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.”
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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.”
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.