Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks Press Conference

Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks 

­­Press Conference – September 14, 2023 

San Francisco 49ers 

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Opening comments: 

“We had two good days of practice in this preparation for the Rams. I know they’re a pretty good football team, well-coached, we’ve gone against [Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean] McVay several times in the past. Those guys are always ready to play. So last week was last week. I know some of you guys are going to have questions about that. To be quite honest, I’ve moved on because nothing last week is going to be able to help us this week. So, we’re focusing right now on the Rams. And with that, I take your questions.” 


They target their slot receivers quite a bit. You guys had two different nickel configurations in Pittsburgh. Did you learn anything from that? Did that kind of inform your decision on that position moving forward? 

“No, it is not quite a decision. Again, with me, the season is so long, so I don’t want to wait until something happens to try to get someone ready. So, it’s always that constant trying to evolve and try to get guys prepared whether I can steal a series here or there. I thought we did a great job for us getting [CB Isaiah] Oliver in as well as A.T. [CB Ambry Thomas] and pushing Demo [DB Deommodore Lenoir] to the nickel position.” 


McVay went extreme ball control last week and Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford was really good on third down. They have two different receivers. They got Los Angeles Rams WR Puka Nacua, who has great hands and they’ve got Los Angeles Rams WR Tutu Atwell who’s a real burner. You have to defend them quite differently. Could talk about what you’re seeing on film from those two receivers? 

“Well, I think it all starts with [Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew] Stafford. Of course [Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper] Kupp is out, but as you mentioned, they have capable receivers that can get the job done. And they did a great job last week, as you mentioned, controlling, running the football more than they have shown in the past. I think he did an excellent job as far as putting the ball where it needed to be. Great seven-ball route on the sideline. He came down with that. So, it’s not so much about really trying to defend certain guys, it’s more about the quarterback and what we can do with him.” 


What do you need to see out of Ambry Thomas for him to stay in that role that he began last game in? 

“Well, it’s with all the guys, it’s about consistency. Again, we stacked a good one the first game, but how can we continue to do the same thing each and every week? So that’s what we’re looking for from all the guys, just consistent play.” 


How did he play in that? 

I thought he played well. I thought he did some good things. I’m not all about the production and guys look for the stats and whatnot. I look for guys executing and doing their job, working their technique based off the call and the situation. And I thought within the defense he did that.” 


S Talanoa Hufanga with that lateral on the interception, is that something that you encourage? Is it something that they practice or is it just something that happens? 

“It’s something that we talk about all the time with just scoring on defense and yes, we want him to be smart with the ball. We know the ball is everything. I felt like in that situation, he probably could have outran the offensive lineman. So, judgment on him trying to pitch the ball just make sure that, the guy’s behind him and not in front of him.” 


Were you able to check in from upstairs on how DL Nick Bosa was doing throughout the game and kind of what’s the plan with him going in this week?  

“Well, we constantly talk during each series, all the coaches, myself and [Defensive Line Coach Kris] Kocurek as well as [Linebackers Coach Johnny] Holland and then [Defensive Backs Coach] Daniel Bullocks. So yes, we did. He was fine. I think it was 32 plays he may have had. So, he was great in regards to that. And no setbacks this week.” 


What’s the hallmark of the Sean McVay offense? What makes it unique or its own thing? 

“I think it’s a lot of window dressing, with all the motions and shifts and putting a receiver in the backfield, tightening at one, running back at one. So, it tests your variables as I call it, and make sure that you’re on point. Your communication has to be great because one guy has his eyes in the wrong spot, that’s a big play.” 


The Rams were so good in that game in second-and-long, third-and-long, which is a place where an offense doesn’t normally want to be, but they thrived in it anyway. How were they able to do that? 

“Well, I think once again, just the guy that’s at the quarterback position, Stafford does a tremendous job in getting the ball where he needs to go. The pocket was great. He had time to be able to sit back and go through his progression. And then again, I thought the receivers stepped up. One of the best in the league is down right now and you really couldn’t tell based off their performance last week.” 


What’s your assessment of DL Drake Jackson? Is he the next former LB Lawrence Taylor? 

“Yeah, we’re a long way away from that, buddy. Long way.” 


What was your assessment? He had three sacks, a big game. 

“Well, I was very impressed and you guys know from day one back in the spring, I’ve been talking about him and his commitment to the offseason in the weight room. He’s gotten bigger. He has gotten stronger. He stayed around here the whole time. So that first game was just really the fruits of his labor.” 


Maybe all of his sacks were kind of second effort or have the quarterback move from the pocket and he’s there or he trips him at the right time. Is there a technique to kind of that second effort set?  

“No, I think the key word that you just said is effort. That’s what you cancontrol. That’s the staple of what we do across the board. We don’t teach that. Kocurek does a great job and always straining those guys each and every day in practice. Something that needs to be noted though is that our inside guys were like, you call whether it was [Former Utah Jazz Point Guard John] Stockton or [Former Los Angeles Lakers Point Guard Magic [Johnson]. I was joking with [DL] Arik [Armstead] because he’s six eight. They did a lot of assists this past week as far as just really giving those guys the pocket inside, it would collapse right here. We were really kidding them inside right there with the rush. Those guys on the outside are going to benefit from that.” 


Do you have a stat for that? 

“No, it’s just what we call factor grade. Arik didn’t show up in the stat sheet, but you can watch that game and see that he was a factor time and time again, where someone else made the play on that.” 


It seemed like those guys were getting doubled a lot and Bosa too, which created more opportunities for Drake to go one-on-one. How much can that help that Drake and guys are taking advantage of those one-on-ones, where maybe it opens things up for those other people? 

“Well, I think it’s going to just like, we do, I do defensively. I think each week it’s based off what you’re trying to take away and who that opponent is. Take your choice with us. You go with Bosa and you’re talking about Arik, you’re talking about Drake, [DL Javon] Hargrave inside, if you try to do the inside guy. So, it’s across the board and we always say if you are one-on-one, you better win.” 


How has the communication with LB Fred Warner gone through the radio? I know this was the first real game that you had a chance to kind of go with that play calling back and forth. 

“It’s been great. Fred, again, is just a great leader out there, takes control. He’s so smart and gets the guys in the right checks, right positions, things that we want.” 


In terms of the motion that you’re talking about with the Rams, it seems like they use that and a lot of teams are using that to get receivers in motion and build up some momentum before the snap. What sort of challenges does that present for DBs especially? 

“Well, I don’t think it’s so much of a challenge. I think it’s maybe more of a benefit from them to the point to where you’re exactly right. They’re trying to avoid contact. So, they put guys in positions so they can get free releases, but from the standpoint of us, we can change things around based off our coverage and even our alignment. So, I don’t think it’s a big advantage.” 


What do you think of the Los Angeles Rams RB Kyren Williams? He had a couple of good runs, not a great yards per carry, but he falls forward a lot. 

“Well, in my opinion, he’s more of a power runner than [Los Angeles Rams RB Cam] Akers. I think they both complement one another. We’ve been talking all week about really wrapping up because those guys do a great job yardage after the contact as far as making guys miss. So just as last week, we got to do a great job getting guys rallying to the football.” 


With Tutu Atwell, does it help facing a Pittsburgh Steelers WR Calvin Austin the week before, another kind of smaller joystick, speedy kind of receiver like that? 

“Yes, it helps you whatnot, but I feel like we get certain different looks in practice and we try to match that up based off jersey number, who we want to wear this for us. The makeup and the composition of that particular player.” 


Fred’s hit on Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris on the fourth defensive snap. It literally looks like he knows the play. You talked about his smarts. Does he know? 

“At times. He does a great job with his film study. He can anticipate and know exactly what’s coming. So, I definitely give him all the credit. He’s definitely a smart guy and as I said before, he communicates, calls things out pre-snap, which really affects and helps everybody around him.”