Saleh needs one fi­nal mas­ter­piece from his guys

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Kerry Crow­ley

MI­AMI >> To ex­e­cute com­plex de­fen­sive game­plans, to en­sure that ev­ery player un­der­stands pre-snap as­sign­ments and to make last-sec­ond, on-field ad­just­ments, NFL de­fend­ers need ex­cel­lent com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

Dur­ing the 2019 sea­son, a fe­ro­cious 49ers’ defense was al­most al­ways on the same page. Mas­ter sto­ry­teller Robert Saleh, the man in charge of the de­fen­sive play­book, made sure of it.

“You’re try­ing to tell them a story of what we need to do and what they’re try­ing to do,” Saleh, the 49ers’ de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, said last week. “So it’s, ‘What is this of­fense re­ally try­ing to ac­com­plish? What are they try­ing to ac­com­plish when they look like this ver­sus an­other for­ma­tion or what­ever it may be?’”

In his third year lead­ing the defense un­der head coach Kyle Shana­han, Saleh rose to promi­nence by over­see­ing one of

the NFL’s best units. The 49ers fin­ished the regular sea­son ranked sec­ond in team defense, sec­ond in third-down per­cent­age and eighth in scor­ing defense.

A year af­ter the 49ers ranked 28th in scor­ing defense and the team fin­ished last in the NFL in turnover mar­gin, Saleh’s job se­cu­rity was ques­tioned by na­tional an­a­lysts. Now, a team that wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily equipped to ex­e­cute Saleh’s game­plans can make the ul­ti­mate state­ment against su­per­star quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I know he came in here with a very good phi­los­o­phy on what he be­lieved in,” Shana­han said. “We weren’t al­ways ready to do all of that stuff which forces you to ad­just as a coach. When you’re forced to ad­just, it only helps you grow.”

Saleh’s growth has been an oft-dis­cussed topic this sea­son as a vaunted pass-rush has wreaked havoc on quar­ter­backs while a stronger sec­ondary helped the 49ers fin­ish the year with the league’s No. 1 ranked pass­ing defense.

49ers de­fen­sive backs and de­fen­sive line­men alike say the defense has thrived be­cause the rush and cov­er­age are in sync, but that’s not sim­ply the re­sult of hav­ing bet­ter per­son­nel. Vet­eran de­fen­sive tackle DeFor­est Buck­ner cred­its Saleh for tak­ing in­put from play­ers who have al­lowed his philoso­phies to evolve.

“He’s a re­ally good coach with lis­ten­ing to play­ers’ ideas and ev­ery­thing,” Buck­ner said. “Lis­ten­ing to him and putting it into the game­plan. He’s one of those coaches who is a re­ally ap­proach­able guy. He’ll hear things out, bounce ideas off of you.”

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