DeMeco Ryans has high expectations for the 49ers' linebackers going into the 2019 season with the key addition of Kwon Alexander and continued growth of Fred Warner.
There is a sense of urgency for the 49ers defense to turn the corner after they added pass rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa to the team. Ryans, the team's linebackers coach, knows the bar is high for his group as they move forward from the departure of Reuben Foster.
Bringing in someone like Alexander will be a big boost.
“He’s been great for us because he brings a different type of energy,” Ryans said. “He brings swagger that I think we were kind of missing. He brings that edge that we needed. And he’s been great in our meeting rooms.”
Alexander is still being held out of practice while he continues rehabbing his ACL with an expectation of being full-go at training camp. Ryans is confident he will assimilate seamlessly. He also noted that if Alexander had his way, he’d already be practicing.
“He will get enough reps in training camp where he will get familiar with the system,” Ryans said. “He’s ready to go now, you kind of have to slow him down. He gets too excited, when guys make a play on the ball out there.
“I’ve seen him a couple of days ago jumping up and I said, ‘Man, you’re ready to go right now, aren’t you?’”
The 49ers have their eyes on Alexander right away at the beginning of free agency. He brings a set of different qualities that should thrive in Robert Saleh's defense.
“Athleticism, and speed when he hits someone in zone coverage, he knocks them back,” Ryans said. “He really brings a lot of speed to the defense.”
Ryans also expects improvement from Warner going into his second season. The team put a lot of responsibility on him in the MIKE position and were impressed by his ability to handle the pressure.
“He could take another step just now being a year in and everything kind of slowing down,” Ryans said. “Being a rookie, we asked a lot of him last year and he didn’t blink an eye. He was like, ‘Yeah I can do it, I can do it.’
“He’s very cerebral and can handle a lot. We want to take some of his plate a little bit and just let him go out and play fast. He’s mature and is going to succeed at whatever he does.”
Though he's only a second-year pro, Warner's football inteligence and understanding of the defense jumps out right away.
“Sharp kid,” Ryans said. “He asks very good questions. If he asks a question sometimes you’re like, ’Man, I didn’t think about that.’ As a coach he keeps me on my toes, making sure I have all ends covered. It’s really good having a really smart guy in the room.”
Ryans likes the balance between the veterans and younger players in his group. He believes that their speed will be an important quality in 2019 as the improved pass rush forces opposing quarterbacks to get the ball out faster.
“We expect the quarterback’s process to speed up,” Ryans said. “We expect to not have to cover as long. We expect the ball to come out a lot quicker.”