Steve Wilks says Fred Warner ‘brings the juice’ as vocal leader of 49ers defense

Jul 27, 2023, 4:45 PM | Updated: 4:46 pm

Linebacker Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates breaking up a pass on the goal lin...

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 03: Linebacker Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates breaking up a pass on the goal line against the Los Angeles Rams during the second quarter at Levi's Stadium on October 03, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Steve Wilks has coached a lot of great players during his NFL tenure, but this year may be his greatest collection on one squad yet. And it starts with Fred Warner.

The new San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator raved about a great second day of training camp his unit had, making life hell for the offense Thursday. But when asked if his defensive line had any vocal leaders on it, he immediately went to his captain on the defensive side of the football.

“Our vocal guy is Fred, he’s going to get everybody going from the front to the back,” Steve Wilks told the media with a grin Thursday.

Recently voted the best middle linebacker in the NFL, Warner has taken his game to another level. So much so that he ca turn into a member of the secondary at a moment’s notice. Being a 20-plus-year veteran of the coaching game, Wilks has been around a few great MLBs in his time. And while he hates to compare players, Warner reminds his new coach of a particular beast at the position.

“Again, he just brings the juice. I think it excites the defense. I go back and I think about a guy like [former NFL LB] Thomas Davis in Carolina, Fred’s that guy, very vocal, but also his play is phenomenal,” the coach stated.

Because of that, the defensive line is allowed to play like silent assassins on the gridiron. And by just going off their individual numbers alone, it seems to be working for the 49ers.

“So, the way those guys play up front speaks loud. I want them to continue to play hard, get off the ball and do the things that we’re asking them to do,” Steve Wilks added.

San Francisco finished the 2022 season with the top-ranked defense in the NFL, reminiscent of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens’ squad that won the Super Bowl. While the 2022 49ers didn’t reach the mountaintop, most of that unit has carried over into the new league year. And with added pieces around the stars, their DC feels this may be the deepest squad he’s had in a very long time.

“The depth that we have across the board, inside and out, man, that’s what I’m talking about. Never been around anything like this,” Wilks said. “We’ve done a tremendous job starting with [general manager] John [Lynch] and [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] building this roster and getting us the guys that we need to play and succeed with. So, I’m excited about that.”

The 49ers aren’t even complete at the moment, missing star pass rusher Nick Bosa.

But while Bosa waits his new deal to be agreed upon, that gives Wilks & the coaching staff a chance to see other rotational players thrive in expanded roles.

“It is a long season and you’re always going to have guys step up and have to play,” he elaborated. “I go back and I look at the spring with the opportunity that those other corners had with [CB Charvarius] “Mooney” [Ward] not being here. We had an opportunity right now for [CB] Ambry [Thomas] to get better. We saw “Demo” [DB Deommodore Lenoir] progressing, getting better, so I agree totally. It’s a chance for [DL] Drake [Jackson] to step up along with [DL] Austin Bryant and a lot of other guys.” 

Another member of the defensive line to impress is DT Javon Kinlaw.

The South Carolina alum has been dealing with knee issues since tearing his ACL in the 2021 season. Fully healthy for the first time in two years, Kinlaw looks like a completely different person, noticeably slimmed down in his frame. The former first-round pick has always been a physical specimen, but thanks to renewed dedication to the game, his hard work could pay off in dividends this year.

Well from Day 1, I’ve been talking about Kinlaw and his progression. He stayed here all summer, dedicated himself as far as trying to continue to get his body right. Mentally, he’s in a great spot and just love the way he’s playing violent, hands up front, getting off the ball and the way he’s turning and running and getting to the football is amazing. I know Kyle showed one of the plays in the team meeting this morning with him just coming out of his stack, as we call it, and I’m just excited right now and just looking for him to have a great year,” Steve Wilks said.

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