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49ers install approximately 10 defenses, simplify approach

There are pros and cons to the 49ers simple approach. Much of that depends on how the recent defensive additions pan out.

Throughout the offseason, we have regularly heard about the San Francisco 49ers simplified defensive approach. The talk has centered on the defensive line not having to do as much reading and reacting, and players getting a chance to be a bit more aggressive.

On Wednesday, Ahmad Brooks offered further clarity on the simplification of the defense. He told the media (video) that Robert Saleh has installed approximately ten defenses for the team to learn.

“I feel like Coach Saleh, the defensive coordinator, has kept things simple for us. We installed maybe about 10 defenses, and that’s it. And that’s what we’re going to be running throughout the season. So, keeping it simple, we got a lot of new guys on the team, so that’s definitely helping out. You can see that the momentum in practice is a little bit amped up compared to last year. Guys are excited about this year, and we’re just working hard to be as good as we can be.”

Someone later asked him what was the high end, and he said 25 or 30.

The first reaction for some is that installing a low number of defenses gives opposing teams an easier job of breaking down film and game-planning for the defense. Of course, focusing on a smaller number of defenses makes it easier to learn responsibilities, and thus gives you more time for sharpening your skills, rather than learning more roles.

The Seattle Seahawks have played a fairly simplified defense under Pete Carroll and his various defensive coordinators. Of course, it is worth noting that they have a few more proven talented players on defense than the current 49ers.

The 49ers have invested first round picks on the defensive line each of the past three years, and this year, they went heavy on defense throughout the draft. After adding Solomon Thomas, they moved back into the first round to draft Reuben Foster, added Ahkello Witherspoon in the third round, and then D.J. Jones in the sixth round. Brooks is excited about the developing young talent and expects the defense to take a big step forward this year.

“Yes sir, yes sir. Reuben Foster, he’s done an amazing job since he’s been here. Coming in and plugging in at middle linebacker, he’s done a great job for us. Solomon Thomas, he’s working his way in. And I think we’ll be a good defense. DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Aaron Lynch, Eli Harold, we got a lot of young talent out here.”

We haven’t seen this team take a single snap, but expectations are growing as the young players are making notable plays every day in practice. A week from Friday, they get their first challenge when they travel to face the Kansas City Chiefs. Alex Smith and the Chiefs starters likely won’t get a lot of playing time. Maybe we see the 49ers defensive starters get a little more work than they might normally get given all the changes this offseason? Or do the 49ers slow-play things like any other preseason?