Amid a recent defensive slump spanning their last three games, the San Francisco 49ers are on a quest to rediscover the dominance that marked their 5-0 start. In a significant move, they acquired defensive end Chase Young from the Washington Commanders by trading a compensatory third-round pick. Another, albeit smaller, adjustment is happening this week—an elevator ride.
The 49ers’ defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks, in his inaugural year with the team, will transition from the coach’s booth to the field level to call plays in Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, as announced by coach Kyle Shanahan on Wednesday.
“We’re going to put him on the field this week,” Shanahan stated. “[It’s] something we’ve talked about for a little bit… There are pluses to it and minuses to it, but we’ll see what we like about this week.”
This move follows the team’s three-game losing streak, during which their defense plummeted from one of the league’s best to one of the worst. In the initial five games, the 49ers led the NFL in points allowed per game (13.6), ranked third in yards allowed (266.8 per game), fifth in defensive expected points added (33.98), and sixth in takeaways (9). However, over the subsequent three weeks, they fell to 24th (24), 30th (395.3), 31st (-5.5), and tied for 13th (4), respectively.
Unsurprisingly, the 49ers lost all three of those games, struggling to contain the run, apply consistent pressure on the quarterback, and execute tackles reliably.
Linebacker Fred Warner, after a 31-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 29, dismissed the idea of placing blame solely on Wilks but acknowledged a learning curve for the coordinator with a new team.
Throughout the first eight weeks, Wilks relayed calls from the booth to linebackers coach Johnny Holland, who then passed them on to Warner on the field. Now, with Wilks on the sideline, communication is expected to be more direct. Warner believes this change will be seamless and beneficial.
“I think it will be a flawless transition, whether it be him giving the calls or staying with Johnny,” Warner expressed. “Having him down there connecting with us on the field is going to be great… I think more so than anything, I think him just wanting to be down there as our leader of the group, just to be down there and make adjustments on the fly, when need be, just being down there with us, looking at us in our eye when we’re down there, just little things like that [will help].”
Unlike past defensive coordinators who called games from the field, Wilks, with a background in working with defensive backs, admitted to getting too excited on the sidelines. Now, as the 49ers seek to revitalize their season, he is willing to try something new, embracing any change—big or small.
“I kind of want him to be down and be near our players a little bit,” Shanahan explained. “They’ve had that more with just the linebacker communication in the past, and I want him to be down there so he can talk to guys a little bit more.”