SANTA CLARA — While it’s relatively a steep feat to accomplish in getting back to having a dominating defense for the 49ers, it actually aligns very well. There are a lot of parallels in what former defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio and new defensive coordinator, Jim O’Neil like to do; that being using their players strengths within the defensive scheme opposed to trying to force players in to a scheme and make them adjust away from their strengths.
Both Fangio and O’Neil have coached under Rex Ryan, who is known for his defensive knowledge, and gained a lot of knowledge from him in how to coach a defense. Ryan gained a lot of the knowledge that he possesses from his father Buddy Ryan; the defensive mastermind behind the Bears famous 46 defense that dominated the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Fangio and O’Neil have implemented a lot of the same philosophies from that brand of football in to their own coaching styles.
O’Neil has spent most of his time coaching as an assistant in the NFL and just a short amount of time in the NFL as a coordinator. He never really had a fair shot in Cleveland and had to deal with a plethora of injuries to his starting lineup. This will be O’Neil’s first real opportunity with the weapons he has at his disposal.
Last year, the Cleveland Browns ranked 27th in total team defense. The 49ers didn’t do any better and were in fact worse as they were ranked 29th; above only the Eagles (who Chip Kelly coached), the Giants, and Saints. On the surface, one might assume that the Niners won’t do much better this year. However, considering how incompetent and inconsistent the coaching staff was from last season between Jim Tomsula and Eric Mangini, it’s hard to think that the 49ers won’t do anything but go up.
The adjustments that have already been revealed in terms of the Niners wanting to play the best 11 guys, the players who will make plays week in and week out and keep the lineups consistent, leads a rational person to believe that the Niners will in fact make a significant jump in production in 2016.
Below, I want to look at the Top 25 players in which I think will make the teams roster. And then break it down to what could very well be the starting 11.
Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Quinton Dial, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Mike Purcell, Glenn Dorsey, Darren Lake, Ronald Blair.
Navorro Bowman, Gerald Hodges Jr., Ahmad Brooks, Aaron Lynch, Eli Harold, Michael Wilhoite, Tank Carradine, Shayne Skov.
Tramaine Brock, Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson, Will Redmond, Keith Reaser, Chris Davis.
Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Jacquiski Tartt.
LDT – ARIK ARMSTEAD
NT – DARREN LAKE
RDT – DEFOREST BUCKNER
LOLB – AHMAD BROOKS
LILB – GERALD HODGES JR.
RILB – NAVORRO BOWMAN
ROLB – ELI HAROLD/ AARON LYNCH
LCB – TRAMAINE BROCK
RCB – JIMMIE WARD
FS – ERIC REID
SS – ANTOINE BETHEA
Clearly the 49ers will need to get through the preseason before anything is set in stone. Injuries and things of that nature could effect the lineup obviously. Assuming that the Niners can get through this relatively unscathed, and all the young talent on the roster progresses in to Week 1, then it’s not a crazy notion to think that the San Francisco 49ers could very well be in the Top 15 defenses of the 2016 year.