The 49ers have all the makings of an offense-first team. They have weapons galore on that side of the ball and their head coach who also serves as the offensive coordinator is considered to be one of the NFL’s premier offensive minds. However, over the last four years where they’ve gone to three NFC title games it’s been their defense spearheading their success.
While defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans departed this offseason, the 49ers’ defense won’t change much under new DC Steve Wilks.
“I think you have to embrace the success that they’ve had here,” Wilks on Friday told reporters in his first press conference. “I think it is a foundation that we all agree we wanted to keep and I think it is an opportunity as we go through the process, which we already have, to try to tweak things a little bit. I still think there’s room for improvement. If you talk to the players, they would tell you the same, so when it’s not broke, you don’t really want to try to fix it and once again, we’ve had a lot of success around here and we just want to continue to build on that.”
It’s not hard to see why a defensive coordinator wouldn’t want to tinker much with the building blocks they’re inheriting. San Francisco didn’t take any steps backward when Ryans took over for Robert Saleh in 2021 and the on-field product didn’t look discernibly different.
The 49ers will return virtually its entire starting defense from last year. Defensive back Jimmie Ward left in free agency and will need to be replaced. Defensive end Samson Ebukam signed a free agent deal with the Colts, which presumably moves second-year DE Drake Jackson into a larger role. The addition of defensive tackle Javon Hargrave could actually make San Francisco better on that side of the ball despite a handful of other offseason departures.
There’ll still be an adjustment period for Wilks as he learns the personnel in San Francisco, but not many things from a schematic standpoint will be dramatically different.