49ers Defense is Prime Fit for Ex-Head Coach, 2-Time Pro Bowler Says

Steve Wilks

Getty Steve Wilks during the season finale of the Panthers season on January 8, 2023 in New Orleans.

With Steve Wilks scheduled to interview for the open defensive coordinator spot for the San Francisco 49ers on Monday, February 6 per the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, a two-time Pro Bowl defender has the belief that the 49ers are a prime fit for him.

Brian Burns would know, as he earned his second Pro Bowl nod with Wilks coaching him and running the Carolina Panthers defense.

As chatter for Wilks possibly stepping in for DeMeco Ryans continues to swirl, the edge rusher told Jordan Elliott of SB Nation on Friday, February 3 that Wilks is a player friendly coach who “taught me a lot.”

“Steve Wilks is a great man in my opinion. One of the main things about him is that I think he cares more about us players as humans more than just as players. That’s the main thing about Wilks, like he taught me a lot, he kind of just like fit into that father role for me. He’s just a genuine person,” Burns told Elliott during the Pro Bowl games in Las Vegas.

Burns, who delivered a career-best 12.5 sacks under Wilks’ tutelage in 2022, told Elliott that Wilks got him to be in an attack mode more when it came to facing the quarterback — hence his spike in sacks.

“Pretty much when he took over I started rushing a lot more,” Burns said. “I used to drop into coverage a ton the previous three years and the first half of this (2022) season. So once he took over, I was kind of like all down, ears pinned back and he let me go. That’s definitely something he believes in, front and coverage.”

Are Wilks and Ryans’ Defensive Philosophies Similar?

Before diving into schematics, Burns verbally illustrated Wilks as a coach who “cares more about us players as humans more than just as players.”

Ryans was lauded for his ability to connect with 49er defenders. Wilks’ strength in Charlotte was winning over his players. Proof the leadership quality is already there.

But now comes the schematic part and if hiring Wilks could mean a complete system overhaul. It won’t be an overhaul.

For starters, Wilks’ scheme employs a lot of five-defensive back looks. San Francisco threw that many DBs on the field as Ryans used looks that involved safety Jimmie Ward at nickelback, then Tashaun Gipson and Talanoa Hufanga giving them a three-safety look.

But in the end, Wilks is a four-man front guy. He had four across in Carolina and the result was 24 of their 35 sacks coming from defensive linemen. Furthermore, the Panthers got a combined 20 sacks from their edge rushers with Burns the leader. San Francisco, as 49ers fans know, is deepest at the edge — so Wilks’ attack mode philosophy for his ends are already prime for Nick Bosa, Kerry Hyder, Arik Armstead, Drake Jackson, Arik Armstead and anyone else who has lined up over a tackle or as a wide 9-technique defender.

‘Would Love This for 49ers Defense’

Burns is on board with believing Wilks would thrive in the Bay Area. Analysts and fans have additionally given their enthusiasm toward the possibility of Wilks joining Kyle Shanahan’s staff.

One is Michael Hauff of Sharp Football Analysis and the Faceoff Sports Network.

“Would love this for the 49ers defense! Bring on Steve Wilks,” Hauff said online. He also predicted that S.F. will “get him a head coaching job somewhere in no time at all!”

Meanwhile, North Carolina sports anchor John Johnson II of NBC WXII 12 in Piedmont Triad said “Gotta think he’s a strong candidate there. Wouldn’t be a bad landing spot with all the talent in San Francisco.”

Lastly, after news of possible candidate Vic Fangio taking the Miami Dolphins DC gig, Jose Sanchez III of All 49ers SI on Fan Nation immediately hoped for Wilks to S.F.

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