The San Francisco 49ers came out of the bye week with a major change, as head coach Kyle Shanahan announced that defensive coordinator Steve Wilks would move from the booth to the sidelines starting against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 10.
Wilks, a first-year coordinator with the 49ers, has experienced a variety struggles through the first eight weeks of the season, which have boiled over in the team’s losses, painting the coordinator as a scapegoat for the issues.
While questions have arisen about Wilks’s issues from a schematic standpoint, there have been execution issues at all three levels of the field, leaving much to be desired defensively during the losses.
However, is moving Wilks to the sidelines the correct move for solving the 49ers defensive issues?
Moving Wilks to the sidelines is reminiscent of what the 49ers had with their last two defensive coordinators in DeMeco Ryans and Robert Saleh: a communicative presence that can directly speak with the players face-to-face.
Shanahan illustrated the desire to communicate better with the linebackers as the reason for moving Wilks down to the sidelines.
“I kind of want him to be down and be near our players a little bit. They’ve had that more just with the linebacker communication in the past. I want him to be down there so he can talk to guys a little bit more,” Shanahan said.
But, more importantly in my opinion, the move allows Wilks to directly communicate with Shanahan more consistently, allowing the head coach to have a bigger input with the defense as the 49ers try and right the ship on that end.
While many may assume that a move to the sideline may be the energizer that the 49ers need, I’m not sure that Wilks’s personality is on the level of a Robert Saleh or DeMeco Ryans.
Yes, Wilks can certainly be a leader, but it appears that his form of leadership comes in a more traditional way, which is why it’ll be interesting to see how the dynamic changes with the move.
However, the main negative of placing Wilks on the sidelines is taking him away from the place he feels most comfortable as a playcalling coordinator.
In the offseason, Wilks shared how his preference was the coach from the box, which is why the 49ers went in that direction in the first place.
Additionally, Shanahan himself revealed on Wednesday that he feels coaching from the box is the best place to be, which is why the move is admittedly a little confusing.
“I love being in the box. I think that’s the best spot. I feel like you guys would judge me too hard if I went up there. If it ever gets cold enough, I might be. I like a chair and a desk and a lot of stuff to write down and things like that,” Shanahan said. “I had to do this for nine years before I got here. I was only in the box one year, my last year, so it was eight on the field before that. There’s pluses and minuses to both, so you usually go with your preference.”
Wilks’s location wasn’t the main issue with the defense; the schematic problems and the execution were, and those aren’t solved with the move to the sidelines.
Do I believe the defense can turn it around? Absolutely, but I have my reservations that a move from the box would be the primary reasons why.