Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers didn’t need to look far to replace Robert Saleh back in 2021, as inside linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans was waiting in the wings to take the defensive coordinator reins.
Now, the latest internal option has emerged via CBS Sports HQ NFL insider Josina Anderson on the morning of Thursday, February 2: Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. And Anderson’s report comes in the aftermath of potential candidate Vic Fangio officially accepting the offer to be the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator.
“The 49ers are committed to having a true process of vetting their next hire at defensive coordinator, even with Vic Fangio’s vast resume, per league source. The 49ers are still evaluating candidates including Chris Harris, Steve Wilks and the possibility of promoting Kris Kocurek,” Anderson said.
Kocurek Lauded for DL Expertise & Development, Hence his Popularity
If a defender plays on the 49ers defensive line with Kocurek around, they’re positioning themselves for a career ascension.
Regardless if it’s a high draft pick, a little known trench defender or someone looking for career salvation, Kocurek has turned linemen into machines in his coaching career. Since 2019, Kocurek has done the following in the Bay Area:
- All of the 49ers single season defensive sack leaders have been from Kocurek’s position group and have produced 8.5 sacks or higher in each season.
- Between six to eight different trench defenders have gotten on the sack sheet in each of Kocurek’s four seasons, with the latter number coming in 2022.
- In the last two seasons, the defensive line was responsible for more than 84% of the 49ers sacks (40.5 of their 48 in 2021, then 37 of 44 sacks this past season).
- Kocurek’s units have never fallen below producing 20.5 sacks in every season and has produced the tackles for a loss leader in all four seasons.
- Lastly, in three of Kocurek’s four seasons, the 49ers have ended up with their two or three best TFL leaders from the defensive line.
Individually, here are seven who have had career highlight moments under Kocurek:
- Nick Bosa: First career back-to-back double-digit sack seasons including his league best 18.5 of 2022. Bosa has also produced 34 sacks since his return from a torn ACL of 2020.
- Kerry Hyder: Led the 49ers in sacks with eight in 2020. Also led the Detroit Lions with the same number in 2016 when Kocurek was his DL coach.
- Samsom Ebukam: The six-year veteran edge rusher produced a career-best five sacks and seven tackles for a loss in 2022.
- Kevin Givens: Like Ebukam, the fourth-year veteran delivered his own personal bests in sacks and TFLs, with seven for the latter stat.
- Charles Omenihu: In his first full season with the 49ers, shattered new bests in sacks (4.5) and total tackles (20).
- Arik Armstead: His best sack season (10 in 2019), best TFL season (11 also in same season) and best tackle campaign (63 in 2021) were all with Kocurek.
- Hassan Ridgeway: In his first season with his new DL coach and the 49ers, the seven-year interior defender shattered new career-highs with 28 tackles and 14 solo stops.
Kocurek would surely be a huge hit if elevated to the 49ers DC role. Already, Shanahan doesn’t want to have a complete overhaul now that Ryans is gone.
“I’m trying to get something where we don’t have to turn much over,” Shanahan said on Wednesday with the Bay Area media. “I would love to keep our same staff, so I’m going to talk to some guys on our staff.”
Kocurek, Though, Could Appeal to One Opening
Kocurek didn’t just position himself as a possible replacement for Ryans. One analyst believes he could join Ryans.
“49ers DL coach Kris Kocurek was born in Texas and went to Texas Tech. I wouldn’t rule him out as a potential defensive coordinator for the Texans,” said Kyle Posey of SB Nation. “DeMeco is too smart not to take some of the talent on the coaching staff and roster with him.”
Although, a viral video of him resurfaced Thursday on how he preferred his current position and expressed no desire in being a coordinator. That could mean staying on with the 49ers in his current role.
Regardless, Kocurek is the newest internal candidate to watch in S.F. And if Kocurek is elevated, he’ll become the first 49ers defensive coordinator with a past DL coach background since the late John Marshall in 1998.