The league's No. 1 defense got a shakeup in the offseason, and excitement for the new additions to the unit is not limited to players signed in free agency. Veteran leaders on the San Francisco 49ers defense are counting down the days until they can get to work on the field with new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.
"He fits right in. It's been a seamless transition," All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner said. "He's come in, and he's taken a hold of everything. We all respect the heck out of him already as our coach.
"We're starting at ground zero again. Everything we've done in the past is behind us. It's a new year, a new opportunity, and I think that is what is exciting."
Wilks comes to The Bay after spending the 2022 season with the Carolina Panthers, serving first as the team's secondary/defensive pass coordinator and then taking over as interim head coach in Week 6. The team went 6-6 under Wilks and finished second in the NFC South after a 1-4 start to the year.
Prior to the defensive coordinator's season in Carolina, he was a defensive coordinator at the University of Missouri and also had stints with five other NFL teams including the Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers, Chicago Bears and Panthers.
As Wilks works to get acquainted with his coaching staff and players, he's got at least three familiar faces waiting for him in the locker room. Quarterback Sam Darnold, safety Myles Hartsfield and running back Christian McCaffrey were all part of the Panthers roster when Wilks was promoted to interim head coach.
McCaffrey offered high praise for the defensive coordinator in the team's pre-draft press conference on Monday afternoon.
"Coach Wilks is awesome," McCaffrey said. "I could talk about Coach Wilks a lot and just the type of man he is, but it says a lot to see how all the Panthers players reacted to him and them vouching for him to get the head job. That's a testament to who he is and that explains a lot about not just the coach he is, but the guy he is. I'm happy he's on our side."
The 49ers have had five different defensive coordinators over the course of the last nine seasons and were looking for some continuity in defensive philosophy with their most recent hire. Per general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, Wilks provides that and additionally, brings in a wealth of knowledge when it comes to all things involving the secondary.
"When we hired him, I heard great things about him," defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. "One of my best friends, Shaq Thompson was with him in Carolina and speaks very highly of him and told me I was going to love him. Ever since I got a chance to meet him and be around him, that's been very true.
"He's a great leader. He's looking to come in and not change everything we are doing, but just add another level and take it up a notch."