New 49ers DC ‘Could Bring in’ His Own Pass Game Specialist: Insider

Steve Wilks

Getty Steve Wilks on December 24, 2022 in Charlotte.

DeMeco Ryans is luring away one former San Francisco 49ers co-worker of his on the defensive side of the football, with Cory Undlin set to be hired as Ryans’ defensive passing game coordinator for the Houston Texans per NBC 2 Houston’s Aaron Wilson on Tuesday, February 14.

One insider around the 49ers, though, believes that new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will end up having a say on who will fill the spot Undlin bequeaths.

Matt Barrows of The Athletic not only cited Undlin as being instrumental in the development and emergence of Deommodore Lenoir, but believe Wilks could lure in his own guy to fill for Undlin.

“Undlin’s crowning achievement, IMHO, was developing former 5th-round pick Deommodore Lenoir into a starter. Steve Wilks, whose background is w/ defensive backs, could bring in someone to replace Undlin or promote safeties coach Daniel Bullocks,” Barrows said.

Early Signs Indicate Promotion for Bullocks

If the 49ers were to move swiftly to replace Undlin on the defensive staff, the safeties coach Bullocks is the first idea that comes to mind per fellow 49ers insider for The Athletic David Lombardi.

“Very expected. Former 49ers CB coach Cory Undlin’s role became redundant when SF hired DB specialist Steve Wilks as their defensive coordinator. I still expect 49ers to promote safeties coach Daniel Bullocks to DB coach. That, combined with Wilks’ presence, will replace Undlin,” Lombardi said.

Bullocks’ name was mentioned as a strong possibility to join Ryans in Houston, which included potentially taking over defensive coordinator duties. However, Ryans has instead plugged former Arizona Cardinals defensive line coach Matt Burke as his defensive coordinator, which also reunites him with Undlin as the two worked together with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019.

Bullocks has become a fast-riser in the coaching profession. The former NFL safety has been on the 49ers’ coaching staff since the arrival of Kyle Shanahan in 2017. Bullocks spent his first two seasons as assistant defensive backs coach. Then from 2019 to present, Bullocks has had complete control of the safety unit.

He’s best credited for the rise of Talanoa Hufanga from fifth rounder to Pro Bowler in 2022 while also helping turn Jimmie Ward into one of the league’s best coverage safeties.

Other Possibilities for Role, Including Ties to Wilks

It’s not fully guaranteed that Bullocks will get an elevation, as Wilks in his new role can have sway into who to help fill the defensive side of the ball.

One name worth watching is Dave Merritt, who just won his second Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs as defensive backs coach. Merritt was on Wilks’ Arizona Cardinals coaching staff in the same position during the 2018 season.

Charlie Harbison is another with ties to Wilks in Arizona. Harbison was with the University of Missouri last season but stepped down due to a family matter. He served as assistant defensive backs coach for the Cardinals under Wilks, which was his lone NFL coaching gig as his other stops were in the college ranks.

Veteran coach Ed Donatell is another name that merits watching. He was recently fired after one season with the Minnesota Vikings following the Wild Card loss to the New York Giants. Donatell spent his previous three seasons as Denver Broncos defensive coordinator. He does have ties to the 49ers — having served as DB coach from 2011 to 2014 under Jim Harbaugh. Plus his area of expertise is defensive backs, which would coincide with Wilks’ background as a DB developer.

But one more name mentioned to Barrows who could be a wildcard for this position is former Miami Dolphins defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander. “G.A” has ties to the Bay Area — having coached at the University of California where he turned Ashtyn Davis, Cam Bynum, Jaylinn Hawkins and Elijah Hicks into NFL Draft picks — with Davis emerging as a third rounder to the New York Jets and Bynum recently starting for the Vikings.

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