49ers

Robert Saleh outlines 49ers' defensive blueprint

Robert Saleh outlines 49ers' defensive blueprint

SANTA CLARA -- First-time defensive coordinator Robert Saleh inherited the worst – by far – run defense in the NFL.

The 49ers last season surrendered 165.9 yards rushing per game, including 4.8 yards per carry, and 25 touchdowns to rank last in the league in each of those categories. The 49ers finished 2-14. Coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke were fired. Kyle Shanahan was hired.

After being unable to hire Gus Bradley or Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator, Shanahan filled the position with the hiring of Saleh, who previously worked as an assistant with Houston, Seattle and Jacksonville.

So it was not difficult for Saleh to find a reasonable starting point for what he wants to establish with the 49ers’ defense in 2017.

“Stopping the run is our No. 1 priority,” Saleh said Monday, on the first day of the 49ers’ offseason program. “The way we align, our demeanor, the responsibility of the defensive players. . . We will stop the run on this defense.”

General manager John Lynch has spoken often in his first two months on the job about deploying an attacking style of defense. Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner spoke about playing more aggressively – unlike the read-and-react style of last season.

“All gas, no brakes,” Buckner said.

Saleh, speaking publicly for the first time since joining the 49ers, described the demeanor he wants from his players as “extreme physicality.”

Saleh spoke about the design of his defense, as well as which players fit in the different spots:

--“We are a single-high (safety) defense," Saleh said. "The system you could say, it originated in Seattle. I was there from the get-go. Three teams currently, Seattle, Atlanta, Jacksonville, if you’re looking at tape, all of them have their nuances and how they operate. I don’t want to say it will be a very different scheme, but there are going to be differences and there will be nuances within this scheme that makes it unique to us.”

--Saleh agreed with the observation that the 49ers will run a 4-3 base defense using what amounts to 3-4 personnel. He emphasized that the strong-side linebacker (Sam) will be more of a pass-rusher because of the high volume of snaps that teams now play with five defensive backs in passing situations.

“It’s almost 70-percent nickel, and the nickel who doesn’t get talked about as a starter, he’s starting to come up as an individual piece to the puzzle,” Saleh said. “So when looking at the Sam linebacker and what they’re asked to do on a day-to-day basis, 70-percent of the game their hand will be in the ground.

“So we’re looking for more of an edge rusher as opposed to what it was in years past with a brut Sam linebacker, a Bill Romanowski-type. We’re trying to move forward from that.”

--The best fits for the Sam linebacker on the 49ers’ current roster are Ahmad Brooks, Eli Harold and Dekoda Watson, Saleh said.

The Sam is similar to the “Leo” position, which is similar to the “elephant” position that George Seifert implemented in the 1980s and ‘90s with the 49ers.

Saleh said Aaron Lynch is a Leo type. And Arik Armstead could find a role for himself in a Sam/Leo role, too. Said Saleh, “Even Arik, he’s not a prototype, but he’s capable just from his flexibility.”

--When asked what kind of player he is looking for in the Leo role, Saleh ticked off some names of players who have fit in that role – or players in other systems who have the attributes he desires:

“Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley. People outside of the system, you’d look at Von Miller, Khalil Mack. Back in his heyday, Charles Haley would have been a guy that would have been a Leo.”

--Saleh said there is no difference between the Mike (middle) linebacker and Will (weak side). Whichever player is best at communicating with the other members of the defense will be designated the Mike.

“Yeah, the Mike-Will, they’re interchangeable,” Saleh said. “So if you look at Seattle, their Will linebacker, K.J. Wright, is 6-4, 245 pounds. If you look at Jacksonville, the Will linebacker was 6-3, 215 pounds. If you look at Atlanta’s Mike linebacker, he’s 220 pounds. Bobby Wagner sits at 240.

“So there’s no height-weight parameter. But, what there is, is one person can communicate and the other one might be able to communicate, but one is better than the other.”

--The 49ers reacted quickly to release starting cornerback Tramaine Brock last week after his arrest on suspicion of domestic violence. The 49ers are keeping an open mind whether to keep Jimmie Ward at cornerback or move him back to free safety to fill a role similar to what Earl Thomas has played with Seattle.

“Jimmie is a very, very versatile athlete,” Saleh said. “He can play corner, he can play safety and whatever is best for the organization is exactly what we’re going to do with Jimmie.”

--Meanwhile, Eric Reid will be a “box safety” – playing closer to the line of scrimmage in a role that Kam Chancellor has filled in the Seattle defense.

--The 49ers have spent first-round draft picks the past two years on defensive linemen Armstead and Buckner. Although selected to play in different systems, Saleh believes both can be versatile enough to play multiple spots in the scheme he is installing.

“The cool thing with the way the front has been built in the past, they are very versatile,” Saleh said. “So you can do anything, we can do anything we want with them. They’re not traditional. When you look at Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, they are very, very unique in the sense that they can play up and down the line however you need them to work. We’ll find what’s best for them.”

Garoppolo getting to know new 49ers teammates without coaches around

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AP

Garoppolo getting to know new 49ers teammates without coaches around

Although the first two weeks of the NFL offseason program are limited to strength and conditioning training, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has already gotten an opportunity to play with a couple of his new toys.

Garoppolo has taken part in throwing sessions during the week at the team’s facility, where coaches are not allowed on the field with the players until next week. On the weekends, he has organized additional activities with his teammates at a park in the South Bay.

“We had our first one this weekend,” Garoppolo said on Monday at Levi’s Stadium after another day of workouts. “It’s just something that I like to do. It kinds of gets us away from the coaches and everything, and allows me to talk to the receivers about specific things, or the tight ends or running backs.

“We try to get everyone out there that we can. I understand people have things that they have to get to. But we had a great showing this Saturday. It was good. Just to be on the same page with those guys, talking through route concepts and how they see it versus how I see it. It just gets us on the same page.”

Among the players who have taken part in the sessions are wide receiver Pierre Garçon and running back Jerick McKinnon, likely to be among the team’s top pass-catchers this season.

Garoppolo’s five starts with the 49ers came after Garçon was sidelined with a neck injury after eight games. Garçon was on pace for a 1,000-yard season before going on injured reserve. The 49ers targeted McKinnon as an upgrade over Carlos Hyde due to his playmaking ability, including catching passes out of the backfield.

McKinnon and center Weston Richburg were players the 49ers front office heavily pursued and signed on the first day of free agency. They were the first major pieces the 49ers added after signing Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million contract in February.

“Those are good guys,” Garoppolo said. “They fit what we’re trying to do here and they work hard, so when you bring that to the table, it’s always good.”

Garoppolo is continuing in his first offseason with the 49ers something he said he began during his days at Rolling Meadows High School in a northwest suburb of Chicago.

”It’s one of those things, when the coaches aren’t there you kind of see a different side of guys,” Garoppolo said. “They open up a little bit or tell you how they see a concept compared to how it is written in the book. Just a little bit at a time for us to talk through things, I guess.”

Lynch: If charges are proven true, Reuben Foster 'won't be part of our organization'

Lynch: If charges are proven true, Reuben Foster 'won't be part of our organization'

Despite facing two felony charges for domestic violence and one felony for possession of an assault weapon, linebacker Reuben Foster is still a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

While Foster won't participate in the team's offseason program, he hasn't been cut.

On Monday, 49ers GM John Lynch addressed Foster's future with the team while talking to the media in Santa Clara. Lynch said he was speaking for CEO Jed York, the York ownership family and coach Kyle Shanahan.

"As you all know and as our release indicated, we take the gravity of these charges . . . has not been lost on us. We take it extremely seriously. We do feel like patience is the right approach right now, that we are going to learn things through this legal process. But I do want to be very clear, abundantly clear, that if these charges are proven true, that if Reuben did indeed hit this young lady, he won't be part of our organization going forward. That's the standard we want on our team, that's the standard we are going to operate under," Lynch said.

In a statement to announce criminal charges on April 12, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office stated the alleged victim told responding officers that Foster hit her eight to 10 times in the head during the Feb. 11 incident in Los Gatos. The DA's office said the woman was bruised and sustained a ruptured ear drum.

Lynch said the 49ers were surprised by the seriousness of the allegations made by the DA’s office. But he said he does not believe the 49ers have enough information to make an informed decision on Foster, who is not taking part in the club’s offseason program.

“We just feel right now that we don’t have all the information,” Lynch said. “Everyone looks at that and says, ‘The DA’s has levied charges, how is that not enough information?’ I would tell you that each one of these cases is unique, and in this case we don’t feel like we have that information, so we’re going to wait and let this play out.”

Lynch said the 49ers are preparing for the possibility that Foster might not play again for the 49ers. He said the club has been in contract with the league office, while also trying to facilitate structure for him outside the organization while his teammates are attending the offseason program.