After taking a look at what I think needs to happen on offense for the San Francisco 49ers to make the postseason in 2015, it’s time to switch to the other side of the ball and break down the defense.
Again, I firmly believe the team has enough talent to make a run at a nine or ten win season, but some factors will be key. The defense can play a big part in the 49ers getting back to the playoffs if…
ILB Navorro Bowman is healthy
It’s easy to forget just how dominate Bowman was during the 2013 season. With ILB Patrick Willis and OLB Aldon Smith out of the lineup, Bowman kept the unit afloat with stellar play week in and week out.
Bowman finished 2013 with 145 tackles to go along with 5.0 sacks. He forced six turnovers (four fumbles and two interceptions), and his 89-yard interception return for a touchdown in Week 16 against the Atlanta Falcons may have been the biggest play of the season for the 49ers.
He was also named Defensive Player of the Month for his performance in December of 2013, as he was the only player in the last 20 years to records at least 45 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, an interception return for a touchdown, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in one calendar month.
His play prior to 2013 wasn’t too shabby either, as Bowman’s been named a First-Team All Pro every season he’s been a full-time starter.
If Bowman is healthy, and has truly recovered from his gruesome knee injury, he’s the type of player than can elevate those around him. His play will make fellow ILB Michael Wilhoite and the rest of the front seven that much better, and can help thrust the defense as whole back in the top five in the league.
Someone steps up at cornerback
Forget about the CB Tramaine Brock you saw in last year. He was hurt and a shadow of the player that broke out with a team high five interceptions in 2013. Now back to form, Brock looks to be the team’s best corner and should be penciled in at one of the starter spots in Week 1. Beyond Brock though…you have to hope GM Trent Baalke knows what he’s doing.
As of right now it looks like CB Shareece Wright is the early favorite to suit up with the first team in camp. After struggling with the San Diego Chargers the past two years, Baalke is hoping Wright can be another CB Carlos Rogers and excel in San Francisco’s system. I guess that’s possible, but Wright ranked in the bottom 10 amongst all cornerbacks with a -11.1 rating in 2013, and a -16.4 rating in 2014 (according to Pro Football Focus). He was flagged 13 times last season, alone and only has one interception in his four year career.
Beyond Wright is a slew of unknowns in the form of CB Chris Cook (who played well in limited time with the 49ers last year but was a mess with the Minnesota Vikings), CB Keith Reaser, CB Kenneth Acker, CB Jimmie Ward and CB Dontae Johnson.
Reaser, Acker, Ward and Johnson are all part of 2014 draft class that Baalke is apparently very high on (why else would he not address corner if he didn’t feel one or more of this group would step up).
Ward will man the slot, but he was up and down in the eight games his played in his rookie year before being sidelined by an injury. Johnson played well with limited exposure, but struggled once he was given an expanded role. He gave up 13 catches for 188 yards and two scores while starting the in Week’s 16 an 17.
Reaser is really the one to watch here, as his speed (4.3 40) and versatility (can play inside or outside) make him very valuable, especially if the 49ers want to move Brock around. He’s another player recovering from a lost year because of ACL surgery, so health will obviously be a major factor on whether or not he can live up to the buzz surrounding him.
It almost has a “throw a bunch of names against a wall and see who sticks” feel to it. But I’ll trust Baalke on this one as he’s had a proven track record of finding corners that “fit” the system the past four years.