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49ers mailbag: Has the league caught up with Brock Purdy? What will be Chase Young’s impact? What defensive adjustments will SF make?

Marc Adams
Nov 8, 2023 at 9:13 AM--

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As the San Francisco 49ers prepare to play the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team welcomed a new player on Monday and also welcomed back some injured players. Chase Young made his 49ers' practice debut, and the team opened the practice windows for Samuel Womack III, Darrell Luter, Jr., and Robert Beal, Jr.

Deebo Samuel also returned to practice and looks good to go for Sunday. Dre Greenlaw practiced, as well, which is a good sign. We'll see if Trent Williams practices on Wednesday.

Let's jump into the 49ers Webzone Mailbag to see what's on your mind.

When are Womack and Luter coming off IR? And will Womack end up replacing Oliver at nickel as many are saying? - Andy G.

As I mentioned earlier the 49ers opened the practice windows for Beal Jr. (Injured Reserve), Luter, Jr. (Physically Unable to Perform ), and Womack (Injured Reserve) on Monday. The team has three weeks to decide whether or not to add the players to the active roster. What kind of impact can the trio make on the 2023 team? That remains to be seen, but at least they have the opportunity to practice and show the coaching staff what they can do.

As for Womack replacing Isaiah Oliver at nickel corner, I think it would be more likely that Womack would play outside, with Deommodore Lenoir moving inside. The 49ers want their nickel corner to tackle well, and Oliver certainly does that. In fact, he's very good at it. Lenoir tackles well, too. But I'm just not certain about Womack. I know Womack played nickel early last season, but he can also play outside.

I actually think it's going to be hard for Beal, Jr. and Luter, Jr. to crack the active roster, but if they can really show something in practice, they certainly have a chance. I believe Womack has the best chance because of his time with the team last season.

The big question is what defensive adjustments will be made moving into the 2nd half of the season? - Sammy P.

Look for Steve Wilks to start running the defense from the sideline, rather than in the booth. I don't believe that's his preference, but the barrage of criticism aimed his way may force that move. It will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments he makes with the secondary and pass rush. For example, former 49ers' safety Donte Whitner was a guest on KNBR on Tuesday and was asked if Wilks is using Talanoa Hufanga differently than DeMeco Ryans used him last year.

Whitner said of Wilks, "He wants to put his print on the secondary. He felt like Tashaun Gipson was the better cover guy. So when you see Tashaun Gipson down covering tight ends, wide receivers, that's normally what Hufanga does. And that's probably one of the reasons why the defense isn't flourishing as well as it was, especially in the running game. And remember, Hufanga was getting after the quarterback, as well. They were blitzing him last year. So yeah, that is a correct observation that Hufanga is playing more free safety this year, and they're using Tashaun Gipson as the strong safety. Maybe that'll be an adjustment that they'll go back to post-bye week."

Wilks is doing some things differently than what we've seen from the 49ers' defensive coordinators in the past. He has plenty of adjustments he needs to make. Perhaps the biggest adjustment that needs to be made is with the run defense. That needs to be corrected quickly.

And the players need to make plays. They haven't been doing that lately.

Which remaining games do you see the 49ers winning? - Scott B.

The 49ers have a chance to win every game they play. But if you're forcing me to name the 49ers' wins, I'm going with: Jacksonville, Tampa, Seattle (twice), Arizona, Baltimore, Washington, and Los Angeles.

I think they'll lose in Philadelphia, and they'll most likely lose one or two of the wins I gave them, but they'll always be in the game, with a chance to win each one.

Will Chase Young be the starter, or at least take the most reps, opposite Bosa? If so, is Drake the odd man out? - Andy G.

Yes, I believe Young will eventually be the starter and take most of the reps opposite of Nick Bosa. Early on, we may continue to see Clelin Ferrell start, and then Young come in, but I don't think it will take long before he begins starting. And yes, I think Drake Jackson will see his play time decrease. He was already losing playing time to Randy Gregory. His snaps will only become fewer. Will he even be active on game day?

Do you think the addition of Chase Young will bring in a new and better rhythm to the D line? - Cesar

That's the hope. If Bosa is being double-teamed, and Javon Hargrave is being double-teamed, Young and Arik Armstead should be able to feast. You can't chip or double-team everyone, so those who are facing just one blocker need to make the most of those snaps.

Will they be able to put any pressure or get any sacks with their pass rush? - Greg N.

Adding Young and his five sacks certainly makes it easier. I also think the players will be hungry to right the ship. Let's hope Wilks can make the necessary adjustments.

What do you do with the D coordinator situation? No excuse for the play in the last 3 games, especially with the talent they have. - Michael C.

Wilks is safe for this season unless things take an even worse turn. But unless the defense turns things around, I don't believe he will be in San Francisco in 2024.

I have been on the fence about Brock Purdy and thought the Niners were quick to make him the man because of the way the team finished. Since they have been on this skid, do you think the league caught up with him, or is this just a little hiccup? - Sasha R.

No, I just think Brock Purdy has made some mistakes lately. And he's made them at really bad times. But if you look at the first three quarters in the Minnesota and Cincinnati games, Purdy was playing great. It didn't look like the league caught up with him. But in those tight 4th quarters, missing Samuel and Trent Williams reared its ugly head. And the fact that the 49ers haven't been running the ball very well hasn't helped, either. Don't undervalue that.

I'm actually quite confident in Purdy. He'll be fine.

With the possible return of Deebo, any chance Shanahan will start utilizing other players such as Mitchell, Mason, Jennings, and Bell to give the starters a breather rather than wearing them down like he's been doing with CMC? - Pernell L.

Using Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason more would be wise. I like Ronnie Bell, but he hasn't had much playing time, even with Samuel being out. You saw more of Jauan Jennings and Ray-Ray McCloud with Samuel out, but I don't figure much will change with his return. Kyle Shanahan likes to ride with the guys he trusts the most.

Will Danny Gray take reps away from Bell when he comes off IR? I feel Bell has shown his value but Kyle just doesn't use his reserve WR's even when he's missing a starter. - Andy G.

It's possible. The 49ers could use a speed factor at wide receiver. Unfortunately, Gray hasn't shown an ability to do much beyond special teams. He's really good on special teams, but so is Bell. I'm just not sure either will play much on offense, largely because neither player blocks very well in the run game. And that's very important for a Shanahan offense.

After losing for 29 years straight are the Niners ever going to win the Super Bowl again? - John H.

Yes. Someday. Hopefully very soon.

Do you think Steve Wilks has what it takes to lead the defense? - Julian H.

Yes, I do. I'm not ready to give up on him. He's been around for a long time and has a lot of experience. But we need to see him adjust to what's been happening. It sounds like he's having to learn the defense on the fly. So maybe that's part of the problem. Remember, this isn't Wilks' defense. This is Shanahan's defense.

Will Moody make the kicks he's supposed to make? - George S.

Jake Moody will be fine. Rookie kickers often struggle. He's had his share of misses so far, but I believe he'll settle in and be a great kicker for many years.

Do you think that this is the end of the York curse? - Alan S.

Alan, you didn't pick the best week to ask this question. A few weeks ago, we would have broken into our best rendition of, "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead." But after losing three straight, I'm not so sure. If they lose in Jacksonville, we may see flying monkeys circling 4949 Marie P Debartolo Way for a good week or more.

All jokes aside, I don't believe in any York curse. Sure, the Yorks have made a bevy of blunders over the years (firing Steve Mariucci, firing Jim Harbaugh, hiring Jim Tomsula, *apparently* building Levi's Stadium on top of an ancient indigenous burial ground, etc.), but I think they've turned things around and made better decisions in recent years. John and Denise DeBartolo-York have turned things over to their son, Jed, and have stayed out of the way. Jed York has hired the right people and let them do what they do.

And the Yorks are willing to spend money to win. That's all we can ask for.

Why don't we Rush 5? We only have 2 linebackers. - Phillip J.

They do rush five on some plays. A lot of it depends on what formation the offense lines up in, how the game is going, down and distance, etc. There are times when they only have two linebackers on the field. Other times, they have three. But they do occasionally rush more than four. The problem has been that the four pass rushers aren't getting home like they have in the past.

That's all we have for this week. Thanks so much for all your great questions. We'll see you back next week, hopefully celebrating an end to the losing streak.
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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