San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spoke to the media this week, where he had an opportunity to talk about the team. Fangio has an impressive background, having three prior stints as an NFL coordinator and working with some high-profile defensive units.
In his most recent presser, Fangio had this to say:
I get asked a lot, how do they compare to the four guys we had in New Orleans. Those four guys started for us in New Orleans for seven straight years together. Hopefully we can have a run like that here and once we start doing that, two, three, four years, maybe I'll have a better answer to that question.
The Saints linebacking corps he was referring to was the one of the 1980's and 1990's, which happens to hold the No. 1 spot on NFL Network's Top Ten All-Time Linebacking Corps. Fangio was the linebackers coach for New Orleans from 1986-1994 where he coached four fantastic individual players.
The Dome Patrol linebacking corps was made up of:
OLB Rickey Jackson (#57): 6 Pro Bowl Selections (1983, 84, 85, 86, 92, 93) (New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame, Pro Football Hall of Fame)
ILB Sam Mills (#51): 5 Pro Bowl Selections (1987, 88, 91, 92, 96)
ILB Vaughan Johnson (#53): 4 Pro Bowl Selections (1989, 90, 91, 92)
OLB Pat Swilling (#56): 5 Pro Bowl Selections (1989, 90, 91, 92, 93) (First Team All-Pro 91, 92)
Fangio's linebackers now consist of Aldon Smith (22), NaVorro Bowman (24), Patrick Willis (27) and Ahmad Brooks (28). This crew is set up to dominate for at least the next five years. If Willis is anything like Ray Lewis, he's got another 10 years left in him. Brooks recently signed a long-term deal to stay with the team, while the youngsters Smith and Bowman just had breakout campaigns in 2011.
Fangio acknowledged that there is reason to believe this unit is something special. However, he is in no rush to declare them the greatest of all-time before the four have even had a full season starting together. The Niners defensive coordinator said this:
Well, they're talented, number one. If you're going to ask that question, you're insinuating they have a high talent level and that's correct. They've got great talent in Willis, Bowman, Brooks and Smith, but we've got to do it on the field in a more consistent manner for an extended period of time.
While the Niners linebackers may have the capacity of the Saints 80's-90's linebackers, the 49ers have the heart and discipline of the 2000 Ravens. Like the Ravens, this 49ers unit is about forcing teams backward and not allowing points. And collectively, they are a group of bullies that really push offenses around and influence them alter their game plan.
The 49ers linebackers -- led by two All-Pro inside backers -- have the makeup of an all-time great unit. The players fit the system, and they have youth, balance and leadership. To complete the mold, they've recently identified two outside linebackers that can both bring pressure and stop the run.
This type of functionality and specialization fits what the 49ers do systematically on defense. Meanwhile, the extremely athletic Willis and Bowman can prioritize the tight end and running back. As a total unit, they excel at keeping everything in front of them and keeping offenses off-balance.
Like Fangio confirmed, there is a high talent level. With this linebacking corps alone, this 2012 season will be special just because it could be the beginning of something historic.