Two of the biggest additions to the 49ers this offseason were defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and defensive backs coach Joe Woods. Woods replaced Jeff Hafley - a holdover from the Chip Kelly regime - and Kocurek replaced Jeff Zgonina, whom Shanahan knew well from his three years coaching in Houston when Zgonina was still a player.
The early returns have been positive, with both Kocurek and Woods recieving praise from coaches and players alike. Kocurek intends to deploy more wide 9 defensive fronts in 2019, and has also moved Solomon Thomas back to his natural position. Woods has made a similar shift, moving Tarvarius Moore back to his natural position at safety.
Given that both are obvious upgrades over their predecessors, their hirings shouldn’t raise any eyebrows, but it is there more to it than that?
It’s pure speculation, but I have to wonder if one - or both - hirings involve having a contingency plan for the defensive coordinator role should Saleh stumble out of the gate in 2019.
Most would agree that Saleh hasn’t exactly been given the ideal set of circumstances to succeed over the past two years. But most would also agree that he has made several questionable decisions involving personnel, scheme, and in game adjustments as well. Which is why we can assume that his leash is short in 2019. But shorter than a full season?
The fact is, Shanahan wants to win now. He’s been patient. He’s dealt with enough losing to last a lifetime. And he needs to have a contingency for every situation, including a potential replacement for Saleh at defensive coordinator.
Kocurek is the less likely of the two. He’s been a defensive line coach in the NFL for ten years. And while he’s considered to be one of the best, he hasn’t recieved an opportunity to move beyond that. Yet.
Woods on the other hand does have experience. He was the DC for the Denver Broncos in 2017 and 2018. The Broncos finished third overall in total defense in Wood’s first year as DC giving up just 290 yards per game, and while they took a step back in 2018, he didn’t necessarily lose his job to incompetence. But rather, he happened to the be the DC on a team that hired another DC to be their head coach (Vic Fangio).
So did Shanahan hire Saleh’s replacement? Well, maybe.
And the truth is, I hope not. I hope that Saleh is successfull in turning the defense around, and Kocurek and Woods can continue to coach their respective units while Saleh mans the wheel.
But if he can’t. And if the ship goes off course. I, for one, feel better knowing that there is at least one other captain waiting in the wings.
Now onto the links! :
5 Takeaways from 49ers 2019 State of the Franchise (Kelena Martin)
49ers getting big-time value with 10 bargain contracts (Kyle Madson)