Today the 49ers announced the hiring of former Raiders DC Ken Norton Jr as their assistant head coach responsible for defense and inside linebackers, in addition to Johnny Holland becoming the team’s run game specialist/outside linebackers coach and Michael Clay becoming an assistant special teams coach.
The hiring of Norton is an interesting one, given the success of Robert Saleh this season as defensive co-ordinator. We cannot be sure how Norton and Saleh’s roles mesh together, but the duo did spend time together in Seattle and come from the same coaching tree. Nevertheless, they have spent considerable time apart and their philosophies may have diverged slightly, with Norton running more of a hybrid defense with a significant amount of legitimate 3-4 defense in Oakland as DC whilst Saleh has stuck to the 4-3 under style defense he used in Seattle as DC for the 49ers.
Perhaps Norton personally wants to get back to working in more of the Seattle style 4-3 under defense that he had great success as linebackers coach of, but it will be worth just keeping an eye on the dynamics in play between Norton and Saleh. Colour me surprised that the 49ers added another layer to their defensive staff, given the consistent performances on that side of the ball, instead of perhaps considering appointing another layer to the offensive staff.
Perhaps Kyle Shanahan is addressing the perceived need for an offensive co-ordinator by focussing more heavily on the offensive side of the ball himself. Giving Saleh an experienced lieutenant on the defensive side of the ball might allow Shanahan the freedom to focus on more offense.
Norton could prove an inspired hire, adding another smart mind to the defensive side of the ball, hopefully bringing the sort of performances out of Reuben Foster that we have seen from Bobby Wagner and potentially helping bring the Lombardi back to the Bay once again. He could well bring out the best from Solomon Thomas – Norton had a lot of success in Oakland with Khalil Mack, whose strong side/weak side versatility enabled the hybridity of Oakland’s defense. Thomas has similar versatility and can also kick inside. Norton might well have some ideas about how best to use Thomas and how everyone else can fit around him. Only time well tell.
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