Shanahan Excited to See Saleh's New 49ers Defense

Niners head coach believes new coordinator's unit will be an aggressive, run-stopping group that also features strong pass coverage

When the 2017 NFL season begins, the 49ers should give their fans a completely different look.

While longtime favorites such as tackle Joe Staley and linebacker NaVorro Bowman will still be around, the coaching staff, the offensive and defensive schemes and many of the key players will be new.

The defense, certainly, will look much different than it did in 2016, 2015 or 2014 under previous head coaches Chip Kelly, Jim Tomsula and Jim Harbaugh. Recently hired head coach Kyle Shanahan has said defensive coordinator Robert Saleh – who most recently coached under Pete Carroll of the Seahawks and Carroll-disciple Gus Bradley in Jacksonville – will run a “true Seattle-Atlanta-Jacksonville system” that essentially is a base 4-3 scheme that is constantly shifting and giving new looks to opposing offenses.

The scheme, says Shanahan, will feature very physical players he calls “violent people.”

“You want to run and hit people, make the field smaller for everybody, especially the receivers, and that starts with the safeties and corners, being able to hit,” said Shanahan in a recent interview on KNBR. “And, it’s not just about hitting. You’ve got to be able to cover.”

Already, the 49ers have added defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, linebacker Malcolm Smith and safety Don Jones and more impact players will come via free agency and the draft. Players who fit that Seattle style will be plugged in, he says. And that new style of defense is grounded in its aggressive style and strength against the run – a trait not demonstrated by the 49ers in 2016. This past season the Niners were last in the NFL in rushing defense (by a wide margin), allowing 165.9 yards per game.

Said Shanahan, of the Seahawks-style defense he hopes to feature in 2017 under Saleh: “It’s always an eight-man front. It’s very tough to run the ball against. And they’re very sound in their coverages. You can get some completions and things like that, but they make you work all the way down the field. And when someone makes you work all the way down the field, no matter how talented they are, you have to be on as an offense to score points. Because you can get to the red zone, you can get yards, but in order to get touchdowns you have to execute. It’s a defense that makes you execute.”

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