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Steve Wilks on 49ers defense: “I’ve never been around an elite group like this before”

Sep 29, 2023 at 3:38 PM--

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Steve Wilks took over as the San Francisco 49ers defense coordinator after DeMeco Ryans departed to be the head coach of the Houston Texans. The unit was the top-ranked defense last season, so Wilks was tasked with continuing what worked well but putting his stamp on it.

The 49ers defense has looked formidable in its first three games and could once again end up being one of the league's best.

While his players have been impressed with Wilks as a coach, Wilks has been equally impressed with those he is coaching. And it's not just because of the on-field talent level.

"So, I told you guys back in the spring, I've never been around an elite group like this before," Wilks said on Thursday. "And it's not just so much the talent; it's about how we work. These guys grind every day. Walkthrough, they're locked in, they're focused. Everything is about details. That's the difference at this level.

"I've been doing it for a long time. There's a lot of talent around the league, but nobody is a stickler to the details as we are here."

Wilks is excited about the 49ers defense's potential this season. JT Bonomo of Pro Football Focus recently wrote that the 49ers own the highest pass-rushing grade in the league by almost three grading points. Players are playing great under Wilks' direction.

Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, Javon Kinlaw, and Drake Jackson are all enjoying career-high Pro Football Focus grades this season. That success up front trickles to the rest of the defense, allowing the linebackers and defensive backs to enjoy more success.

While Wilks admits he's excited about the defense's future, the team is always focused on the task at hand.

"Only thing that we talk about is trying to win today, taking one step at a time, and right now is Arizona," Wilks said.

Facing the Cardinals

The Cardinals are coming off an emotional victory, their first of the season, against the Super Bowl-hopeful Dallas Cowboys. No one inside the 49ers' building is looking past Arizona this week. The 49ers defensive coordinator has done his homework on the NFC West rival and sees a team with a lot of offensive talent, more than most give them credit for.

"When you look at Arizona, good football team, very good football team," Wilks said. "After watching the tape, impressed with every facet of their offense when it comes to running the football. They do it well. A lot of respect for [RB] James Conner. Respected him when he was with the Steelers, and he's still running the ball hard.

"[QB Joshua] Dobbs, when you look at his play, hasn't turned the ball over. Does a great job protecting the ball. Can put it in the right spot. They have two great receivers in Hollywood [Brown] and Rondale [Moore] that can take the top off and do a great job getting on the perimeter with the jet sweeps, and the offensive line doesn't get enough credit upfront with [OT] D.J. Humphries.

"I'm very impressed with their tight ends being able to block as well as get down the field and stretch the field in the passing game."

The 49ers are currently two-touchdown favorites over the Cardinals. The two teams play on Sunday at Levi's Stadium.

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