Shanahan hires Saleh as 49ers defensive coordinator

Shanahan hires Saleh as 49ers defensive coordinator

New 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan on Friday confirmed former Jacksonville Jaguars linebackers coach Robert Saleh will be his defensive coordinator.

Saleh, 38, faces a tall task. The 49ers defense last season under coordinator Jim O’Neil was one of the worst in league history.

While staggering to a 2-14 finish, the 49ers’ defense ranked last in yards allowed, rushing yards allowed and points allowed. The 49ers surrendered 6,502 yards and 480 points – the eighth- and tied for ninth-worst figures, respectively, in NFL history.

“Robert Saleh is as smart as anyone I’ve been around,” Shanahan said on the "Murph and Mac Show" on KNBR. “He studies everything. He knows a lot of different systems, but he knows the true Seattle-Atlanta-Jacksonville system inside and out, as much as anybody I’ve been with.

“(We) went through a hard interview process with him. I wanted to see where he’s come in the last eight years that we haven’t been together, and it was extremely impressive. I’m very confident in Saleh. He’s helping me put together this defensive staff. He’s going to build a scheme and we’re going to try to get players to fit that scheme. But we also know we’re going to adjust to the players we have, too.”

Saleh coached linebackers with the Jaguars the past three seasons under Gus Bradley. Saleh and Shanahan coached on the same staff with the Texans for all four seasons Shanahan worked under head coach Gary Kubiak.

The 49ers targeted two experienced coaches before hiring Saleh. The 49ers made a push to hire former Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley before he opted to join Anthony Lynn’s staff with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Shanahan also was interested in hiring former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, but the Chicago Bears would not allow him out of his contract, sources told CSNBayArea.com.

Saleh (pronounced SAHL-uh) started out as a defensive intern with Houston in 2005 before moving up to defensive quality control (’06-’08) and assistant linebackers coach (2009-10).

From 2011 to ’13, Saleh worked with the Seattle Seahawks as defensive quality control coach. In Saleh’s final season with Seattle, he worked under Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, who was the defensive coordinator. Saleh also worked two seasons while Bradley was the Seahawks' defensive coordinator.

The 49ers will technically play a 4-3 defense, but Shanahan explained there are certain elements of the 3-4 built into the scheme.

“It’s a 4-3, which I think all of that is such semantics, to tell you the truth,” Shanahan said. “Seattle has a linebacker on the ball every single play. So does Atlanta. That’s five guys on the line of scrimmage. Whether you call it a 4-3 or a 3-4, for the most part, we call it a 4-3, just to tell you guys the way I look at it, as a coach.

“Can your halfback block that Sam linebacker on the ball? And that just depends how big he is. And if he’s a big guy and he’s Ahmad Brooks, then call it a 3-4. If he’s a smaller guy like K.J. Wright, who’s not that small, but you’re going to put your back on him, then call it a 4-3. There’s really no difference. It’s the same kind of fronts.

“In a 3-4, sometimes they one-gap, sometimes they two-gap. But we plan on having a linebacker on the ball. That’s five guys on the line of scrimmage. Depending on how our personnel plays out, I’ll have a better answer for what you want to call it.”

From Eli to Jimmy G, 49ers' new center ready to protect Garoppolo


From Eli to Jimmy G, 49ers' new center ready to protect Garoppolo

New 49ers center Weston Richburg will be joining what he has heard is a good group of offensive linemen, led by six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, the longest-tenured 49ers player.

Richburg, 26, said he is also looking forward to working closely with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, 26. The 49ers expect the players to be on the field a lot together over the coming seasons. Garoppolo and Richburg both signed five-year contracts through the 2022 season this offseason.

When asked on The 49ers Insider Podcast if the organization’s long-term commitment to Garoppolo had any influence on his decision to come to the Bay Area after four seasons with the New York Giants, Richburg answered, “Doesn’t hurt.”

“You look at of the teams that have a lot of success -- the team he just came from, what I just came from -- there are two quarterbacks on those teams that have been there who have had success who work extremely hard at their craft,” Richburg said. “So I think see that in Jimmy. I’m excited to be a little part of what he does.”

Richburg played out of position at left guard in his rookie season. Over the next two years, he started 31 of 32 games at center, in front of two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning. Garoppolo came to the 49ers in an October trade from New England after spending most of his 3 1/2 NFL seasons behind Tom Brady.

Richburg said he expects to develop a good rapport with his quarterback – a must for an offense to function at a high level.

“If it’s bad, I think it can hurt you,” Richburg said of the center-quarterback dynamic. “But if it’s good, it can help.

“I think we’re going to have a good relationship. We’re around the same age. I think we’ll be able to pick each other’s brains, feed off each other, work together. That’s part of the position of center that I like the most is kind of the cerebral part of it and working with a quarterback, getting everything situated, getting everything running.”

Richburg started just four games last season and finished the season on injured reserve with a concussion. He said it was the first concussion he has experienced and is feeling good.

“It was new territory,” Richburg said, “but I’m feeling very good right now. I’m excited. I think I got a little more itch to go play football right now since it’s been a little longer for me.”

49ers sign former first-round pick guard


49ers sign former first-round pick guard

The 49ers added some talent in the trenches on Tuesday.

Guard Jonathan Cooper inked a one-year deal, the team announced.

Cooper was originally drafted No. 7 overall by the Cardinals in 2013. After two seasons in Arizona, he spent time with the Patriots, Browns and Cowboys.

Last season, he appeared in 13 games for Dallas.

“Having started 27 games in four NFL seasons, Jonathan brings great experience to the interior of our offensive line. We look forward to him competing for a starting job at guard, while also bringing a veteran presence to our locker room. Jonathan is a welcome addition to our team,” GM John Lynch said in a statement.