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Robert Saleh opens up about the changes we’ll see in the 49ers defense this year

Saleh also gave his take on several 49ers players

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NFL: JUL 30 49ers Training Camp Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spoke to the media after practice on Tuesday. The highlight of his media availability was when he talked about Tavarius Moore and why where he currently stands on the roster. For the first time, Moore took reps at first-team free safety. Adrian Colbert did not. Saleh wants to see how Moore looks with the starters:

“Just want a little bit more, not versatility, but making sure guys are getting the looks they need. Getting the work that they need to be able to get better. As training camp gets going, we need to figure out who’s going to make this 53-man roster, and giving guys different looks to see if they’re able to do it is very important.”

Saleh made it clear that Moore is staying put at safety, and gave an update on the second-year players progress:

“[Moore] is staying at free (safety). He’s been progressively getting better. He’s by no means even close to being an NFL-ready safety by Week 1 but he is getting progressively better. But he’s got a lot of things to clean up with regards to lack of hesitation. He’s hesitating, which is expected. He’s still new at the position. He’s got to get to the point where he’s not really thinking about his job anymore, where he can react and trigger, which is so important for our safety to be able to do.”

By the sounds of it, Saleh is honest in his evaluation. However, actions speak louder than words. You wouldn’t give a guy first-team reps this early in training camp if you didn’t believe he can be the guy or help you.

Saleh’s take on the players

Saleh recently sat down with Matt Barrows of the Athletic, where Saleh talked about the tweaks we can expect to see in the 49ers defense this year. Saleh went in-depth about how he feels about the players and the scheme.

Saleh seems very excited about the versatility upfront. Beyond the obvious names, he has high hopes for both D.J. Jones, and Julian Taylor, who will play exclusively inside this year, per Saleh.

Jones will give you a few splash plays during practice. He’s quick. I like what he brings to the table.

Saleh mentioned how D.J. Reed would play corner instead of free safety. Last year Reed was bouncing back and forth between safety and nickel; the plan is for him to have an opportunity to play cornerback. “We feel like he’ll be pretty good as a cover guy,” Saleh said.

When asked about why Reed and Jason Verrett--both under six feet--are getting the opportunity, Saleh said it’s all about if they can play or not:

As long as they can play. The whole thing is that when the system first came about, back then teams would be outside the numbers with their receivers Teams have now cut their splits down, which forces the corners to come off (the line of scrimmage), so that takes away their length. So teams have put receivers over there, they’ve created stacks and bunches and limited the amount of time we can get down there and press.

Scheme “changes”

Much has been made about the safeties being interchangeable, and the 49ers running a “Wide-9” look. Kyle Shanahan tried to pump the brakes on that over the weekend saying the Niners ran plenty of Wide-9 looks last year. This quote from Saleh on the safeties being interchangeable was encouraging:

“We tried to marry base (defense) to nickel more. …We feel like we’ve been able to marry the two together so there isn’t as much of a tendency. So to the players we might look more interchangeable, but we’re actually no different than what we do in nickel.”

I say that because instead of a linebacker on the end of the line of scrimmage, he now walks over the slot receiver. Leaving wide receivers uncovered is asking for it. It sounds like there is more emphasis on stopping the pass than the run, which is precisely how it should be.

Saleh was asked about the evolution of the Monte Kiffin/Pete Carroll defense he initially came to the 49ers with. He was adamant that the 49ers are rarely in their base defense:

“If you really go look at our season last year, we played 200-300 snaps of base defense. And in those snaps, I think we had like 50 snaps with the offense in two-(running) back all year. We did not see a lot of two-back. Everything is “11” personnel (three wide receivers) looks, spreading you out. They’re just not letting us get into those formations anymore. If you eliminated third downs and you eliminated two-minute drives and it’s just first and second downs and you looked at how many times a tight end was in a three-point stance on the line of scrimmage, it’s not very much. If you went to the Seattle Seahawks ’13 year, against 11 personnel it would look exactly the same as what we’re doing.”

We can stop talking/asking about the 49ers base defense. The sixth defensive back on the team will probably play more snaps this season than the third linebacker. A guy like Kentavius Street, or Julian Taylor, is going to be on the field more than D.J. Jones throughout the season. If they prove they can get after the passer, of course.