Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks Press Conference

Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks

­­Press Conference – October 5, 2023

San Francisco 49ers

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Opening comments:

“We’ve had two good days of preparation getting prepared for the Cowboys, very tough and physical game, I’m sure it’s going to be this Sunday night. Good football team, well-coached. I think [Dallas Cowboys QB] Dak [Prescott] is playing good football. I think he compliments that with a solid run game with [Dallas Cowboys RB Tony] Pollard. And then his ability to be able to play action and get the ball down the field. [Dallas Cowboys TE Jake] Ferguson is a good tight end that can hold his own in the run game and can definitely be a problem in the pass game. When you look at their receiving core, I think they’re dynamic with [Dallas Cowboys WR] CeeDee Lamb leading the way.”


Based on your film study, do you anticipate you’ll get CeeDee in the slot quite a bit in this game?

“They move him around quite a bit, but they’re always trying to find and create matchups, so yes.”


You talked earlier this season about using different nickels because you don’t want to ever be in a situation to see what somebody has when you need them, you want to know beforehand. How has that worked out for you? Are you pleased with what you’ve gotten as far as production out of your two nickelbacks?

“Yes, we are, I am. I think [CB Isaiah] Oliver is playing well. I think you guys have probably seen that from Week One to last week. I think he’s doing some great things. He’s great out in space, can make those hard tackles. I think he does a great job covering his slot and bringing pressure off the edge. When we bring [CB Deommodore] Demo [Lenoir] inside and put [CB Ambry] A.T. [Thomas] outside, I don’t think we miss a beat. So yes, I am pleased where we are right now at the nickel position.”


How creative do you have to get when you’re calling blitzes against a more veteran quarterback like Dak as opposed to some of the other guys?

“I think you always have to be creative in regards to personnel, as you mentioned, scheme and what they’re trying to do. And then that also affects who you have on your side of the ball. So, we’re definitely about changing things up each week based off each week who we’re playing and our opponents. So, we understand exactly who he is as a player and what he’s capable of doing.”


Are they a little more West Coast-like in regards to the short passing game than they have been in past years?

“[Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Mike] McCarthy’s doing a great job. He’s calling the plays now and you can definitely see that on tape. Again, Dak is doing a great job putting the ball where it needs to be and where it’s going. It comes out quick and we have to make sure that we do a great job from a standpoint of playing zone, setting up, breaking on the quarterback, and when we are in, man, we got to work our technique. We have to be sticky in coverage.”


You faced a lot of teams that have made it a point to try to get the ball out quick, pretty much everybody this year. What is your process for what you just referred to switch between zone and man when you want to come up and press or when you don’t?

“I think it’s always the flow of the game. Everything equates with that, personnel, down and distance, where we’re on the field, those kind of things. So that goes into calling the game and trying to get the guys in the best position to be successful. So, coming into a game and knowing that they’re getting the ball out quick, it’s different things that we have to do. But don’t take it slight down, they will push the ball down the field as well. So we have to make sure that our eyes are in the right spot, we’re working on our technique so we don’t give them an explosive play.”


Where is CB Anthony Brown in his sort of physical readiness to be able to play after that Achilles injury last year?

“You know that’s really a personal question for him. What I’ve seen, I’ve seen progress each week. He’s doing some good things as far as his transition at the top end of the route. He’s better understanding the concepts that we try to get in zone coverage now, going into his second week, eyes in the right spot. So, he’s progressing at that point in time where he is ready to go. I think that’s a question for him.”


Is it useful for you to go back and watch the playoff game just to see how the Cowboys tried to attack this defense last year?

“It’s always useful. I can’t even tell you all the kind of games we go back and watch and try to find this and that. And, ‘Are they consistent? Is this what they’ve changed?’ So yes, I’ve watched that. We’ve all watched it.”


Did Pollard look as explosive as he did last year before his injury?

“To be quite honest, I can’t even tell he had an injury. That’s how well he is running the ball. So yes, he does look explosive and he’s doing some good things. He can take it the distance, he can run in between the tackles. They love to try to get him on the edge, so he’s playing at a high level right now for them.”


A lot of the guys we’re talking in training camp about how good this defense could be were citing getting the ball and scoring once in a while on defense. And so far, I think you have five takeaways, haven’t scored yet, but it’s only four games in. How do you get those areas upgraded?

“I don’t really think there’s any magic formula in trying to get it done. It’s just a point of emphasis. We give the presentation every week [Defensive Assistant] Coach [Nick] Sorenson does on the ball, and we’re going after the ball, we’re making attempts for the ball. So, our intent is there, I think eventually we’ll get those tips and overthrows, we’ll get the forced fumbles, we’ll be there. But I know right now the attention to detail is there and hopefully they come this weekend.”


The numbers show that DL Drake Jackson, DL Clelin Ferrell and DL Kerry Hyder Jr. have eight quarterback hits in like 243 quarterback snaps. You watched the film, what does the film show? How are they looking? How are they playing so far?

“I think you’re right, not only those guys, but we are hitting the quarterback quite a bit. We just have find a way to translate those into sacks. I like where those guys are. One of the things that I emphasize and talk about as well, I think they’re solid in the run game, and that’s what I look for, that’s what we look for in the complete player, particularly at the defensive end. Yes, we want them to be able to put pressure and get to the quarterback, and I think they’re doing that at a high level, but I love right now how stout they are in the run game as well.”


What happened on the Cardinals first touchdown just before halftime? What was the issue on that play? 

“It is just really understanding situational football, something that we talk about all the time and something that I know we’ll grow from. Based off the call, probably didn’t want to be in a press, gave up the big play down the sideline and then when they scored on the next play right there, it was just a missed tackle. So, it wasn’t anything schematically. But one thing that we have to do is understand the situation and don’t give up the big play down the sideline.”


Has DL Javon Hargrave’s familiarity with the Cowboys added any sort of extra tidbits for you, just in terms of game planning?

“He’s definitely talked about the things that he was able to do, they were able to do in the past, going against those guys twice a year. Him and [Defensive Line Coach] Kris [Kocurek] talk all the time and Kris and I of course collaborate and try to come up with the best formula upfront. Kris does a tremendous job with those guys in creating and coming up with the scheme that particular week, based off protections and those kind of things. So yes, we have got some tidbits from him and hopefully they come into play for us on Sunday.”