Those in 49erland concerned that the team’s top-tier defense might take a step back this season after the loss of Robert Saleh, the defensive coordinator who turned that unit into champions, might want to think again after getting a glimpse of what DeMeco Ryans has planned now that he’s taken command of the 49ers on that side of the football.
The San Francisco defense won’t be falling backward. It will most definitely be charging forward.
Ryans will make sure of that.
“You will see my brand of football on it,” said Ryans, who has been running out an aggressive style of football ever since his playing days as a two-time Pro Bowler and 2006 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Houston Texans.
“Our defense will be a fast, attacking, aggressive defense,” Ryans continued during a June media session. “I want guys to play fast. I want guys who are smart. I want guys who are going to play physical. Our D-line is going to attack. We’re going to let our D-line just get off the ball and attack, and we’re going to clean up things behind them and be a more aggressive, attacking defense.”
San Francisco had similar defensive traits the past four seasons with Saleh at the helm, and the results were undeniable. Saleh’s unit carried the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2019 after finishing the season ranked second in the NFL in total defense.
San Francisco maintained that high level of play last season with a No. 5 final defensive ranking despite a never-ending series of significant injuries that forced 10 regular starters out of the lineup at one time or another — several of them for most of the season or large portions of it.
Saleh’s incredible performance keeping it all together by constantly plugging in reserves and playing to his unit’s strengths earned him a huge opportunity this year as the new head coach of the New York Jets. But just four seasons ago, when he took over a San Francisco defense that had ranked 32nd in the NFL in total defense in 2016, Saleh was in a place similar to Ryans, getting his first shot as a NFL coordinator after three seasons as linebackers coach with the Jack sonville Jaguars.
Ryans, who broke into coaching as San Francisco’s defensive quality control coach in 2017, was San Francisco’s linebackers coach the past three season, a span during which he learned plenty from Saleh and the team’s other coaches, knowledge that Ryans will continue to depend on in his new role.
“For me, I am my own person, and Saleh has taught me a lot,” Ryans said. “He’s probably one of the coaches who has taught me the most football that I’ve been around. He’s been very integral to my development as a coach, and I can’t thank him enough for all of the things that he’s instilled in me. And so, there will be some of the similar scheme things that we’ve done in the past where you will see some similarities there. But you will see some wrinkles. You will see (my) wrinkles.”
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