A positional look at defense led by Bosa, Warner

Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers drills during practice, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Carl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

SANTA CLARA — It’s become an annual ritual for Nick Bosa to share pass-rushing tips with a new teammate. This week, Leonard Floyd had a fun discussion of technique with the 49ers’ marquee defender.

Or is the name more appropriate for linebacker Fred Warner? If not him, then who?

The 49ers defense is undergoing a makeover, including new defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen and new assistant head coach Brandon Staley.

Contact drills won’t take place for another two months, but the start of this week’s organized team activities gives a glimpse of what the 49ers’ defense is looking like at the position:

Leonard Floyd rests during San Francisco 49ers practice, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Carl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Leonard Floyd rests during San Francisco 49ers practice, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Carl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Defensive End

Bosa agreed to Kyle Shanahan’s suggestion and attended OTAs for the first time in five years. Bosa looked as action-figure as ever, but there is also a mature leader in the No. 97 jersey.

Opposite him in the pass-rushing role is ninth-year veteran Floyd who looks lanky but nimble and impressive. Big-bodied Yetur Gross-Matos looks like a real steal after his stint in Carolina’s dungeon.

“Drake’s not healthy, so he can’t go,” Shanahan said of Drake Jackson, who is undergoing rehabilitation after knee surgery late last season.

Robert Beal Jr. has shown signs of making a jump from Year 1 to Year 2 which certainly works well for another fifth-round selection in 49ers history (see: Kittle, George). Not drafting a defensive end this year could come back to haunt if the depth dries up quickly.

Yatur Gross-Matos #94 and Nick Bosa #97 participate in drills during San Francisco 49ers practice, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Carl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Yatur Gross-Matos #94 and Nick Bosa #97 participate in drills during San Francisco 49ers practice, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Carl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Defensive Tackle

Projected starter Maliek Collins is expected to attend OTAs next week, so Javon Hargrave lined up Tuesday with another newcomer, Jordan Elliott, whose 6-foot-4, 303-pound frame looks favorable. Kalia Davis’ vigor is a positive sign after his entry into the NFL was delayed because of injuries.

There is stiff competition for roster spots this year between Kevin Givens and TY McGill. Shaquel Brown is not standing out against established pros the way he did in his rookie minicamp tryout.

Linebacker

Fred Warner didn’t play Tuesday and still was the defense’s hype man, playfully teasing Purdy at the start of 11-on-11 action. Three months after Dre Greenlaw recovered from Super Bowl trauma, De’Vondre Campbell is being inserted on the weak side. Campbell didn’t perform very well toward the end of his Packers tenure, so it will be interesting to see how committed the 49ers are to a young player if he performs well over the next three months.

Demetrius Flanigan-Fowles replaced Warner in practice and looked as confident as a fifth-year veteran. Propping him and Curtis Robinson (the strong side on Tuesday’s first unit) will be a team of young linebackers eager for action: Dee Winters, Jalen Graham and rookie Tatum Bethune.

Defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen watches the San Francisco 49ers practice on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Carl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen watches the San Francisco 49ers practice on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Carl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Cornerback

On Tuesday, DeModore Lenoir moved from right cornerback to the inside as a nickel back. That could actually work for another season, especially if Isaac Yiadom earns the No. 3 (or No. 2) spot to play right cornerback. Second-round pick Renardo Green was the other team’s nickel back, and his aggressive, feisty nature immediately stood out.

With Charvarius Ward rehabilitating from core-muscle surgery in February, Ambry Thomas got the nod to line up at left cornerback on the first unit, but he didn’t help his cause. The 49ers should be excited to see what they can get from Rock Ya-Sin, Chase Lucas, Sam Womack and Darrell Luter Jr. in the battle for depth (and special teams service).

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