The 49ers introduced two new free-agent acquisitions on Thursday, and both edge rusher Dee Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander were brought in for the same traits.
“Speed and violence affect the quarterback,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said, “and make people do stupid things before they want to. Both of these guys have a lot of speed and they both play violently.”
The 49ers received the dubious honor of breaking the record for the lowest turnover totals in 2018. They only mustered two interceptions (32nd) and recovered five fumbles (T-28th). Ford and Alexander were brought in to improve those statistics.
“That wasn’t fun to watch,” general manager John Lynch said. “It is something we have to live with and it’s a reality and we needed to change that and you’re exactly right. These are the type of players that we believe can reverse that trend.”
Shanahan recalled the first time he coached against Alexander as the Falcons' offensive coordinator. It seemed to leave a lasting impression.
“He taught me a hard lesson that you better game plan for him,” Shanahan said, "because I didn’t the first game of 2016. We started out 0-1 because of it. It was bad. It was so bad that Julio asked me after the game if he could play fullback and block him.”
Shanahan is not just relieved to not have to face Alexander. Ford also has left a nightmarish impression on the 49ers head coach.
“You can turn on the tape,” Shanahan said, “and he scares you as a coach because you can see how fast he gets off the ball. Not all pass rushers you can see that. But as soon as you press play, you can see that. I’m glad don’t have to get freaked out watching that anymore.”
Ford not only tallied 13 sacks in his final season with the Chiefs, he forced seven fumbles. That is more than half of the 13 that the entire 49ers defense managed in 2018. Ford also racked up 29 quarterback hits. Just for perspective, DeForest Buckner lead the team with 20.
"Dee he has a knack for getting the ball out,” Lynch said. “And as Kyle said, that first step is lethal. We think that can help our entire team. Get that virus going where we’re taking away the ball on a regular basis.”
Lynch noted that having Alexander on the defense should also help change the team’s lack of turnovers.
“Kwon, he’s always had a propensity,” Lynch said. “He’s always around the ball. There’s so many things to like, but that is definitely something that jumps.”
Making the defense more aggressive was a priority for the 49ers this offseason as seen by their free-agency moves. They will have opportunities to improve it further with the defensive depth of this year's draft class as well.