Defensive Coach Steve Wilks Press Conference
Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks
Press Conference – December 14, 2023
San Francisco 49ers
“We stacked another good practice together again today. And we’re definitely going to need it this week going against a good football team. I would tell you first off, do not look at their record. These guys are pretty good. I commend the whole coaching staff and how they’ve gotten these guys prepared each week and ready to play. You look at that talent level across the board, [Arizona Cardinals QB] Kyler [Murray] is back and we know he’s a big play ready to happen at any moment. [Arizona Cardinals RB James] Conner’s still running the ball extremely hard. [Arizona Cardinals WR] Rondale [Moore], [Arizona Cardinals WR Marquise Brown] Hollywood can take the top off at any time. They’re doing a little bit more with Rondale, putting him in the backfield. He’s running the football well. And the offensive line is doing a great job protecting. So, I’ve told the guys all week, we’re going to have to go earn this one. It’s going to definitely be a tough game, and I know we’re going to be up for the challenge. So, with that, I’ll take your questions.”
Kyler Murray has given this defense some problems at times during his career. What’s the key to defending him?
“Again, I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. Number one, we’ve got to be sound in our defensive responsibilities as far as the zone-read, not allowing him to be able to get outside the pocket because he’s definitely going to pull it. And then also his ability to be able to scramble and go make a big play. I think it’s a little different than [Philadelphia Eagles QB] Jalen [Hurts] than what we faced a couple of weeks ago, but it’s still the same premise that we’ve got to make sure that we contain him. And once again, I think he’s doing an excellent job of going through his progression, trying to stay in the pocket, going through his different reads and putting the ball where it needs to go.”
What’s the difference? You mentioned it’s different than defending Jalen Hurts. What’s the biggest difference?
“I think when he gets outside the pocket, he can run, he can leave you, he can go by you. So, we’ve got to do a great job making sure we try to contain him. We felt different with Jalen, forcing him outside and not allowing him to get up vertical inside those A and B gaps and that we can go get him. Kyler Murray is totally different.”
When you look at Kyler Murray previous to his injury and then now, how much different does he look or does he look like the same guy?
“He looks like the same guy to me. I think now with technology and how these guys bounce back from ACLs and those things he’s still running well. Once again, I don’t see any limp or glitch in his performance. So, it’s always a concern when you have these running quarterbacks. We’ve got to do a great job by committee, you know, 11 guys getting to the football and making sure that there’s no assumptions that he’s down.”
You’re a bit banged up at defensive tackle at the moment. What’s kind of your state of confidence in the backups there?
“Oh, a lot of confidence. You look at what [DL Javon] Kinlaw and [DL] Kevin [Givens] have been doing the last couple of weeks, I’m very confident in their performance and how they’re going to play. We’re not going to put the onus on them. It’s going to be critical that they do a great job inside penetrating and trying to play on their side of the line of scrimmage, but across the board, we’ve all got to step up.”
The first matchup, they went up-tempo on you I think in the first half. How did, looking back at that, how’d you feel like your defense defended that and do you expect that again?
“Oh, that’s part of their offense and we’ve always got to be ready for that and we’ve just got to weather the storm. I think what happens in most of those types of situations, we’ve got to be ready for what I consider a minimum package in the things that I’m trying to get done when they start up-tempoing because sometimes they get you back on your heels a little bit where you can’t really do what you want, but we have a certain menu that we like when they get up-tempo, so that’s what we’ve got to get to quickly.”
You used to be head coach down there. I’m just kind of curious, what kind of emotions does that carry for you?
You’ve gone back there before, right?
“Yes, several times. So we’re beyond that.”
If LB Dre Greenlaw and LB Oren Burks are out, are you looking at maybe doing DL Robert Beal Jr., LB Dee Winters? How are they going to fit into this team?
“Well, you know Dee is definitely up. He does a good job on special teams. I have total confidence if he has to go in there and play. He’s played sparingly this year, particularly late in the game, so I have a lot of confidence in him and we’ll see exactly what’s going to transpire with Robert.”
How have they progressed so far since the start of the season?
“Well, I think Dee I’ve talked about him on several occasions. I think he’s gotten so much better. I think [linebackers coach] Johnny [Holland] has done a tremendous job in just the teaching and the progression that really him and Jalen both. And then I think Robert has a bright future. You know, I really do. [Defensive line coach Kris] Kocurek is excited about him and the things that I see as well. So, we’ve got some good young talent and hopefully when they get in there the expectation doesn’t change, they’ll step up and perform.”
What have you seen out of LB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles playing there?
“He’s smart, can play all three positions. If anything happens with Greenlaw, we anticipate him playing this week, but if not I have total confidence that Flan can go in there and get the job done.”
Do you anticipate LB Dre Greenlaw playing this week?
“Yeah, I do. Yes.”
I see a special player in LB Jalen Graham. He looked great in the preseason. How’s he progressed as the year has gone on and what do you see when you watch him?
“I see a lot of talent. I see a guy with length that can run. The one thing that Jalen, you have to remember, when we got him, he was really a converted safety, you know, played well out in space. And it takes a while, not just within this defense, but as a whole, just in the league trying to learn that position. And you can see the difference in Dee who actually played linebacker at TCU. He picks up things a little quicker and whatnot. So, that’s the difference in the progression. But, I have total confidence in Jalen and how he’s progressing and the things that he’s doing.”
Was that among your first messages this week? They are 3-10, but please do not look at that record?
“Yeah, I think it started with [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan]. Kyle does a great job in setting the tone each week and painting the picture that we all need to see as players and coaches. And I just echo that message. I see the same thing when we watch tape. This, you know, I don’t even know what their record is and I don’t really care, but they’re a good football team. They’re better than what their record states.”
You faced a lot of criticism during the three-game losing streak. Now the team’s winning and you’re coaching the number one defense in the league and people don’t have that much to say about you anymore. Does that amuse you?
“No. You know what, man, like I told you guys before, you know, I’m a very small piece of this puzzle. I knew coming into this situation when we didn’t do well, I was going to get blamed and when we did good, we were supposed to, we were number one last year. So it is what it is.”
You were a defensive back and you know defensive backs. What do you think of DB Darrell Luter Jr.? He’s shown on special teams. Is he healthy now?
“Yeah, yeah. Luter going back, I mentioned Jalen, I talked about Robert Beal and then Dee Winters, a lot of credit man to [general manager] John Lynch and the whole entire scouting department. And I said this several times to the defensive staff, man, I think we hit on all our picks on defense, man. Those guys are going to be great players for us. Luter, I hate he got hurt, but the way he’s bounced back, you know, I pointed out the special teams play that he did against Seattle on Thanksgiving Day, basically saving that touchdown and defense went out there and held them to three points, but just his performance on special teams and his ability to come in and do some things on defense. I think he’s going to be well.”
What’s your assessment on CB Jason Verrett so far?
“Love Jason, man. You know, never had the chance, I just missed him when I left San Diego. Great player, an even better human being. All the guys love him. He’s one of the favorites in the locker room with his relationships and being here before. Great movement, he’s still moving well. I’m very confident that he’s going to be able to help us at some point rather inside or outside and looking forward to getting him on the field sometime soon.”