The Athletic’s Matt Barrows had a great article the San Francisco 49ers defensive line, its coaches, and why they’ll be better upfront in 2020 than they were a season ago. If you’re not familiar with Jim Washburn, he’s one of the first coaches to implement the Wide-9 back in 1999 with the Tennessee Titans when they had Jevon Kearse.
Barrows’s article states that Washburn and 49ers’ defensive line coach Kris Kocurek has a strong relationship. Washburn considers Kocurek as a “second son,” so what you’re about to read next is eye-opening:
Of Armstead, he said: “He was a guy that they wanted to get rid of last year. They couldn’t wait to get him out of there. Kris begged them to keep him. And how’d that work out? He was made to attack and he had just been sitting there. It’s like you’d put a plow on a racehorse. You know, the racehorse doesn’t pull a plow.”
Armstead hadn’t lived up to his first-round billing until 2019. He was trending in the right direction, but you never watched Arik and thought, “that’s a top-20 pick” through the first few years of his career. Washburn said the previous system Armstead played in was a “reading and reacting prison,” and the Wide-9 allowed him to capitalize on his athletic gifts. After a career year, Armstead received an $85 million contract this past offseason.
Washburn said he believes the 49ers will be better in Year 2 under the Wide-9 scheme. He noted that the personnel is improved, citing how DeForest Buckner didn’t always fare well on double-team blocks. Buckner was hot and cold against double teams. He’d split the double team on one play and make the play near the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. On another play, he’d stand up, and the offense would be able to move Buckner off his spot.
Washburn said that the 49ers first-round pick, Javon Kinlaw, “has more bulk and his better built to hold up at the point of attack.”
“I’m so excited that Kris got him,” Washburn said of the 6-5, 324-pound Kinlaw. “This is what he’s made to do. I had Albert Haynesworth (in Tennessee), and he was player of the year one year. And Ndamukong Suh was a great player for us (in Detroit). And Kinlaw looks exactly like those guys. I mean, he’s a freak.”
“Kris sent me a couple of plays of (Kinlaw) hitting the pop-up dummies, you know?” Washburn continued. “And it’s not just how hard he hit ’em, it’s how flat his back is and how low (he gets) and how he can bend.”
Washburn thought Kinlaw and D.J. Jones could resemble the Lions interior of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley when Kocurek coached Detroit. That’s lofty praise, as those two were a dominant force up front.
Barrows’s article is fantastic as Washburn gives a mini-scouting report on just about everyone on the defensive line. Washburn said that Nick Bosa has a long way to go, and I agree with him. Bosa can improve in several ways as a player, from playing under control to recognizing his keys. If Bosa adds a counter to the inside and doesn’t leave his feet as a tackler, 15 sacks at some point over the next couple of seasons feels like a lock. It seems silly to say Bosa has so much room to grow when you consider how dominant he was as a rookie, but that’s how special of a player he is.