The Mercury News Weekend

What did DC Saleh reveal in his address?

- By Cam Inman cinman@bayareanew­sgroup.com

Asking Robert Saleh what the 49ers defense must do in 2021 seemed a bit sneaky Thursday.

After all, Saleh likely won’t be the 49ers’ defensive coordinato­r next season, not if he lands a NFL head coaching vacancy as expected in the coming weeks.

But Thursday he offered perhaps a final time for Saleh to meet the 49ers media and dole out his customary optimism, which the 49ers (6- 9) could use a dose of before Sunday’s season finale against the Seattle Seahawks ( 11- 4) at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. So how will the 2021 defense evolve, with or without Saleh, and presumably with a restocked roster thank includes Nick Bosa’s return from a knee injury?

“You go back and study and see what teams were attacking and what holes you can close,”

Saleh began. “Adding to the system without overloadin­g the players, so they can continue to play as fast and as instinctiv­ely as possible with no grey areas.

“We’ll try to evolve, play extremely fast and make (the opposing) coordinato­r work extremely hard to call the perfect play, and the players on the other side having to perform at their highest level.”

Count not only 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan but also Seahawks counterpar­t Pete Carroll among those vouching for Saleh’s head- coaching candidacy.

“I think the world of what he’s done,” Carroll said on a conference call with 49ers reporters. “Robert’s going to be a head coach and deserves to be. He’s made that jump into a leadership position and shown excellence.”

Saleh served on Carroll’s 2011-13 staffs as a defensive

qualit y control coach. Saleh moved on to coach the Jacksonvil­le Jaguars for three seasons before assuming his 49ers’ role in 2017. “He’s got a great brain, character and stature. He’s got it all,” Carroll added. “From all I’m hearing, he’s got a great chance to be a head coach and I wish him the very best on that.”

Saleh will look to mimic what he’s seen the past four years in the harmonious relationsh­ip between coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, both of whom received contract extensions prior to this year.

“If you look at how teams run themselves, Kyle (Shanahan) and John (Lynch) are the standard. T hey ’ re phenomena l,” said Saleh, further praising Shanahan’s leadership and communicat­ion skills.

The 49ers defense remains ranked among the league’s elite, despite injuries robbing them this season of stars including Bosa, Dee Ford and, for most of the season, cornerback Richard Sherman. The 49ers are No. 5 in yards allowed.

How has Saleh’s defense improved since arriving in 2017 and inheriting a

unit that ranked among the worst from 2014-16? Saleh credited the 49ers’ roster overhaul and learning curve.

“They understand the scheme and what we ask of them after four years,” Saleh said. “It’s a wink and a nod, if you will. We can make eye contact and they understand what we’re saying. Their ability to grasp the system allows them to play extremely fast.

“The system has evolved into its own unique place in the league. It’s not oldschool Seattle like when we came in here. We created a system unique to the 49ers. It’s been cool because we’ve been able to do it together, not only as a staff but the players who’ve been here. It’s been a great experience.”

Safety Tarvarius Moore, a third- year veteran, echoed Saleh’s contention in how the 49ers learned to grasp his scheme.

“We work well together, being in the system so long together, learning it together, and whoever they throw in, we all feel we can execute at a high level and maintain a high standard,” Moore said. WILLIAMS WI NS MEDI A AWARD >> Left tackle Trent Williams’ ability to share insight and tips became a staple through his first and perhaps only season with the 49ers. That car

ried over to his zoom sessions with reporters — who named him this year’s winner of the Garry Niver Award for his profession­alism and cooperatio­n — but also to his teammates who’ve been eager to learn from an eight- time Pro Bowler.

“He’s not the most vocal guy,” tight end George Kittle said, “but when you watch film and he explains why he blocks guys the way he does or how he uses his feet or hands, it’s really fun.”

Williams’ fun is over this season. An elbow sprain will keep him out of Sunday’s season finale, when the 49ers (6- 9) host the Seattle Seahawks (114). Free agency awaits Williams and likely a massive contract that should clear $20 million annually.

What must the 2021 49ers do to return to Super Bowl contention, with or without him?

“Stay healthy,” Williams responded. “I honestly think if we had the same team we opened camp up with, I honestly think we’d be fighting for the No. 1 seed right now.

“The proof is in the pudding. They did it last year so it’s not like I’m reaching for something out of thin air. That was our potential and what we could have done if we weren’t so banged up.” MCGLINCHEY’S MINDSET

>> Right tackle Mike McGlinchey said he’s played all season at his desired weight of 295 to 300 pounds, that he’s only down about five pounds last season, and that his pass- protection breakdowns this season are “technique based” that he’ll work to rectify, rather than necessaril­y bulk up in the weight room.

“I don’t think my size has anything to do with my inconsiste­ncy of play this year,” McGlinchey said. “Could I be a little bigger? Sure. ‘ Big Slim’ is a nickname (Richard Sherman) gave jokingly. I was maybe 5 pounds lighter than last year. Maybe I was put together better.” PRACTICE REPORT >> There were no additions to the throng of players not practicing: Williams, wide receivers Brandon Aiy uk (ankle) and Deebo Samuel ( hamstring); defensive tackles Javon Kinlaw ( knee) and Kevin Givens (not injury related); cornerback­s Richard Sherman (calf ) and K’Waun Williams (shin) and defensive end Jordan Willis (ankle).

Limited in practice were defensive end Dion Jordan ( knee), safety Tarvarius Moore (ankle), cornerback Emmanuel Moseley ( hamstring), linebacker Mark Nzeocha ( illness) and offensive lineman Justin Skule ( knee).

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