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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

“Defense wins championships”: Fred Warner puts 49ers’ Super Bowl hopes on defense’s shoulders

May 17, 2023 at 4:17 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers are the favorite to win the NFC West. They, along with the Philadelphia Eagles, are the frontrunners to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Fred Warner and the 49ers defense believe they can deliver a sixth Lombardi to the Bay Area fans.

The 49ers finished last season with the top-ranked defense in the NFL. However, injuries prevented them from achieving their goal. The star linebacker feels the upcoming season can be different.

"I'll always say defense wins championships, so it's going to start and end with us," Warner said last week at the Dwight Clark Legacy Series event. "We take that on our shoulders, that responsibility, and we need to be better."

In January, the 49ers reached the NFC Championship Game for the third time in four seasons. However, both quarterbacks, Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson, were knocked out of the matchup, allowing the Philadelphia Eagles to cruise to a 31-7 win.

"To say that last year's ending was hurtful, it was," Warner shared. "It sucks the way that it ended. It felt like we never even had a chance to really compete in that game. But what are ways that our defense could have been better in that game? That's what I'm looking at, is how could I have been better for our team and our defense?

"And so I think we're for sure taking steps in the right direction right now. We're doing the tedious work right now of going out there on the field, and in the weight room, and putting the work in because you don't just snap your fingers and you're back in that game. You've got to take each step, one step at a time. And so that's what we're doing right now."

Sitting next to Warner, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and 49ers legend Bryant Young was asked what stands out about the team's current defense. He knows a thing or two about good defenses. Young was part of a Super Bowl-winning squad in 1994, his rookie season.

"What strikes me and stands out for this team is just how they play for each other," Young said. "There's a lot of passion, and love, and compassion for one another. We don't hear that word a lot in football. To be compassionate about each other, that's okay. And that's how the brotherhood is formed. You've got to have compassion for your brother next to you, and that has to mean something to you.

"So I see that. That permeates off the screen to me, and it speaks volumes how they play for each other, how they're accountable to each other, and they're just a fun group to watch."

Warner believes he plays a role in motivating the 49ers offense too. The linebacker is known for being tough on his offensive teammates, pushing them to improve. You might remember tempers flaring between Warner and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk last year during a training camp practice.

"Honestly, you want to try to create such a competitive atmosphere in practice that when the regular season comes, and it's time to play these other teams, I want—we talk about Brandon Aiyuk, the Christian McCaffreys, the Deebo Samuels—I want these guys to be like, 'Man, Fred and them just been beating us up all camp. We're ready for whatever now.' Because when you have that competitive atmosphere where we're kind of giving it back and forth to each other, that's what breeds championship football.

"And I know we haven't gotten there quite yet, but we're so close. And I know that when you get a group of guys that they just love the game so much—and that's really why I do it, because I truly love what I do. When I go out there, and I go out on the practice field in the second, third week of training camp, when it's the hardest, that's where I thrive because I love it too much to ever get tired of it."

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