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49ERS
Manusky's defense in place
Unit building on gains made when coordinator took over in second half of 2008

  • Takeo Spikes leapfrogs Justin Smith after holding the Redskins on third down late in the fourth quarter of the 2008 season finale. (John Burgess / Press Democrat)

SANTA CLARA Greg Manusky had the title of defensive coordinator for the past one-and-a-half seasons, but in late-October he received a promotion of sorts.

When Mike Nolan was fired as head coach, Manusky retained his title but he also gained autonomy to run the defense.

Manusky scrapped the 49ers hybrid 3-4 scheme in the second half of the season and went with a simple 3-4. The 49ers yielded nearly 10 points fewer per game, and the teams defensive ranking improved to No. 13 in the league.

The Niners held their first minicamp of the offseason Friday and Saturday, and their defense is already in place.

We know exactly what we run, defensive end Justin Smith said. We have some new twists and wrinkles in it but were not straying away from what we do well. I think thats important. Were going to run what we run and do it well. I expect us to be a lot better out of the gate and continue from there.

That is good news to outside linebacker Manny Lawson. In a true 3-4 defense, most of the pass rush is expected to come from the outside linebackers. Lawson might be counted upon to get after the quarterback.

The pass rush was one of the 49ers weak spots last season. They recorded just 30 sacks, with outside linebacker Parys Haralson leading the way with eight. Lawson recorded three sacks. He was often on the sidelines on second and third downs in the first half of the season as the 49ers kept rotating defensive packages.

Were sticking purely to a 3-4, and not necessarily having to throw in a bunch of trick-em stuff, Smith said. The main thing is having the scheme and the players in place. In the NFL, its a short window when you can have everybody together so I think we have to take a pretty good shot at it this year.

COACHES MUZZLED

Manusky and all other assistant coaches were unavailable to speak to the media. For the first time in decades, perhaps in the history of the organization, 49ers assistant coaches have been ruled off-limits to the media.

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