For the fourth time in as many years, the San Francisco 49ers will open the season with a new sideline leader. From Jim Harbaugh to Jim Tomsula to Chip Kelly to Kyle Shanahan. The latter comes over from the Atlanta Falcons, who reached Super Bowl LI in 2016. Meanwhile, the Niners were in the midst of a forgettable 2-14 season. Shanahan’s forte is offense and new general manager John Lynch brought in a lot of free agents to help the cause, including quarterback Brian Hoyer, wide receiver Pierre Garcon and running back Tim Hightower. But it’s the San Francisco defensive unit that was really in need of some assistance.

A look at the upgrades

While the performance was bad in 2016, the San Francisco 49ers are not a team that has ignored the defensive side of the ball in recent years. This offseason, they signed outside linebacker Malcolm Smith – late of the Oakland Raiders but Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. Not long ago, they added pass-rushing threat Elvis Dumervil to help a team that finished with only 33 sacks in 2016.

Lynch used his first three draft choices in April on defensive end Solomon Thomas (1-Stanford), linebacker Reuben Foster (1b-Alabama) and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (3-Colorado). And this was a group that used first-round picks in both 2015 and ’16 to snare defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, respectively.

Lots of fixing to be done

When you allow for the most total yards and most rushing yards per game, there’s a lot of upgrading that has to be done.

This past season, the San Francisco 49ers gave up 406.4 total yards per game, 55 offensive touchdowns and an NFL-high 480 points. One aspect of this Defense to keep an eye on this season is a much more physical approach. The new coordinator is Robert Saleh, who comes over from the Seahawks. As we know, the Niners’ division rival brings the wood on that side of the ball. And that’s something this club looks to get back to doing.

“I don’t do a lot of talking. I let my shoulder pads talk,” said strong safety Eric Reid recently to the press (via Keiana Martin of 49ers.com). “For someone else to get a big hit, it will make me want to get a big hit, and it will make the next person want to make a big play. It’s just infectious. To set that type of culture, it’s awesome.” When you comes off a season like the Niners did in 2016, there’s not much to say.

And this defensive unit is hoping their actions speak louder than words.

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