Indianapolis Colts

49ers' Fred Warner picked up 'ball is everything' from Kwon Alexander

49ers' Fred Warner picked up 'ball is everything' from Kwon Alexander

The defense has as much right to ownership of the football as the offense.

That’s the message linebacker Kwon Alexander brought to the 49ers’ defense last season. And it’s the reason linebacker Fred Warner is rarely seen without a football in his hands any time he is around team headquarters in Santa Clara.

“I give a lot of credit to Kwon,” Warner said last week during the 49ers State of the Franchise virtual event about the common sight of him carrying a football around.

“He’s the one who started that. Kwon brought this mindset to the entire defense, the entire team, from the moment he got on the squad. Carrying around a football is just reminding you that the ball is everything.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The 49ers ranked 10th in the NFL last season with a plus-four turnover margin. The 49ers were third in the league with 15 takeaways on fumbles.

Nickelback K’Waun Williams led the team with four forced fumbles, while defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, whom the club traded to the Indianapolis Colts this offseason, had four fumble recoveries.

“When you’re out on the field, I’m honestly trying to attack the ball,” said Warner, who forced three fumbles last season. “And I think that’s the mindset of everybody on our defense. And I think you saw that, game-in and game-out where we were creating takeaways for the team.”

[RELATED: 49ers' goal on D is simple, but will be tough to attain]

The 49ers’ virtual offseason program recently concluded. The team has not been on the field together since its Super Bowl LIV loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but San Francisco believes the defense can be even better in 2020 because of the continuity from one season to the next.

Buckner is the only full-time starter from last season who does not return on defense. The 49ers replaced Buckner with South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, the No. 14 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Watch 49ers' Ronald Blair show off big strides made in torn ACL rehab

Watch 49ers' Ronald Blair show off big strides made in torn ACL rehab

It's a shame that the best play 49ers defensive lineman Ronald Blair made last season occurred on the final down he participated in.

Blair didn't just run down Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in the open field in Week 10; he closed so quickly, he took the elusive QB down behind the line of scrimmage for a sack.

That display of freakish athleticism cost Blair the rest of the season, as he tore his ACL in chasing Wilson down. Had he remained healthy, he was on pace for a career year heading into unrestricted free agency.

Blair's injury, combined with the league restrictions on medical evaluations due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, ultimately watered down his market. In March, he then signed a one-year contract to return for a fifth season with San Francisco.

Both defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek are big fans of Blair, and it's easy to understand why. He offers tremendous versatility and has been an important part of the 49ers' rotation on the defensive front. Shortly before putting pen to paper on his new contract, he posted an Instagram video of the progress he had made in his rehab. On Saturday, another video was posted, and it would appear he has made big strides in the three months since.

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It sure looks like Blair is gaining confidence in that surgically-repaired knee, judging by the focus on stops-and-starts and lateral movement. Frankly, some of those drills look awfully similar to the play on which he sustained the injury.

With DeForest Buckner now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, the 49ers likely won't be able to replace his production with any one single player -- at least not right away -- but rather, through the combined efforts of multiple linemen. San Francisco is counting on Blair to be a part of that group, and despite coming off a major injury, it looks like he is on pace to do so.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

How 49ers' Arik Armstead has been coping with DeForest Buckner trade

How 49ers' Arik Armstead has been coping with DeForest Buckner trade

Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner have been teammates seven of the last eight years. They worked together along the University of Oregon defensive line and reunited after a year apart on the 49ers front.

Despite the fact both were due big-money contract extensions this offseason after helping the 49ers advance the Super Bowl, parting ways was not a serious consideration.

“I wouldn’t say that I personally thought about that as a possibility,” Armstead said Wednesday on a video conference with local reporters. “I figured there would be a way for us to continue playing together. That’s not how it happened.”

Armstead signed a five-year, $85 million contract with $45.85 million guaranteed on the morning of March 16. Buckner was traded to Indianapolis later that afternoon.

"It was an interesting day to say the least," Armstead said. "There was a lot of excitement, of course, after signing back with the 49ers. That’s definitely what I wanted to do. Learning about ‘DeFo’ being traded was a shock to me, trying to figure out how that happened and what went on."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The Elk Grove native had just signed his new deal when the Buckner trade hit social media, and he quickly went on a mission to find out what happened and why. He talked to Buckner shortly after and while he was disappointed a great friend and teammate was leaving town, Armstead was happy to hear a massive extension worth an average of $19.2 million per season was coming for Buckner from the Colts.

"It’s certainly weird not being on the same team, not being right beside each other but we’re both super blessed," Armstead said. "He’s definitely deserving of that contract. He’s an amazing player and he’s going to do amazing things up there in Indianapolis. Those were two huge opportunities for us. I definitely wish we were still playing together but it’s beyond our control.”

Armstead is thrilled to remain with the 49ers following a career year where he had 10 sacks, 18 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles while being acknowledged among the NFL's best run defenders.

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He also acknowledges that Buckner will be hard to replace, and that job shouldn’t fall solely on No. 14 overall pick Javon Kinlaw.

“There’s going to be a void there that’s going to be tough to fill,” Armstead said. “It’s going to be a team effort, especially within our defensive line. We’re all going to have to pick it up. I think we’re up for it. We have a great group of guys and we have a great team. I don’t think we were reliant on just three guys throughout the year. When we needed leadership, it was a group effort.

"Guys across the roster stepped up at different times. I think we’re built the right way to adjust to something like this the right way. Moving forward I expect me and a whole host of my teammates to step into leadership roles while making big plays on the field.”