SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco 49ers are quickly in danger of becoming the fourth most popular NFL franchise in California as the Los Angeles teams seem poised to contend for the post season in 2021.
Niners’ fans still feel jilted from the recent Super Bowl run with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo then subsequent injury-ruined season last year. Draft Kings and a few other odds makers have the Los Angeles Rams picked to win the NFC West.
The Los Angeles Chargers have a second year West Coast-native quarterback with an upgraded offensive line. With the Broncos and Raiders walking in circles, many expect the Chargers to compete with the Chiefs for that division with Draft Kings picking them to finish second in the AFC West.
Then there’s that team that wandered off to the desert, but still manage a sizable fanbase from Southern California all the way back up to Oakland.
The bright spot for the one remaining Bay area team has been the defense, but with Robert Saleh going on to bigger things as a head coach for the NY Jets, however, the question is whether the team is in for another mediocre year. How quickly can new Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans put his stamp on the defense and rise to the level of the NFC West’s elite offenses and their offseason upgrades?
Generally speaking the 49ers were stacked on defense last couple seasons, but a huge hole opened up with the departure of defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. San Francisco is counting on first-round draft pick Javon Kinlaw, to make up the difference.
“Kinlaw is looking, he’s looking awesome,” Ryans said. “I think it’s really vital for him to really have these OTAs. And it’s been great that all our guys have showed up and we’ve been able to practice and Kinlaw was able to really hone in and focus on his techniques, which he missed. You know, coming in as a rookie, OTAs are very, very important. And for him to miss that time last year, I think this has been, he’s going to take a huge jump this year. Just we’re able to slow things down and really emphasize foot work, hand placement and technique, eyes. And he’s been doing an awesome job. I mean, I can already see how much better he’s gotten in the couple of weeks that we’ve been together.”
Ryans credits Saleh with his development as a coach and one of the coaches who has taught him the most about football.
“He’s been very integral to my development as a coach and I can’t thank him enough for all of the things that he’s instilled in me,” Ryans said. “And so there will be some of the similar, you know, scheme things that we’ve done in the past where you will see some similarities there, but you will see some wrinkles, you will see my brand of football on it.”
General Manager John Lynch has been very active on improving the offense as they traded up in the draft to obtain QB Trey Lance. Lynch also secured their most valuable free agent, left tackle Trent Williams, who they worked out a 6-year, $138 million deal with, making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history.
Ryans said this week he expects the defense to continue to carry the same swagger as last season.
“Our defense will be a fast, attacking, aggressive defense,” Ryan said. “I want guys to play fast. I want guys who are smart. I want guys who are going to play physical. That’s one thing for me is just growing up, watching the 49ers play defense. The defense has always stood out here.”
According to Ryans, the 49ers have always been a defensive organization, despite the legacies of Steve Young and Joe Montana.
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“They played great defense in the past, and we just want to continue that tradition of playing aggressive defense,” Ryan said. “And we want guys to be precise with what they’re doing. We want guys that know the details of their job, be able to be on their fundamentals because at this league where we are right now, everyone is good, but you separate yourself when you focus in on the small, minor details and you hone in on the fundamentals of your job.”
Ryan added that when players are executing their fundamentals at a high level, they’re going to be a really great defense.
Whether the 49ers can contend for the NFC West this season could go a long way in determining reclaiming the 49ers past popularity and cultural impact to the region.
In the meantime, you can listen to all Los Angeles Chargers football games on Fox Sports Eugene this fall. We anticipate Justin Herbert’s jersey to be the highest selling jersey in Oregon and California by the end of the season.
In other team news this week, the 49ers announced they have signed LB James Burgess Jr. to a one-year deal.
A 27-year-old native of Homestead, FL, Burgess (6-0, 230) originally entered the NFL after signing with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent on May 5, 2016. As a rookie in 2016, he spent time on the Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns practice squads. He later spent two seasons with the Browns (2017-18), while also playing for the New York Jets (2019) and the Green Bay Packers (2020). Throughout his five-year career, Burgess has appeared in 31 games (21 starts) and registered 157 tackles, eight passes defensed, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception. In 2020, he appeared in four games for Green Bay.
On offense, this week they have signed TE MyCole Pruitt to a one-year deal.
A 29-year-old native of Kirkwood, MO, Pruitt (6-2, 245) was originally drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the fifth round (143rd overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft. Throughout his six-year career with the Vikings (2015-16), Chicago Bears (2016), Houston Texans (2017) and Tennessee Titans (2018-20), he has appeared in 63 games (18 starts) and registered 32 receptions for 343 yards and four touchdowns. He also saw action in five postseason contests (two starts) and added six receptions for 50 yards. In 2020 with the Titans, he appeared in 11 games (four starts) and notched five receptions for 49 yards and two touchdowns.