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How much will the 49ers defense change in transition from DeMeco Ryans to Steve Wilks?

Rohan Chakravarthi
May 4, 2023 at 2:30 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers saw significant roster turnover this offseason, as franchise stalwart Jimmie Ward and key starter Mike McGlinchey departed in free agency, amongst others.

However, that wasn't the only area of change. The 49ers saw defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans depart to the Houston Texans, leaving the team with a vacancy at the position for the second time in recent history.

Rather than go with an up-and-coming coach, as they did with Ryans and former defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, the 49ers hired longtime coach Steve Wilks, who most recently served as the interim head coach for the Carolina Panthers.

Wilks shares a different background than San Francisco's prior coordinators, sharing extensive history as a secondary aficionado, rather than a focus towards the front seven, where Ryans and Saleh have excelled en route to becoming head coaches in the NFL.

Additionally, Wilks has deployed several defensive packages during his career as a defensive coordinator, including a 3-3-5 front while with the Missouri Tigers in 2019, raising questions as to what could change with the 49ers schematically upon the respected coach's arrival.

According to defensive end Nick Bosa, there shouldn't be much change with the defensive fronts, which was a goal for the team upon their search for a new coordinator.

"I don't think there's going to be much of a change," Bosa told Tori Epstein of Yahoo Sports, via Pro Football Talk. "I think from Kyle [Shanahan] down, there's kind of an understanding of how we do things with Kris Kocurek as our D-line coach. There's always ways to improve."

Bosa's comments are in sentiment with head coach Kyle Shanahan, who shared that the team wanted to keep the same infrastructure in place with their defense, understanding the significant success they've shared over the past few seasons.

"I love our defensive staff, I love our defense. I'm trying to get something where we don't have to turn much over. I would love to keep our same staff, so I'm going to talk to some guys on our staff," Shanahan said in February, prior to hiring Wilks. "I'm going to talk to some guys outside of our staff and hopefully whichever way we decide to go, whether we bring in a new guy or not, that it's someone who can work with who we have and what we've accomplished here because I love the scheme that we run and I feel the foundation we have on the D-line, at linebacker, at corner, at safety. I think our players fit very well in it too, so I'm hoping to find someone who fits with us personality-wise and scheme-wise."

However, even with the comments, I would expect some change in the defensive scheme, understanding Wilks's focus toward the secondary and his tendency to blitz at prior locations, which differs a bit from the previous regimes.

While operating out of the same fronts, it wouldn't be surprising to see the 49ers be more aggressive within their front seven, especially after a "down" year in terms of sack rate compared to their elite 2019 and 2021 seasons.

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1 Comment

  • don
    This is an interesting question. Wilks has an excellent coaching track record. And DeMeco proved under pressure his skill set.. Hard to say at this juncture other than chemistry will play a part for Wilks..
    May 8, 2023 at 5:40 AM


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