Inside linebackers and nose tackle
Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman has become the face of the 49ers franchise over the past two years, regardless of his horrific injuries and time rehabbing. His time at middle linebacker since his third-round selection in 2010 has propelled him to the top of the conversation when discussing who is the best at his position.
After losing him for the second time to a major injury in three years, the 49ers defense showed the lack of everything that this living legend brings to the table. Every perceivable statistic took a nose dive after his departure last year. As the elder statesman and leader of this defense, his return this year with a very young surrounding cast and the new scheme is priceless.
Many would say Bowman’s best position would be at the WILL LB position because of his recent injuries and age, so he might not have to run with receivers or drop into coverage as he used to.
Bowman is only 28 years old and is, perhaps, the best comeback player in 49er history when considering career-ending injuries and the intestinal fortitude it takes to successfully return from them.
I would completely and unequivocally disagree with such a notion, Bowman will serve as the MIKE LB in this defense and captain his squad, while providing excellent pass coverage and manning the strong side B-gap in run support.
Regardless of the recent headline grabs of the popular media, that were based on a single journalists opinions that were without source, Bowman is and will remain a 49er and prove to be one of the most important pieces to the new defense.
When it comes to the run defense, getting “Bowmaned” has become a turn of phrase in my home after my wife’s introduction to fantasy football and watching her No. 1 RB, Adrian Peterson, getting shut down in last year’s opening contest.
The Will LB
After the MIKE LB, who calls the defense for the front seven and also plays coverage duties in different sets, the WILL LB is going to prove to be the most pivotal piece when addressing the run.
The 49ers were missing a player that could perform these duties in a noticeable fashion last year and found it a priority in the 2017 NFL Draft. They had the prospect that they liked in their crosshairs and even had him valued in the top three on their board. Just behind Solomon Thomas in San Francisco’s priorities, never did they believe that it was a possibility to snag them both on day one without selling the farm prior to draft day.
The planets aligned and with a questionable shoulder surgery and a diluted urinalysis, Alabama ILB Reuben Foster fell far enough in Round 1 that a trade was accepted and San Francisco got their man.
I highlighted Foster in a piece before the draft and why the 49ers would be targeting him that you can read here.
Foster put the nation on notice with his more than aggressive playing style, he was flat out violent at the point of contact with his tackles. His ability to play sideline to sideline made him even more special and his character and demeanor with his teammates showed that his setbacks before the draft were isolated.
As I stated in my Foster Run-D supreme article, this man equates to a shotgun awaiting any running back that attempts to kick down that front door of a defensive line. He is sawed off.
If you doubt me, watch this:
The WILL position tends to bat clean-up, when it comes to tackles in this defense, and Foster is aerodynamically designed to do just that.
The 49ers addressed this position in free agency as well, signing former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith to a lucrative contract. Smith has extensive experience at the position in this defense and can help to bring Foster along and even play backup at any LB position.
Re-signed holdover from last year, Ray-Ray Armstrong, adds depth at this position as well and many others.
When I first scouted Foster at ILB, I stated that I would not be surprised to see a premier NT signed if they were to go that direction. My thinking was that if Foster was, in fact, a serious target, then the Niners would also need to upgrade at the strong-side DT position in order to eat up the double teams and allow the LB support.
One of the first things the new regime did before free agency even technically started was sign veteran DT Earl Mitchell to a multi-year deal. Mitchell is a large body, and has history with Kyle Shanahan, but was brought in primarily because of his character and locker-room presence.
Quinton Dial is another holdover from the past regimes that adds depth at the nose tackle position, but I don’t see him fitting and surviving the final cuts. He has survived the gauntlet of coaches and schemes with his effort and versatility and that could always pay off with this new team so you never know. Good luck, Mr. Dial.
The newest addition and most interesting is the 49ers sixth-round selection in this years draft, Ole Miss DT D.J. Jones. Jones started his college career at East Mississippi Community College but soon earned a spot with Ole Miss anchoring their defensive line.
Jones showed enough skill to rank in the third round for some scouts. But his play fell off at Ole Miss, and he fell to the sixth. The most attractive thing about this new NT to me is the fact that he had a very fast 40-yard dash time. This dude ran a five-second 40 at 320 pounds.
When you watch Jones highlights at Ole Miss and compare them to his tape at EMCU you see a major difference that does not have anything to do with the competition. His Ole Miss tape is undoubtedly what he was graded on by teams this year in the draft. When you compare it side by side with his EMCU tape, you see him coming off of the ball with the speed that his official 40 time would suggest.
At Ole Miss there was something missing, there was a lack of fire and get-off and that won him his scholarship at Ole Miss. His EMCU tape shows much more ferocity and get-off. Again I do not believe this is a competition thing, and the 49ers surrounding cast and coaching staff could bring this back out of him.
For your viewing pleasure, here are his EMCU highlights:
After you consider all the moves and acquisitions the team made in the first year and overlay them with the potential strategies that the new 4-3 under base offers, you can begin to see something that points to a very versatile base front that has depth at every position and does not require a lot of crazy substitutions and shifts for the majority of the opposing offenses.
Please keep in mind that this is the base formation and its benefits on the majority of downs against pro-style base offenses. One of the most intriguing aspects of this defense other than its base versatility is all the variations with stunts and coverages that can and will be run out of it.
Thank you for following the first four parts of this five-part series that analyses the basics of what we can expect out of the new regime on offense and defense in base concepts. Part five will analyze the last parts of what completes every team in the NFL, the special teams and coaching staff. Stay tuned.
Please continue to follow Niner Noise for the most in-depth analysis of the San Francisco 49ers throughout the preseason and this upcoming new year!