Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks Press Conference

Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks

Press Conference – August 15, 2023

San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center


Opening comments:

“We had a good day today in practice and how we bounced back from Sunday. It definitely wasn’t the standard on Sunday on how we play defense. Regardless of who was in there, as I told the unit today, ones, twos, threes, it doesn’t matter. The standard is still the standard. And we didn’t play to that on Sunday. We’ve got to do a much better job of stopping the run and just really owning our issues. We know the over routes, as we call the special, the boots, we had dirty eyes. We weren’t patient enough with our key reads and those kinds of things. But it was encouraging to see individuals do certain things. [CB] Ambry [Thomas] I thought did a tremendous job and some of the things that we saw on tape, particularly also during the game, coming up strong on that fourth-down play. And then having a PBU. Same thing with [CB] Samuel Womack [III]. I think critical situation on the toss. We pride ourselves at the corner position coming up making tackles, and it was great to see those guys doing that. Other young rookies that flashed in my opinion was [LB] Jalen Graham, he showed up. And then also with one of my favorites with the safety position, I went blank here, but [S Tayler Hawkins] Hawk. He showed a lot of promise in the things that he was doing, as well as [S] Ji’Ayir Brown. So, Hawk has always been one of my favorites throughout training camp when it was great to see him get in the game and show some flashes. So, I know I said a lot, but with that, I take your questions.”


What was the issue with the run defense in particular? Was it gap integrity, pad level?

“It wasn’t so much gap integrity. It was more pad level. They were getting the doubles, as we call the crunch, moving the nose and the three techniques. So, we’ve got to do a much better job standing our crease, owning our line and the linebackers getting down once they rerun.”


How is Tayler Hawkins one of your favorites?

“Just the mere fact of how you practice. And I’ve seen the improvement from OTAs in minicamp, to really translating it into a game-like situation. And then that’s what I was waiting on. So, I thought he had some great plays. Most importantly, I thought he played within the defense, so I was excited to see that.”


How are you sifting through your options at nickelback behind CB Isaiah Oliver?

“It is just really a rolodex of players, to be quite honest with you. And we did some things today where, we put [CB D’Shawn] Jamison inside, we moved Demo [DB Deommodore Lenoir] back inside a little bit. Certain reps, [CB] A.J.’s [Parker] been doing a great job inside at nickel as well. So, we just really continue to try to find the mix. We love the competition and trying to make sure guys continue to get better.”


Because of those guys you mentioned Womack and Ambry, does it give you that luxury of perhaps really considering moving D-Mo inside on nickel downs because those guys can hold their own on the outside?

“I think you have to always look at, ‘Okay, we need our best guys on the field’ and it depends on right now who’s playing the best. If Ambry or Womack is playing better, of course we’re going to move Demo back inside. So, I think it’s a luxury that you have these options. And what we’re trying to create once again is just a competition across the board.”


Demo third year in the league, you have to have a lot of confidence in him to think that he can handle that too. So, what gives you that confidence that Demo can handle it?

“Just as you just mentioned, the maturity. Third year. He talked about it today. I walked up to him and he talked about taking the classroom to the field. He got back in there today and it’s like he had been playing nickel all offseason. So that was encouraging to see. Just his communication, recognizing formations, and adjusting to motion and those kinds of things because it happens fast in there. And another thing that people don’t really understand, you’re a linebacker in the run fit, and then of course you’re a DB in coverage. So, understanding run fits is critical at that position. He did a good job with that today.”


Most people assumed Isaiah, I know in the NFL you don’t have any jobs, but he seemed like the guy. What does he need to do to kind of reassert himself?

“I think everybody is still trying to fight for certain positions. Oliver, along with certain others, I think just the consistency that we’re looking for. And I think once you get in the game, it’s about opportunities and taking advantage of those opportunities and making plays.”


Where’s CB Qwuantrezz Knight’s best spot in your opinion and what do you think of him so far?

“Another favorite of mine, Q-Knight. Very entertaining, hard worker. Tremendous job on that third-down play. He gives us flexibility as well. We put him in at safety. With the rotation that we had on Sunday, I thought he did a great job coming up, running the alley. He can play the nickel position. We experimented with that back in the OTAs. So again, the more guys can do, the more versatility they have along with special teams is going to give them an opportunity to make this team.”


With LB Oren Burks out for a couple of weeks here with his knee, how are you viewing the strong-side spot?

“I think it always gives guys opportunities to excel with reps, to get better. We mentioned Jalen, also opportunity with [LB] Marcelino [McCrary-Ball], [LB] Dee Winters, who I thought flashed in the game as well. Still growing, still learning. So, with O.B. being out, it just gives other guys opportunities to step up and make plays.”


This is your first season coordinating this defense. You haven’t had your best player yet to coach. What kind of challenges does that present to you?

“Not really a lot of challenges. It was great for me, as you just mentioned, to go through the process of really calling the game with these guys, really trying to get a feel for what we do up front. One of the things, we probably had a little bit too much movement at times and I’m chasing the lead draw. But our guys up front, man, when they come off the ball, they’re dominant. And we’ve got to settle the guys in a little bit and let them go play. We’re just going to allow those linebackers to be able to play off of them. So that’s critical.”


Have you always called defense from up in the booth on the game day?

“Cleveland, I was on the field. Carolina, I was in the box. It just takes the emotion outs of the game for me, where I can always try to stay ahead of the down.”


Do you prefer in the box?

“I prefer in the box. And another reason why I prefer in the box is because the level of coaching on the field. I have a great level of trust that things are getting done down there.”


In that rolodex of nickel options that you mentioned, you’ve got a wide range of body-type sized guys. Is there a preference? Would you rather have a bigger body guy because of all the linebacker like things that they have to do?

“No. With my experience in what I’ve done in the past, I just throw a term out Buffalo, what we call a big nickel, where we may go 12 personnel with that. And sometimes if a team is heavy 11 personnel, we start out with Buffalo. So, there’s an element of different guys that I have in mind that can fit that package. And then when you start talking about third-down, quicker guys in the slot, we’ve got matchups for that as well. So, I think there’s different packages you’ve got to have based off the personnel that you’re playing.”


How’d you see the defense perform today when you guys went live one-on-ones? What would be your grade today?

“As I started the press conference off with, I thought they did a tremendous job in bouncing back. The energy was there, great communication, the ones then playing the game. So, it was good to see them get back in the rhythm. And then, as [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] mentioned the twos and threes that persevered through and got better today. So, I don’t want to give a number, but I was very pleased with how they responded.”


Jalen Graham has been impressive. His pursuit ability gets through the trash and gets to the ball. Is that just natural? Is that good coaching at Purdue? He’s a seventh-round pick. He’s obviously doing well.

“I think that’s good coaching by [linebackers coach] Johnny Holland. That’s what I think. That was a joke [laugh]. But yeah, Johnny does a great job of coaching him, but what you see with Jalen is what we saw on tape. A guy that plays in the slot and plays out in space and he can maneuver when he’s chasing things down. So that’s his skillset. What I’m impressed with is when he’s in the core, tackle to tackle, you’re starting to see a little bit of that physicality. Of course, it’s going to take him some time to gain the weight that he probably needs to maintain it throughout the year. But, I’m very impressed that he doesn’t shy away from contact.”