Former NFL coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t see 49ers defense falling off at all

The 49ers defensive personnel won’t undergo many dramatic changes this season, but there are two key factors that could alter the unit that finished No. 1 in scoring defense and total defense last season. They added defensive lineman Javon Hargrave in free agency, which provides a massive lift on the interior. They’ll also be working under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

Former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t envision much of a drop off for the 49ers’ defense in 2023. And while Wilks is their biggest question mark on that side, he drew a strong review from Pagano who still likes that unit for San Francisco.

“This defense is stacked, then you add Hargrave to the mix,” Pagano said via the 33rd Team. “So to me, the biggest thing for them now is going to be the transition from DeMeco Ryans – who gets his shot in Houston, he’ll do wonderful there – he did an amazing job running that defense in San Fran the last couple years. So this transition, how quick can they adjust to Steve Wilks – who did a phenomenal job in Carolina as the interim (head coach). A lot of people thought he deserved a chance there after Arizona – having his opportunity there. But Steve’s a great coach, he’s a great teacher, he’s a great communicator. And he’ll put those guys in the best position possible to sustain this level of play.”

It’s fair to question exactly what how the 49ers’ defense will respond to a new defensive coordinator. Those same question marks existed when Robert Saleh took a head coaching job with the Jets and Ryans took over as the DC. The defense responded by actually getting better over Ryans’ two seasons at the helm.

Now they’re hoping the same will happen under Wilks, who won’t have to make many changes given the lack of turnover in personnel. There’ll be a new Sam linebacker and a new nickel cornerback, but beyond that this will largely be the same group of players that was dominant last year, with the addition of Hargrave who might’ve been the best available free agent.

Wilks will have to answer some questions as the DC, but Pagano’s ringing endorsement combined with the talent on that side of the ball makes it hard to believe San Francisco’s defense is due for any significant drop off in 2023.

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Story originally appeared on Niners Wire