Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is accustomed to inheriting bare cupboards.
In his previous three stints as an NFL defensive coordinator, Fangio took over two expansion teams (Panthers and Texans) and the Colts, who didn’t have a Pro Bowl defensive player on the roster during his three-season run from 1999-01.
Now, Fangio comes to San Francisco, which has two returning Pro Bowlers in linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive tackle Justin Smith. Willis and Smith are vital parts of a defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in an NFL-best 21 straight games and ranked second in the NFL in yards allowed per carry (3.5) this past season.
So Fangio has certainly fallen into more talent-starved situations.
But it’s generally agreed that Fangio didn’t inherit a unit with a great pass-rushing outside linebacker – a key ingredient in the blitz-heavy 3-4 scheme he prefers to run. And at today’s press conference to formally introduce Fangio, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and special teams coordinator Brad Seely, Fangio did little to dispute the notion. (I’ll follow with a Roman/Seely blog).
“There’s a couple guys with that potential,” Fangio said. “The word great is all in the eyes of the beholder. There’s guys with some potential.”
Asked to identify those guys, Fangio mentioned Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson, a duo that disappointed this past season, combining for nine sacks.
“The Brooks guy is here,” Fangio said. “He played some for them last year and showed some potential. I know he started off his career in Cincinnati … Obviously he’s a guy that has some ability, but hasn’t done it to this point. And we have to figure out why he hasn’t done it on a consistent basis. Maybe can he or can’t he? Um, there’s a couple other guys there. Haralson, you know, he’s played a lot here. We’re searching.”
And that search likely extends to cornerbacks.
Fangio is closely associated with Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. The pair has coached together for 16 years and Fangio was the defensive coordinator during each of Capers’ four-year stints as the head coach of the Panthers and Texans.
Green Bay used a blitz-happy scheme en route to the Super Bowl title – with defenders flying in from all angles. Fangio said it’s the type of attacking scheme he’d like the Niners to emulate.
But he cautioned that it takes the right personnel. Not only does Green Bay have a dominant pass-rushing outside linebacker in Clay Matthews, Fangio said they also have three top-end cover cornerbacks in All-Pro Charles Woodson and emerging stars Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. As a result, they could bring pressure without worrying about getting burned on the back end.
“They fall into two really good cover corners besides Woodson and so that allows you to be comfortable to be more of a pressure team,” Fangio said. “And not have to be kind of tricking them all the time. You can be more direct pressure. So he took advantage of that. You do what your players allow to do.”
What will the Niners, as presently constructed, allow Fangio to do? It can be debated whether they have a top-end outside linebacker or cover corner. But forget about finding one of each – Fangio would prefer they come in pairs.
“Obviously when you’re dealing with trying to stop a good passing team, it’s pass rush and coverage,” Fangio said. “So obviously the more pass rushers you have the better off you’re going to be. You really need more than one both in pass rush and in coverage … You need a balanced defense. You can’t a one-sided defense. If you’ve got one great corner, maybe they’ll stay away from him, but they’ve got to go to the other side now and see how good he is. Obviously, one’s better than none. Two’s better than one. It’s the same thing when it comes to the pass rush.”