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San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan made multiple changes to his coaching staff, although the big names stayed the same. He will still be filling the role of offensive coordinator himself, and Robert Saleh retained his position as the defensive coordinator. The staff underneath those two went through some pretty important changes though; some of them due to coaches being replaced and some due to coaches moving on to other organizations. Some of the more notable additions include Chris Kiffin as pass rush specialist last year, plus Kris Kocurek as defensive line coach, and Joe Woods as defensive backs/passing game coordinator this year.
Shanahan also brought in former NFL players as position coaches or offensive and defensive assistants. Slot wide receiver extraordinaire Wes Welker was brought in as the wide receivers coach and Miles Austin as the offensive quality control coach. Former NFL linebacker DeMeco Ryans was also promoted from defensive quality control coach to the team’s linebackers coach.
There was some more shuffling here and there, including adding Shane Day as quarterbacks coach and making Katie Sowers an offensive assistant coach. The real question is, will any of it make a difference in how the team plays on Sundays?
The coaches who will probably have the biggest impact on the team’s success this year are those first three coaches mentioned, Kiffin, Kocurek, and Woods, along with the addition of Welker to work with the wide receivers. All of them are taking over position groups or areas of the team’s scheme where the team lacked impact in the 2018 season.
The team’s pass-rushing woes last season are well-documented and established in the Internet’s catalogue of sports articles and Twitter rants. The Niners made a complete facelift, bringing in Kocurek to adjust what the defensive line did to get the quarterback, most notably bringing his wide-9 technique with him to a now absolutely stacked defensive line. If he can help Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Solomon Thomas all reach the potential they possess, no NFL quarterback will be safe. Kocurek worked with the underwhelming Miami Dolphins last season, and helped Robert Quinn to his highest sack total since 2015. Although neither Quinn nor Cameron Wake had a dynamic Pro Bowl season, both played better in 2018 than they had in a while. When you add Kiffin as a pass rush specialist coach, to the additions at defensive end and scheme shift, fans should be expecting a lot of sacks coming out of Santa Clara.
The team’s defensive backfield was possibly the biggest disappointment of the 2018 season – even more so than their pass rush. They only recorded two interceptions on the season, were consistently out of position, and did not display the most sure handed tackling. Enter Coach Woods, who comes to the 49ers from the Denver Broncos, where he spent the past two seasons as their defensive coordinator and the two seasons before that as their defensive backs coach. Over the past 14 seasons, Woods has been known as one of the most respected defensive backs coaches in the NFL.
The Broncos led the NFL in interceptions during the two seasons he was their defensive backs coach and last season, his second as their defensive coordinator, Denver was top five in the NFL in both passes defensed and interceptions. His experience and know how should improve all of the defensive backs game, but especially the young players who have struggled with consistently being in the right place at the right time.
Welker will be the main impact guy on the offensive side of the ball, due to the fact that the 49ers’WR group is incredibly young, boasting two rookies (Deebo Samuels and Jalen Hurd), two second-year receivers(Dante Pettis and Richie James), and two third-year receivers (Trent Taylor and Kendrick Bourne). Not all of them will make the team, as veteran Marquise Goodwin seems a lock on the roster and free agent newcomer Jordan Matthews is an unknown. The value of having a possible future Hall-of-Fame wide receiver tutoring this group in practices and on game days would benefit any group with ears and abilities.
The 49ers have already released video of practices and you can see Welker coaching up the finer techniques and visual cues to Dante Pettis. For Shanahan’s offense to really open up, it will need this young group of pass catchers to soak up all of the information Welker has to offer. Adding a wide receiver of Welker’s abilities seems like a perfect fit to Shanahan’s coaching staff, as he was an All-Pro at finding the weak spaces in defenses and exploiting them.
Throughout the 2019 offseason, the 49ers front office made huge steps towards reaching their goal of hoisting a sixth Lombardi trophy on February 2, 2020. Adding players like Ford, Bosa, Samuels, Hurd, Kwon Alexander and Tevin Coleman, plus coaches like Kocurek, Welker, and Ryans to lead these young players to stardom.
Will it be enough to get over the hump and into the playoffs?
It appears the pieces are all there, and Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have put the right minds together to complete the puzzle.
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