A year ago, the 49ers hired Jim O’Neil, a 38-year-old to be defensive coordinator under new head coach Chip Kelly. That didn’t work out well, with the 49ers devolving into the NFL’s worst defensive unit, allowing team records for yards and points allowed.
Now a new head coach, Kyle Shanahan, reportedly is set to give the job to another 38-year-old who – unlike O’Neil – never has been an NFL defensive coordinator.
According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, among many, Shanahan will offer the job to Robert Saleh, who most recently has been linebackers coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Before working in Jacksonville, Saleh had coaching stints with the Houston Texans (where he worked with Shanahan) and the Seattle Seahawks.
Saleh has coached in both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes. As Barrows noted, Saleh had a pair of linebackers with the Jaguars who had more than 100 tackles in 2016, Paul Posluzny and Telvin Smith.
Much of the success of the 2017 49ers depend on how well Saleh can work to improve the defense, while Shanahan focuses on making the offense better.
Marc Sessler of NFL.com wrote Monday that, “Saleh has his work cut out for him in San Francisco. Beyond an on-the-mend NaVorro Bowman, safety Eric Reid and defensive ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, the Niners offer a paper-thin roster that finished last in the league in yardage and points allowed. The honeymoon period won’t last long if that kind of play continues by the Bay.”
However, Ryan Day, who writes about the Jaguars for SB Nation, pointed to Saleh’s linebackers as the best part of the Jacksonville defense.
“While the Jaguars’ defense was disappointing overall, the linebackers were probably the one unit that performed well overall consistently,” during Saleh’s tenure, he wrote.