For an organization that's had significant turnover at the defensive coordinator position, the San Francisco 49ers were looking to maintain continuity in defensive philosophy with whomever was chosen to replace former DC DeMeco Ryans. Given that the team closed out the year as the league's No. 1 overall defense, it's not much of a surprise San Francisco didn't want to stray from their proven formula for success.
The team quickly found their guy in Steve Wilks, who most recently served as the interim head coach of the Carolina Panthers during the 2022 season.
"I think it is a foundation that we all agree we wanted to keep," Wilks said in his introductory press conference. "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."
Wilks, much like general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, believes that the foundation of an elite defense begins with a formidable defensive front.
"When you look at how dominant we've been over the years, it is because of our defensive line and we've done a great job building that through the draft," Wilks added. "We did some great things in free agency this past year. (Defensive line coach Kris) Kocurek does a tremendous job. He's one of the best in the business at what he does and he's had a major impact on this defense, so that was really the biggest thing that stood out to me, was just how great we were up front consistently over the years."
Of course Wilks isn't expected to create a carbon copy of the 49ers defense from 2022. As a former cornerbacks coach, Wilks' specialty lies in his experience working with players in the secondary. He had a hand in the additions of safety Myles Hartsfield and cornerback Isaiah Oliver in free agency along with the 49ers defensive draft picks.
"Just like all the assistant coaches, we go through the process of what personnel gives us in evaluating different guys at our position," Wilks said. "I think we do a great job of really, as John alluded to, collaborating and getting everybody's thoughts and opinions. And when it came down to it, particularly one guy, Ji'Ayir Brown, we're all on the same page in regards to how we felt about him and what he could bring to the 49ers."
There are a couple of other changes to look out for in the Steve Wilks era. For the first time under Shanahan, San Francisco's defensive coordinator plans to be up in the booth during game days, a move he said allows him to separate himself from some of the emotion on the field and allows for a better vantage point to call plays. Wilks also will be working with cornerbacks during practices moving forward.