When Robert Saleh took over as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator in 2017, no one knew what to expect. The Niners didn’t have much talent during Saleh’s first season, and the unit ranked 26th in DVOA.
In 2018, the 49ers’ defense slightly improved to 23rd in DVOA, before adding talented pieces in Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, which resulted in a leap to being the second-ranked defense last season.
San Francisco is returning all-but-one starter in 2020 after Pro Bowl defensive lineman DeForest Buckner was traded to the Indianapolis Colts during the offseason. Expectations are high for the Niners’ defense going into the new season, and Saleh will be front-and-center once again.
Saleh opened up about several topics during his first media session since the Super Bowl:
On who starts opposite Richard Sherman as the second cornerback:
Last season, Akhello Witherspoon’s inconsistency opened the door for Emmanuel Moseley to take over some reps. Witherspoon was the starter in the Divisional Round, but he was burned on a couple of big plays against the Minnesota Vikings, and the 49ers rolled with Moseley the rest of the playoffs. Saleh says nothing is set in stone going into the 2020 season.
“It is wide open, if you want to call it that. We’re just trying to give guys opportunities to go win that job.”
Saleh was asked how Jason Verrett has looked at training camp, and is happy with what he has seen from the veteran.
“He looks a lot more comfortable. He looks a lot more confident. It’s just a matter of him getting back into the feel of it. It’s been a while for him where he’s been able to put together a full training camp. He’s off to a good start.”
Buckner was a huge part of San Francisco’s success in 2019, but the 49ers have the depth to makeup for the loss.
“As a group collectively, no one person is going to replace Buckner’s production. Everyone’s just got to elevate their game a little bit more and find ways to produce in their own way, but as a unit, they can remain strong and continue to be dominant like they were a year ago.”
General manager John Lynch used the team’s first draft pick on defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, who is making a name for himself early on at camp.
“He showed a lot of explosive movements through individual drills in the first ten days and he is a very large human being, very powerful man. He just needs to continue to grind and lean on the veterans in that room and continue to get better every day.”
Saleh was also asked about how Bosa is looking after his first offseason as a pro, and says the beast is looking ready to dominate in the trenches again in 2020.
“I’ll be honest, he looks a little leaner, but I think he’s also a lot stronger. I attribute it just to the maturation of a human being. He’s out of college. He’s had his first offseason and he’s just completely with a professional workout crew, if you will. Him and his brother, grinding out in Florida and doing whatever they had to do to get ready. You can tell that those two, the Bosa brothers, have a very strict eating regimen, workout regimen, and they take very, very good care of themselves and just see it.”
The 49ers’ defensive coordinator added that Jamar Taylor is getting reps with the first-team as long as K’Waun Williams is out after suffering a calf strain. Saleh also said defensive line coach Kris Kocurek likes what he has seen from Kerry Hyder so far.