The 49ers Steve Wilks likes what hes seeing of the

The 49ers’ Steve Wilks likes what he’s seeing of the bigger, stronger Drake Jackson – The Athletic

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The first two players the 49ers’ new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks mentioned in his opening press conference Friday were Javon Kinlaw and Drake Jackson.

There is a practical reason for this. Both defensive linemen have been training at the team’s facility all season and were on hand when Wilks was hired in February. That means he already had a lot of contact with them.

“The day I came in for my interview, he was here training,” Wilks said of Kinlaw. “He hasn’t missed an off-season training day so I’m excited to see exactly where he will be. Ditto for Drake. Drake has been here all spring training and doing the things he needs to do to improve his game. He has gained a lot of weight.”

The other common denominator is that the team needs both to make a big step forward this season. Of course, Kinlaw has suffered from knee problems for the past two seasons and has just come off an NFC Championship game in which he was pushed around by the Eagles’ offensive line. The 49ers declined earlier this month to exercise Kinlaw’s fifth-year option, meaning he is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season.

Jackson, on the other hand, showed his potential in his rookie season but has been a healthy scrape in five of the last six contests and was without a sack after Oct. 16.

The 49ers know Nick Bosa will continue to draw plenty of attention at one of the defensive endpoints, which should give the opposing player an opportunity to shine. The 49ers brought in a pair of free agents in Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant and used a fifth-round pick on a speed rusher, Robert Beal.


Adam Peters on the 49ers’ draft class, including a pair of “Goldhelm” players

But they believe Jackson has the ability to be Bosa’s most important bookend. Observers say he excelled in the team’s weight room this offseason and looked noticeably different — and more powerful — on drills the team completed early in the offseason program.

Wilks said he saw “a lot of inconsistencies” when he saw Jackson’s rookie of the year film.

“I’ve seen a lot of talent, a lot of skill, but someone who really needs to get a little bit stronger, a little bit bigger,” he said. “And he’s working hard, so I’m looking forward to him making the leap into his second year again.”

Wilks also spoke about his specialty, secondary education. He was a defensive back at Appalachian State in the late 1980s, began coaching defensive backs in the mid-1990s, and worked with the cornerbacks at Friday’s rookie minicamp practice.

The 49ers have primarily used zone coverage in recent years. But they have several cornerbacks, including veteran Charvarius Ward and fifth-round pick Darrell Luter, who specialize in press coverage. Wilks said the 49ers would continue to utilize many zoning concepts while perhaps making more use of the long-armed talent they have as a cornerback.

“I feel like we have the skills and the talent to look a man in the face, apply pressure and get the quarterback to hold the ball, especially with our (defensive) front,” he said.

bits and pieces

• The 49ers signed all 21 of their rookies (nine draft picks, 12 undrafted free agents) ahead of Friday practice. That includes their top pick, safety Ji’Ayir Brown, who wore number 27 during the session.

The Penn State product will return to Pennsylvania in Week 1 when the 49ers visit the Steelers, and he said he was impressed with Pittsburgh’s coaches when he visited ahead of the draft.

Ji’Ayir Brown, the 49ers’ top pick from that draft, signed his contract Friday and attended the rookie minicamp. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

But his connection with the 49ers was particularly intense, particularly with Wilks. Brown said he had “almost like a father-son conversation” with Wilks and that the defensive coordinator gave him “some advice that I will carry with me forever.”

Brown didn’t want to reveal what that advice was — “It’s personal,” he said — but after Brown and Wilks spoke to reporters Friday, it was clear they have similarly strong, magnetic personalities.

Wilks said he and Brown hit it off during the security forces’ preliminary draft visit in April.

“He just grew on me, the conversation we had, his commitment to the game,” Wilks said. “He’s grown up, he sees it through a different lens, and I said, ‘This guy here can be the future for us.’ So I was thrilled and glad we got him.”

• Kicker Jake Moody completed seven pre-draft practice sessions with NFL teams. His session with the 49ers was the only one that used a long snapper, which made it a bit of an adventure, according to Moody and his defending champion, punter Brad Robbins.

“There are rules and regulations about who you can grab,” Robbins said. “And the only (Long Snapper) who was eligible to attend our private practice was a guy from Ohio State. And coach (Jim) Harbaugh politely declined.”

In the other practice sessions, Moody either used Kicking Stix or had Robbins feed him the ball. However, when the 49ers arrived, they brought with them one of Michigan’s backup tight ends who had minimal experience in long snaps.

“He’s a great guy. I love him more than anything,” Moody said. “But he’s terrible at snapping. So he rolled back half of the snaps. And the defending champion did his best to get the ball up and down for me.”

The worst snapshot might have been the last one. San Francisco Special Teams coach Brian Schneider had the trio stand on the sidelines and then run onto the field from 55 yards for a last-second simulated kick.

“In fact, I think the snap bounced twice before reaching the holder,” Moody said. “Luckily (Robbins) made it at the last second, didn’t take his hand away and (we) made it.”

• Beal said Friday his NFL role model is Chargers linebacker Khalil Mack because he’s both an excellent pass rusher and strong against the run. When asked if he was similar in height to Mack, Beal replied, “Not yet.”

While Mack weighs 269 pounds, Beal weighs 248 pounds. He said he hopes to weigh 255 or 260 pounds by training camp.

“I’ve set myself high goals,” he said. “So it’s like, go in and start special teams, get five or six sacks as the season progresses and build on that.”

• Both quarterbacks participating in rookie camp had multiple deep ball finishes. Steven Montez hit twice with seventh-round pick Ronnie Bell, who featured prominently in the session. Clayton Thorson, meanwhile, had a 30-yard throw down the right side of the field to Tay Martin’s wideout and an even longer bomb throw down the left touchline to Jahcour Pearson, a wideout from Ole Miss, who was attending camp for tryouts.

Thorson’s arm strength is news considering he sustained an elbow injury nearly a year ago while playing for the USFL’s Houston Gamblers – in a game against the Philadelphia Stars – and underwent the same “internal braces” as Brock Purdy in March. Thorson did not appear to be hampered in Friday’s session.

Kyle Shanahan, meanwhile, said this week that Purdy is likely to be back in training by the time camp begins.

“He does the same drills that every other quarterback does, he just uses a towel to toss,” Shanahan said Wednesday at the Dwight Clark Legacy event. “But (he) is still making violent moves, he’s still moving, he just doesn’t do it with a football. … As long as there is no setback, we assume that he will be present at the training camp.”

• Wilks said free-agent signing Isaiah Oliver will play nickel cornerback for the 49ers. Wilks said there were doubts as to whether the team would be able to keep Jimmie Ward in March.

“When that wasn’t happening, we wanted to make sure we were getting the best dime in free agency, so to speak, and we did that,” he said. “Well, I’m excited about Oliver. He’s long, he’s body-hugging, he can tackle, he can cover. He’s going to be a good blitzer for us, anything we do in that defense.”

• Wilks said he would likely spend matchdays in the coaching room. That’s where former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio preferred to be, although the team’s last few coordinators, including Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans, practiced from the sidelines. When he spends Sundays in the dressing room, Wilks said his on-field contact is linebacker coach Johnny Holland.

(Top photo by Steve Wilks: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)