Finally, regular season talk. There are a lot of questions surrounding the San Francisco 49ers defense heading into 2019. Here are four questions that the team will look to answer over the first month of the season, starting Week 1 against Tampa Bay.
Will pressures and turnovers continue?
In four preseason games, the defense averaged 12 pressures a game and had three interceptions. The defense didn’t face a Patrick Mahomes offense every series, but they also didn’t roll out on the field with Deion Sanders and Charles Haley on the field.
This will be the best defense the 49ers field in some time. It’s a low bar, but it’s the truth. The Niners have two high-level edge rushers, and disruptive force inside in DeForest Buckner to counter the speed and quickness that will be coming off the edge. Speaking of speed, the difference at the second-level from last year to this year will be noticeable in the first few series. That leaves the secondary to make plays, something they struggled with a year ago.
Improved athleticism from the back seven, and the upgraded front four was the front office’s way of fixing the defense. The unit should be able to get after Jameis Winston early and often with Tampa Bays’ offensive line.
Will the stage be too bright for the youngsters?
The 49ers released their first unofficial depth chart on Tuesday, and while they’ve made plenty of improvements, there will still be players that will see the field that doesn’t have much experience. If Jason Verrett or K’Waun Williams isn’t able to play, that means D.J. Reed or Emmanuel Moseley. Reed played just over 200 snaps last season, while Moseley spent the entire 2018 on the practice squad. The fifth defensive back is Tarvarius Moore, and as high on him as I am, he has yet to play a regular-season snap at free safety. You have to imagine offenses will test the youth in the 49ers secondary.
Then you have Dre Greenlaw. The rookie fifth-round pick will start. How much he will play will be determined by how much the Bucs spread it out. When Greenlaw is on the field, he needs to show that he’s not susceptible to play-action, while being able to tackle consistently. Two areas he can improve on.
We can’t talk the defense without the elephant in the room: Health. How will Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt hold up this season? This isn’t anything new, as both players have struggled to stay healthy throughout their careers. More than ever, given expectations, the 49ers are relying on the two to stay healthy this season. If Tartt goes down, does Ward slide over to strong safety and Moore goes to free safety? If both have to miss time, I wouldn’t feel confident in throwing a player out there that is currently on the roster. Robert Saleh will need to up his creativity this season, but hopefully, it’s not because of injuries.