San Francisco 49ers cornerback K’Waun Williams takes on receiver Max McCaffrey in one-on-one drills during training camp practice on July 30, 2019 in Santa Clara, Calif. (C.J. Peterson / Special to S.F. Examiner)

Physical 49ers defense making an impression early in camp

San Francisco’s offense has had trouble moving the ball against a reinvigorated defense

SANTA CLARA — After breaking off a 55-yard run down the left sideline, 49ers running back Matt Brieda excitedly hurdled over a set of sleds behind the end zone.

Coming as the first substantial run of the afternoon with just 15 minutes remaining in practice, Brieda’s celebration was a product of the sheer difficulty the 49ers offense had moving the ball on the team’s second day in full pads.

With the secondary harassing the passing game, the San Francisco run defense looked as crisp as it has in the early goings, clogging running lanes and delivered big hits on ball carriers.

“The physicality and the get-off and all of that stuff in what they’re doing, it’s like organized chaos.” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “They’re getting off. It’s very violent and there are bodies flying all over the place. It’s been good, the chaos they’re presenting.”

For the 49ers defense the, work starts up front with their defensive line — a group that has been upgraded by adding former Kansas City Chief Dee Ford and rookie defensive end Nick Bosa to a pair of former first-round talents like DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas.

While much has been made of the group’s pass rushing abilities, it’s their run stopping that’s made an immediate impact. Running backs like Brieda and former Atlanta Falcon Tevin Coleman haven’t been able to find creases and hit their holes properly.

“Man they’re cold,” Coleman said. “It’s tough just in practice. Those guys are good. It’s tough to see holes right now and get those holes because those guys are so good.”

With defensive linemen constantly pressuring the quarterbacks, San Francisco’s secondary doesn’t have to cover for as long.

Rather than being forced to blanket receivers for six to eight seconds, they only cover for four or five. This has provided the opportunity for San Francisco’s defensive backs to play aggressively then covering routes, and in run support.

On the few occasions when runs have made it past the first wave of defenders, 49ers corners and safeties have taken it upon themselves to impose their will on ball carriers, too.

During the first round of 11-on-11 drills, Coleman squeaked through the middle and into the secondary, only to be met with force by Richard Sherman.

“I actually didn’t see it because I was taking on a block but I heard it,” San Francisco safety Jaquiski Tartt said. “He was like, ‘I’m a grown man!’”

Along with Sherman, corners Ahkello Witherspoon, Jason Verrett and even Greg Mabin have gotten their hands on passes and have been able to break up plays.

“They’re working really good,” Saleh said. “I just want to make sure they’re getting better every day and competing their tails off and they’re doing that.”

While the 49ers defense seems to be getting the better of the offense so far, it hasn’t seemed to affect their confidence. Rather, it’s increased it.

“We have a great defense,” Brieda said. “Going against them right now, it’s hard to even run the ball. It’s gets us excited because we know how good our defense could be this year.

“And not only that, it’s going to make our offensive line and just us better as running backs learning how to go against good teams like that. I’m excited.”


— 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward was taken off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list Tuesday morning.

Coming off of a broken collar bone, Ward was able to participate in individual drills but did not appear in full-team drills.

— Bosa and Ford were held out of one-on-one drills, but mainly due to small training camp soreness. They both competed in 11-on-11 work, and Bosa tallied a would-be sack on C.J. Beathard. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw suffered a left hand laceration and Ford had a quad and a finger. Both were pulled later in practice, with Greenlaw missing the final session.

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