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Robert Kupbens-USA TODAY Sports

Inside the 49ers’ defensive overhaul: How new additions fit the culture

Jun 15, 2024 at 2:17 PM

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The San Francisco 49ers underwent a defensive makeover this offseason, making significant changes along the front. Unable to agree on a salary reduction with Arik Armstead, the team released the veteran defensive tackle, who subsequently signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The 49ers signed Leonard Floyd and Yetur Gross-Matos to bolster their pass rush and complement Nick Bosa. Addressing the interior of the defensive line, they traded for Maliek Collins and signed Jordan Elliott to mitigate the loss of Armstead.

Team decision-makers ensured they brought in the right type of players to fit into the well-established locker room culture.

"This building has a culture that's been established for a long time, starting from ownership on to Kyle (Shanahan) and John (Lynch)," first-year defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen said during the 49ers' recent "State of the Franchise" event. "It's been that way, and it's been carried out through the players. And the really awesome part of this offseason is the guys that we targeted and that we brought in that were free agents, but also the guys that we drafted, are really our type of guys."

The 49ers did extensive research, targeting players who would seamlessly integrate into the locker room, creating instant chemistry. The new additions quickly embraced the 49ers' mentality, which can be challenging for those who aren't used to it.

"We practice hard and we practice different, and they all know that once they get here," Sorensen continued. "But to actually see them embrace that, which, again, the standard has been set and fulfilled by the players that have been here, which we have that core group, and now we plug these guys in, all it did was just raise the level of competition by the whole team."

Floyd is a veteran who has seen a lot of success in the NFL. He has recorded nine or more sacks in each of the past four seasons, including two seasons with 10.5 sacks each. Despite his success, Sorensen pointed out that Floyd still works as if each play might be his last, a trait seen in many of the new additions.

"And then you have Yetur Gross-Matos," Sorensen said. "He's not a household name, but it's someone that we wanted. Had heard that he works this way. The tape was that. But then to see him actually doing this every day.

"Jordan Elliott, same way. We got him from Cleveland. Malik Collins, who's been established. These are guys that we're excited about, that fit us. Some of them have had experience in the system, so they know a little bit. Others don't, but they translate towards that system.

"And that goes also with [LB] De'Vondre Campbell. The guy's had success as a linebacker—he was with Green Bay—but early in his career, he played in Atlanta, so he's had success in the system as well. And again, these guys have been around the league. They know how we practice, how we work. They respect us."

Floyd recently discussed what attracted him to the 49ers, saying, "I knew that the 49ers was just one of those teams that always came out and played hard. Every single player came out and played their hardest. And really, they play grown-man football. You gotta wake up early, eat your breakfast early when you're playing the 49ers because it's gonna be a physical game."

Sorensen pointed to those comments as evidence of the respect the 49ers defense has earned over the years and why players with the right mentality want to play for the team.

"They understand what they're walking into, and then carrying that with our guys that are already here," Sorensen concluded. "The standard's been set, and they've been doing it ever since they've gotten here, and that's what's cool, even with the rookies."
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