Steve Wilks won't change 49ers' elite defense much at all

Carolina Panthers head coach Steve Wilks
Carolina Panthers head coach Steve Wilks / Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking from his first press conference, it doesn't sound as if Steve Wilks wants to mess up a 'good thing' with the 49ers defense.

Former Carolina Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks walked into a great situation when the San Francisco 49ers named him defensive coordinator earlier this offseason.

Wilks, who has already served in that kind of role and others during his lengthy NFL tenure, is picking up where now-Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans left off: being at the head of the league's top defense last season.

Knowing what Ryans had to work with, including a cast of elite players like EDGE Nick Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner, there doesn't appear to be much that Wilks wants to change.

Why mess up a good thing, right? That appears to be the new coordinator's thinking, and he said as much during his first press conference with the Niners recently.

Steve Wilks admits there may be 'tweaks' to 49ers defense but not much else

Wilks stressed the formula behind how San Francisco's defense became one of the best in the league, not just last year but in plenty of recent seasons, too. Prioritizing the defensive line was one thing he mentioned, of course.

However, also including that he plans on calling plays from the booth and not on the field, he did note that making some slight changes here and there could be in order:

"I think it is a foundation that we all agree we wanted to keep. I think it is an opportunity as we go through the process, which we already have, to try to tweak things a little bit. I still think there's room for improvement."

Unlike Ryans, a former NFL linebacker, Wilks' expertise has been with players in the secondary, meaning he might be giving more attention to the defensive backs between now and the regular season.

Read More: 49ers signed this defensive back, one hand-picked by Steve Wilks

Often considered one of the 49ers' few defensive weaknesses, this attention could be vital and might actually result in some slight changes from what Ryans implemented last year.

49ers may blitz a bit more under Steve Wilks while in zone defense

Ryans called for a few more blitzes than his predecessor, now-New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh, who relied heavily on a four-man rush with seven players dropped back into coverage.

A year ago, Ryans' defense blitzed 21.6 percent of the time, which is still in the bottom third of blitzing. But that wasn't too far off from Saleh's blitz percentage in 2019 and was even lower than what the Niners did during that injury-plagued 2020 season (33.6 percent).

As for Wilks? He hinted at a lot of zone coverage with a potential uptick in blitzing:

"Yes... In regards to probably blitzing a little bit more. I believe in zone eyes, I think that's how you make plays on the football, particularly from the underneath positions, so zone is still going to be a high element of what we do, but I feel like we have the skill set and the talent to be able to get in a guy's face, press man, make the quarterback hold the ball, particularly with our front."

While Wilks might not engineer a defense that blitzes more than 30 percent of the time, it wouldn't be too shocking to see a percentage that's a little more toward the mid-20s instead of at 20 percent of lower.

After all, as Wilks said, San Francisco has the defensive talent to do it. If it wants to, of course.

dark. Next. 49ers 2023 full schedule, game-by-game predictions