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5 Personnel Updates from Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh

Posted Apr 11, 2017

San Francisco's new DC had plenty to say about the team's pass-rushers, Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward and more.


Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh provided a number of interesting roster updates on Monday during his first press conference since joining the San Francisco 49ers. As the team opened its offseason program, Saleh shed some light on where a few players could be lining up in 2017.

Here are the five most notable personnel updates.

1. Looking for a “LEO”

The “LEO” position has been talked about often this offseason. He plays a crucial role in Saleh’s Seattle Seahawks-style defensive system.

“He is your premier pass-rusher,” Saleh explained. “We do everything we can to get him to the open side (the side without a tight end). His hair is on fire, just get after the quarterback.”

So, what options does Saleh currently have at his disposal? 

“There are plenty here – Ahmad Brooks and Eli Harold. We just signed Dekoda Watson. If you were going to paint a picture, that’s what they would look like,” Saleh shared.

2. Speaking of the LEO…

Aaron Lynch has spent the beginning of his career as a standup 3-4 outside linebacker. He’ll now make the transition onto San Francisco’s defensive line. He’s also a candidate to claim the LEO role as the 49ers most dangerous pass-rusher.

Lynch has 14 sacks through his first three seasons.

“We’re going to try to keep his hand in the ground at all times,” Saleh said. “A couple years ago, when he came out of the draft, we were looking at him as a possible LEO. So, he has all the traits that you would like. Now it’s a matter of us trying to work with him to best utilize what he’s, in my mind, designed to do and that’s get after the passer.”

3. Former First Rounders

Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner were both drafted as prototype 3-4 defensive ends, but they should still fit in just fine in Saleh’s 4-3 scheme. The defensive coordinator raved about the versatility of San Francisco’s last two first-round selections.

“When you look at Armstead and Buckner, they are very, very unique in the sense that they can play up and down the line however you need them to work,” Saleh said. “We’ll find what’s best for them. There is no limitation to what they are capable of. It’s just us trying to piece together the right combination and right position for each of them so they can best be utilized.”

4. Safety Valve

Eric Reid is no stranger to new positions. He lined up all over the formation in 2016 – deep safety, nickel corner and dime linebacker to name a few different positions Reid played last year.

That experience will serve him well in 2017. Saleh confirmed that Reid will spend most of his time playing down in the box pre-snap. If we’re playing the comparison game, Kam Chancellor has a similar role in Seattle.

“Yeah, Eric is going to be more of a box safety for sure,” Saleh said.

5. To Be Determined

The one big question mark remains where Jimmie Ward will line up this season. At February’s NFL Scouting Combine, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch hinted that Ward could play safety in 2017. A return to his college position would come after three seasons spent primarily as a nickel or outside cornerback.

But now with Tramaine Brock off of the roster, it’s still unknown where Ward will be needed most.

“We’re going to see how everyone moves,” Saleh said. “Like I said, we haven’t been able to go on the field with them and once we start getting a chance to get out there, we’re going to see what everyone is capable of doing. And, Jimmie is a very, very versatile athlete. He can play corner, he can play safety and whatever is best for the organization is exactly what we’re going to do with Jimmie.”