Over an offseason in which head coach Kyle Shanahan said he expected to make few to no staff changes, he’s already fired head strength coach Ray Wright, head athletic trainer Jeff Ferguson, and on Sunday, he fired defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina, before hiring his replacement Kris Kocurek and adding Joe Woods as their defensive pass game coordinator.
The first two moves were to address a rash of injuries this season that saw 17 players spend time on the injured reserve this season, and 24 a year ago. The hire of Kocurek is set to address a glaring weakness San Francisco has faced on the field: An inability to rush the passer.
This past season, San Francisco ranked 14th in the NFL rushing yards allowed, seventh in yards per attempt and allowed two 100-yard rushers, but their pass rush has been among the worst in the league the past two seasons. The 49ers ranked No. 21 in sacks last season, and No. 26 in 2017.
Kocurek, 40, joins the 49ers after spending the 2018 season as the defensive line coach for the Miami Dolphins.
“Kris has become one of the most respected defensive line coaches in the NFL over the last decade and has a proven track record of helping his players maximize their abilities,” Shanahan said in a statement. “When he recently became available, we acted aggressively to add him to our staff because his philosophy, and the style of play he coaches, fits our scheme and personnel very well. We’re excited to get him in the meeting rooms and onto the field with our players.
Prior to Miami, Kocurek spent his first nine years with the Detroit Lions, first as the team’s assistant defensive line coach in 2009, followed by eight seasons as defensive line coach (2010-17).
Before he became an NFL coach, Kocurek served as the defensive line coach at Stephen F. Austin in 2008, assistant head coach/defensive line coach at West Texas A&M in 2007 and defensive line coach at Texas A&M-Commerce in 2006. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Texas Tech (2003), followed by Texas A&M-Kingsville (2004-05).
A native of Rockdale, Texas, Kocurek played collegiately at Texas Tech, where he was a three-time All-Big 12 selection (1998-2000). He was selected team captain and named the team’s defensive player of the year as a senior in 2000. He was then taken in the seventh round (237th overall) of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks as a defensive lineman.
Following his release from the Seahawks prior to the 2001 season, he was signed to the Tennessee Titans practice squad and was later promoted to the team’s active roster and appeared in one game with the Titans in 2001, before spending the 2002 season on the injured reserve.
Woods, 48, will likely assume some of the responsibilities of former secondary coach Jeff Hafley, who left to take over as co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State. The hire was originally reported by Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network.
Woods will take over a unit that, aside from veteran Richard Sherman, is very young, featuring 23-year old Ahkello Witherspoon, 22-year old Tarvarius Moore, 22-year old D.J. Reed and 25-year old Adrian Colbert. The unit — ravaged by injuries — was only able to produce two interceptions, which led to the 49ers having the worst turnover differential in the NFL.
Buckner to Pro Bowl: After being named an alternate for the Pro Bowl last month, defensive lineman DeForest Buckner — the first 49er to record double-digit sacks (12) in a single season since Aldon Smith in 2012 (19.5)— was named to the Pro Bowl roster on Tuesday. Buckner will be headed to Orlando, Florida on Jan. 27, joining fullback Kyle Juszczyk and tight end George Kittle. He was bumped up to the roster after Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox was hurt on Sunday.
This will be Buckner’s first trip to the Pro Bowl in his third NFL seasonm after starting all 16 games and registering 67 tackles, a career-high in sacks, three passes defensed and one fumble recovery in 2018. His sack total was tied for fourth in the NFC and tied for eighth in the NFL. His dozen sacks were the fifth-most in a single season by a 49ers defender since 2000.
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