level of coaching again, and if he earns that job from a team after two seasons with the 49ers, San Francisco would be awarded two third-round compensatory picks.

However, the guidelines state that Wilks would need to be with the 49ers for two seasons before the move, which is unclear, given his experience and the likely success he should face with a strong defensive unit in 2023.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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