Home News 49ers’ Shanahan explains staff, roster changes after Super Bowl loss

49ers’ Shanahan explains staff, roster changes after Super Bowl loss

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Kyle Shanahan sounded upbeat and confident this morning in his first press conference since two days after the 49ers lost Super Bowl LVIII.

That loss was not rehashed in his 30-minute session with reporters at the NFL’s annual owners meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Instead, Shanahan mostly spoke about changes to his coaching staff and the Niners’ defense, going so far as to say the 49ers’ run defense last season was the worst in his seven seasons at the helm.

Here are the top-10 topics Shanahan covered, as captured in a video posted by The Athletic’s David Lombardi:

1. SORENSEN AS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR

Nick Sorensen’s familiarity with Shanahan, his two-year apprenticeship on the defensive staff, and his ability to relate well with players earned him a promotion to defensive coordinator, a role Steve Wilks got fired from after one season.

“I just love where he’s at from a football mind,” Shanahan said. “Our players love him. He’s been talking to our team every Thursday, doing the Ball (turnover-oriented) meetings. Our players are used to him and it’s a great opportunity for him. We’re happy to put him in this position.

“I’ve been with him the last two years, mainly. When you’re with somebody, it’s not really an interview that changes it. It’s being with somebody in the building every day. I thought he was close last year to being ready, and I think he’s even more ready now.”

2. RUN DEFENSE ISSUES

The 49ers allowed the NFL’s third-fewest rushing yards in the regular season before Shanahan despised how vulnerable they proved in the playoffs, where their three opponents averaged 5.2 yards per carry and each ran for at least 130 yards. The Detroit Lions ran for 182 yards and three touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game.

“We obviously got beat on some crack tosses too much, and once that did happen, it didn’t stop,” Shanahan said. “I mean, we got more ran on us last year than I’ve ever seen in my career. That’s what happens when you don’t stop that bleeding right away: people keep attacking it. That made it a bigger challenge for us and something we have to get better at.” (More on those defensive adjustments later in this story.)

3. AIYUK’S STATUS 

This offseason’s most publicized drama revolves around Brandon Aiyuk’s contract status, in terms of whether the 49ers’ leading receiver will play under his fifth-year option ($14.1 million) or land a multi-year raise, presumably with the 49ers.

While Shanahan prefers removing himself from “sensitive” negotiations, he noted: “I’ve seen Brandon a couple of times. I actually ran into him in Cabo last week. He was randomly at our hotel; I don’t think he wanted to be. He’s doing good. Hopefully we’ll get this done sooner than later.”

Although Aiyuk has vented on social media, Shanahan said that hasn’t interfered with their relationship: “I’ve seen him a couple of times and we’ve been good. I don’t expect it, too. Brandon understands the situation and I know I do. I’m excited to get him back playing for us.”

Shanahan acknowledged how quarterback Brock Purdy’s success is tied to having quality receivers, adding; “It starts there with Brandon. It’s real big for Brock and his future, to make sure we have a good group for him going forward.”

4. PURDY’S PROGRESS

Once the 49ers reconvene April 15, Shanahan is excited for what will be Purdy’s first true offseason program as an entrenched starter, and he’ll have 19 games from last season to further review and improve upon with quarterbacks coach Brian Griese and his assistant, Klay Kubiak. (Mick Lombardi is expected to move into the pass-game specialist role previously held by Klint Kubiak, now the Saints’ coordinator).

“I’m just pumped that Brock gets an offseason,” Shanahan said. “His first year, he didn’t get much of one, just because he was the third quarterback. Last year, he couldn’t throw with us until training camp. This year, he just got married, he’s fully healthy, and he’ll come back in a couple of weeks when we get going. I’m just pumped to go through the film with him and be on the field with him, which he hasn’t had a chance to do yet in his career.”

Brought in as Purdy’s potential backup is Josh Dobbs, who impressed Shanahan by proving tough to beat in Week 4 with the Arizona Cardinals. “I loved how consistent he was,” Shanahan said. “You could tell whatever the game plan was, he executed extremely well. I loved how competitive he was when he ran, how physical he was in breaking tackles. He gave his team a good chance to win.”

5. BRANDON STALEY’S ROLE

Former Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley is indeed on Shanahan’s staff, though his role remains vague, presumably as the Assistant Head Coach, a title that Shanahan and the 49ers have yet to announce.

“Brandon will be a big part of the game plans, implementing a lot of our defense here in the offseason and during each week,” Shanahan said. “He’s been a big part of free agency, helped us with the draft and he’ll be a huge asset to the whole coaching staff.

“… I know we looked into him for the coordinator role, but I really wanted to stay in-house, and keep it similar to what we’d done in the past with our scheme. Being able to get Brandon on board, it was huge.”

6. D-LINE CHANGES

In come defensive linemen Leonard Floyd, Yetur Gross-Matos, Maliek Collins, Jordan Elliott and perhaps more. “We really wanted to add some guys who had some good health history,” Shanahan said.

Most appealing is Floyd. “Yeah, he goes all day. We played against him too much. I never liked playing against him,” Shanahan said. “He’s always been such a good player. It was real cool having Brandon on our staff, because he got to coach him in L.A., and just hearing the type of practice player he is, he goes all day, loves playing football, and I’m pumped to have him on our team.”

The most disappointing departure? Arik Armstead, who got released after nine seasons and struck a lucrative deal with Jacksonville.
“It wasn’t something we really wanted to happen. It’s one of the tough things when trying to keep a team together and where it goes with the salary cap,” Shanahan said. “He got in a good spot and real happy where he ended up, but hate to see him go.”

7. O-LINE CONTINUITY

Right guard Jon Feliciano’s return on a one-year deal ensured that the 49ers could field the same starting offensive line as last season. “We’ll always keep look to add and improve through the draft, to get more competition in there,” Shanahan said. “But I’ve been real happy with our group.”

That holds true with right tackle Colton McKivitz, who signed a one-year extension through 2025. “He’s the exact type of guy we want. He’s one of the real leaders on our team,” Shanahan said. “He did a hell of a job playing.”

The other starters: left tackle Trent Williams, left guard Aaron Banks, and, center Jake Brendel. Feliciano overtook Spencer Burford as the starting right guard after adjusting his style. “Once he got out there on the field, the way he was in games on Sundays, the way he reacted in the huddle, the ways guys gravitated to him, you could tell football wasn’t too big for him,” Shanahan said of Feliciano.

8. REMAINING ROSTER HOLES

The reigning NFC champ still have uncertainty at spots that, as the Super Bowl showed, could dictate an outcome.

At nickel back, Deommodore Lenoir could settle in there if Isaac Yiadom proves a reliable, right-side cornerback. Ambry Thomas, Sam Womack and Darrell Luter are other options, and more could come from the 49ers’ 10-pick arsenal in next month’s draft.

Return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud left in free agency for Atlanta, opening the door for Ronnie Bell to “compete and get better at it,” said Shanahan, who again alluded to the draft as an avenue for replenishment.

McCloud also saw time as a No. 4 wide receiver, so the 49ers need to work on depth there. But Shanahan called it huge to yield a second-round tender to Jauan Jennings. “He’s only gotten more physical each year,” Shanahan said. “The style of how he plays, how big he is, people sleep on him. They don’t realize how big and physical he is until game day, and it catches a lot of guys off guard.”

9. SAFETY DEPTH

Although veteran safeties are idling in free agency and ex-Colts starter Julian Blackmon recently visited, the 49ers aren’t compelled to bid high for one when a starting spot is not up for grabs, what with Ji’Ayir Brown coming off his rookie year and Talanoa Hufanga returning from knee reconstruction.

“We’d like to add but I’m also real comfortable with how good Ji’Ayir (Brown) played last year,” Shanahan said. “Everyone knows what Huf’s done. It’s always scary coming back from an ACL, but once you come back in this day and age, it’s usually OK. I expect to get him some time in training camp. Getting back George Odum, he’s probably the best special teams player in the league, and he can also play safety well, too. And we’ll see how it goes in the draft.”



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