Image Credit: Bay Area News Group
In the preseason opener against Dallas, 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair knifed through traffic and thwarted a screen pass with a crushing hit on the Cowboys’ running back. The hit energized the entire defense and the first player on the field to congratulate Al-Shaair was Kwon Alexander, in street clothes. Alexander was held out of the game, but that did not stop him from showing his appreciation for the undrafted rookie out of Florida Atlantic.
When the 49ers signed Kwon Alexander to a 4-year $54 million-dollar contract in the offseason, part of what they were hoping to get from Alexander was the type of attitude and personality that would rub off on his teammates in a positive way. Alexander has not suited up for either of the 49ers’ first two preseason games as he continues his rehab from a torn ACL suffered in the sixth game of the 2018 season, but that does not mean that the team has yet to see any effects.
When the 49ers drafted Fred Warner in 2018, the idea was to pair him with second-year linebacker Reuben Foster to form a dynamic duo of speedy linebackers for years to come; unfortunately, Foster couldn’t hold up his end of the bargain, but Warner, with his quiet demeanor, proved to be mature beyond years as he took on all the responsibility that comes with being the defensive playcaller. Throughout the start of this year’s training camp, however, there has been a notable change in Warner, as he enters his second season; he has been much more vocal. Alexander has been challenging Warner to match his “energy.”
General manager John Lynch mentioned Alexander’s energy during the press conference that introduced the linebacker to the media, saying that “he plays with his hair on fire.” In the same press conference, Kyle Shanahan said that Alexander played with “speed and violence” and the hope in Santa Clara is that that example will be replicated by the rest of the defense and will lead to more turnovers.
The 2018 49ers were historically bad when it came to creating turnovers with only five fumble recoveries and just two interceptions all season, causing turnovers is something that Kwon Alexander has excelled at in his young career. In his four seasons in the NFL, Alexander has forced 6 fumbles and intercepted 6 passes and the 49ers were willing to pay a premium for that skill, but it is not just the on-field production that the 49ers were looking for.
His head coach in Tampa, Dirk Koetter, called Alexander the “heart and soul” of the defense. When asked about Alexander, host of the “Locked on Bucs” podcast, James Yarcho talked about the love that Alexander has for his teammates. An example of that love was on full display during his rookie season when just a couple of days prior to a game against the Atlanta Falcons, Alexander’s younger brother was murdered. No one would have blamed him if he skipped the game to be with his family in light of the tragic loss, but instead Alexander took the field for the brother he lost in life and the 52 brothers in arms and had the game of his life. He finished with 11 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception.
In 2018, Richard Sherman was added as much for his veteran leadership as his abilities to play cornerback, and as great as Sherman is as a leader he is more the brain and mouth of the defense than its heart, something the 49ers have lacked since Patrick Willis retired. With the signing of Alexander, the 49ers are hoping they have found the new heart of the defense as well as a dynamic playmaker.
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