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49ers want “extreme physicality” on defense

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The arrival of Kyle Shanahan as head coach of the 49ers understandably will prompt significant focus on the offensive side of the ball. But the defense will be changing, too, and new coordinator Robert Saleh offered a two-word assessment on Monday of the primary trait he wants.

“Extreme physicality,” Saleh told reporters.

The physicality will be funneled through a defense that has become well known to 49ers fans in recent years, for all the wrong reasons.

“We are a single high defense,” Saleh said of the team’s scheme. “The system, you could say, it originated in Seattle. I was there from the get-go. Three teams currently, Seattle, Atlanta, Jacksonville, if you’re looking at tape, all of them have their nuances and how they operate. This will be a very, I don’t want to say it will be a very different scheme, but there are going to be differences and there will be nuances within this scheme that makes it unique to us.”

Saleh also explained that the base defense typically will be yielding to a nickel scheme, which will change significantly the needs for one of the linebackers.

“It’s real simple, the league back in the day was heavy base,” Saleh said. “SAM [strongside] linebacker, 65-70 percent of the game you’d have a SAM linebacker on the field where he’d need to perform his duties in base defense. Present day, it’s almost 70-percent nickel and the nickel who doesn’t get talked about as a starter, he’s starting to come up as an individual piece to the puzzle. So when looking at the SAM linebacker and what they’re asked to do on a day-to-day basis, 70-percent of the game their hand will be in the ground. So, we’re looking for more of an edge rusher as opposed to what it was in years past with a brut SAM linebacker, a Bill Romanowski-type. We’re trying to move forward from that.”

Saleh mentioned that players like Ahmad Brooks, Eli Harold, and Dekoda Watson could fill the role of the strongside linebacker in a defense that spends most of its time with extra defensive backs on the field, which means the SAM linebacker will be in a pass-rushing posture.

Then there’s the LEO position in the defense, the one that Saleh calls the “hair . . . on fire, just get after the quarterback” edge rusher. The 49ers are looking for an “elite piece” like that on defense.

“I’ll name some names that have been LEOs in the past, even if they haven’t been attached to this system,” Saleh said. “People who have been attached to this system, you’re looking at Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley. People outside of the system, you’d look at Von Miller, Khalil Mack. Back in his heyday, Charles Haley would have been a guy that would have been a LEO.”

The perfect LEO for the 49ers, who hold the No. 2 pick in the draft, could be the guy who currently is presumed to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Which both makes the 49ers a potential candidate to slide up one spot — and underscores the yet again value of tanking during a season that already was lost.

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15 Responses to “49ers want “extreme physicality” on defense”
  1. dallasfanindc says: Apr 11, 2017 8:30 AM

    So they want John Harbaugh defense again but he was a problem

  2. u4icgroov says: Apr 11, 2017 8:35 AM

    You had “extremely physicality” on defense” until you allowed your head coach to be run out of the building so Baalke could run the show.

    I’m not a 49ers fan, but those Seattle and Niner games a few years ago were fun to watch.

  3. joetoronto says: Apr 11, 2017 8:44 AM

    “49ers want “extreme physicality” on defense but will settle for “extreme diarrhea.”

  4. abninf says: Apr 11, 2017 9:10 AM

    The NFL rules today don’t allow extreme physicality on defense.

  5. LoCoSu@%s says: Apr 11, 2017 9:31 AM

    At this point, “show me”.

    – niner fan

  6. weepingjebus says: Apr 11, 2017 10:03 AM

    This is one of those times the fans (if not reporters) really appreciate Belichick.

    “Hey coach, what sort of defensive mindset and system do you expect to employ most of the season, and how might that bear on your draft plans?”
    *flat stare*
    “We’ll have something out there.”

  7. sdchicken says: Apr 11, 2017 10:04 AM

    Ruben Foster sounds like a great fit

  8. saints737 says: Apr 11, 2017 10:12 AM

    I’m confused…who doesn’t want physicality on their defense??

  9. intrafinesse says: Apr 11, 2017 10:18 AM

    So you don’t want your NFL team to be a bunch of wusses?
    Ok, got it.

  10. jimmyt says: Apr 11, 2017 10:20 AM

    Then they will have extreme penalties in the “new” NFL.

  11. staffordisbetterthanyourteamsqb says: Apr 11, 2017 10:39 AM

    As opposed to other NFL teams who just want softness or moderate physicality on defense

  12. staffordisbetterthanyourteamsqb says: Apr 11, 2017 10:43 AM

    dallasfanindc says:
    Apr 11, 2017 8:30 AM
    So they want John Harbaugh defense again but he was a problem

    Yeah the only problem with what you’re saying is that John Harbaugh never worked for the Niners
    Shocked that you’re a Cowboys fan

  13. paastahtroy says: Apr 11, 2017 11:20 AM

    Extreme Physicality… hmm… yah very unique… no one else wants that out of their defense. Can’t wait to see the Hawks sweep the Niners again this year. #GoHawks

  14. bobthebillsfan says: Apr 11, 2017 1:01 PM

    What is the difference between a “physical defense” and “extreme physicality”?

    Better be careful hear, Roger may find fault with he word “extreme”.

  15. laserw says: Apr 11, 2017 7:06 PM

    Is this the kind of physical that goes on in the YMCA?

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