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Kyle Shanahan: Quarterback and edge rusher are the two key positions

“A quarterback can hide a lot of problems, and so can a pass rush.”

The San Francisco 49ers need help in the pass rush. I think we all know that, and I’m not breaking any news with that statement. And it is pretty clear Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch recognize it. They’ve talked about the importance of it and the need to upgrade the pass rush.

On Wednesday, Shanahan got a question about the premium nature of the position. He does not think the emphasis on pass rush is anything new.

“No, I just think people talk about it more, it just gets more recognition. Pass rushers all the time change things. You look at the best defenses of all time, that I can remember. The Baltimore defense, they had a pass rush. You go to the Tampa Bay defense with [former NFL DE] Simeon Rice and [former NFL DT] Warren Sapp, they had a pass rush. You look at all of the teams that have gone to the Super Bowl based off of defenses, Seattle, they all do a pretty good job. You go back to the days that Indianapolis won it with [former NFL QB] Peyton [Manning]. What was their defense from when they played Tampa Two? They had [former NFL DE Dwight] Freeney and [former Indianapolis Colts DE Robert] Mathis on the edge, they had pass rush people. You can go to a ton of teams like that. The Chicago Bears when they got there. They didn’t have a great offense, but [former NFL DT] Tommie Harris was playing at a high level. They had the linebackers to play the zone, but they got to the quarterback too. So, I think it’s always been that way.”

He said the quarterback and edge rusher are the positions on each side of the ball that can transform the team because of the ability to hide issues elsewhere.

“You can do different things in coverage. You can be more aggressive. You can have some holes and some vulnerabilities that you can see as a coach and there’s lots of stuff you’d like to try versus some of these coverages. A lot of people will come in and draw it on the board and it’s like, ‘Man, that’s great. Have you watched the end zone copy yet? I know he’ll be open, but our guy’s helmet is going to be rolling on the ground by the time we try to throw it.’ So, it’s all those types of things that go into account and the more big plays you can try, no matter what happens, eventually if you get them off, you’re going to score some points and a pass rusher is going to eliminate all of that.”

Robert Saleh has been dumped on for much of this season, with most seeing him on the hot seat right now. Kyle Shanahan could decide to go in another direction, but I have a feeling Saleh gets 2019, or at least some part of it, to prove he can build something more with this defense. The team has lacked a consistent pressure option aside from DeForest Buckner. If they spend a high first round pick next spring on a Nick Bosa or Josh Allen, that is a potentially instant significant upgrade.

If the 49ers add a Bosa or Allen, and/or add a big money talent in free agency, the pressure increases considerably on Saleh and Shanahan. Expectations will skyrocket for a unit that was already expected to be better than last season. My guess is if Saleh is ever fired, it will be middle of next season at the earliest.

And so, the 49ers first round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft is going to be huge. Yes, they will need to find talent in the later rounds, but that first pick is so critical for this team to take a big step forward. Whether it’s Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, or whomever, they need to hit a home run with the pick. 2019 is a huge year, and the team’s cap space is critical. But that first round pick is so huge, and pass rush is likely the way they’ll need to go.