From Carolina all the way to the Bay Area, newly hired defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will be the one calling defensive plays for the 49ers in 2023.
After serving as interim head coach in Carolina, Wilks is taking the place of DeMeco Ryans, who left to become the Texans' new head coach. With the 49ers consistently having a top-ranked defense for the last few seasons, Wilks is focused on helping younger players succeed as the team continues its offseason program.
Javon Kinlaw, who was drafted as the No. 14 overall pick in the 2020 draft, has played in just 24 of 50 possible regular-season games due to injury. In 2022, Kinlaw landed on injured reserve with an October knee injury after a total of six contests. However, Wilks sees the effort the young defensive tackle is putting in to make sure he plays a bigger role in 2023.
"Kinlaw has just been tremendous this year," Wilks told reporters on Friday. "I mean, the day that I came in on my interview, he was working out. He has not missed a single day of offseason training. I'm excited to see exactly where he is going to be."
Not only has Kinlaw dedicated extra time to proving himself this year, but so has 2022 second-round defensive end Drake Jackson, according to Wilks.
"The same thing with Drake," Wilks said. "Drake has been here all summer, working out, all spring, rather, doing the things he needs to do to improve. His gain, he's gained a lot of weight. He's in there with (defensive line coach Kris) Kocurek. I'm just excited to see exactly what he's going to do and how he is going to progress in his second year."
Jackson recorded three sacks with 14 tackles and an interception during his rookie year, but he was not perfect. Wilks says he saw "a lot of inconsistency" when looking back at the tape. However, there is still a lot of promise to get him ready for this year.
"I saw a lot of talent, a lot of skill set, but someone that needs to -- as I just talked about -- get a little stronger, get a little bigger, and he's working hard," said Wilks. "I'm looking forward to him once again, in taking that sophomore leap."
As the 49ers prepare for the 2023 season, Wilks expects San Francisco to be ready to stay on top defensively. Kinlaw and Jackson can be huge pieces to help do so, but they must stay healthy and continue to put in the time to get there.