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49ers Notebook: Saleh explains how Warner, Wagner are ‘near identical’

Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Fairly quickly, it seems like Fred Warner’s name is emerging in the conversation as the best linebacker in the NFL. Much of that can directly be attributed to CBS commentator Tony Romo, who said just that, that Warner is the “best linebacker in ball” on Sunday.

Where Warner, Wagner are similar

Robert Saleh was a defensive quality control coach for the Seattle Seahawks form 2011 to 2013, during which he got to spend two years with a rookie-sophomore Bobby Wagner. Wagner was pretty universally viewed as the league’s best linebacker at the start of last season and has a well-earned reputation as a cerebral player who quarterbacks the Seattle defense.

And since the beginning of last season, it seems, Warner has chipped away at that theoretical title of “best linebacker.” He is undoubtedly the most valuable player on San Francisco’s defense (including Nick Bosa). His ability to make pre-snap callouts, getting the line and linebacker groups aligned, while simultaneously blanketing acres of space in coverage and clogging running lanes may be under-appreciated, at least from a statistical perspective, because he doesn’t have the opportunity to make tackles.

In other words, he’s so proactive, he does himself a statistical disservice. Warner said Wednesday that he’s always tried to emulate Wagner and that if not for COVID concerns, he and Wagner would likely have met up this offseason.

“He was the guy I studied all throughout college,” Warner said. “He’s always been the guy that I’ve watched and tried to take little pieces of his game. So if you see some of the things I do it probably looks a lot similar to what he does, just because I’ve watched him for so long because he’s been the best for a long time.”

Saleh has seen those similarities. Much of it seems to be dispositional, in the way the two organize the defense and their intelligence for the game. It’s like looking in a mirror; mentally, that is.

“They’re very, very similar in that they’ve got tremendous respect and command of the huddle,” Saleh said. “They’ve got tremendous instincts and feel for plays and run key and pass recognition. They understand football. They have such a great feel for rush and coverage and routes and concepts and where the quarterback wants to go with the football and that’s what makes those two so special. There are similarities, for sure. They might be built a little bit differently, but the mental makeup of both of them is damn near identical.”

Kittle answers the burning question: How do 49ers survive without Deebo Samuel?

Outside of the obvious issue of dealing with Russell Wilson, D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, there’s one major concern for the 49ers this week; what do you do without Deebo Samuel?

Samuel has defined the flexibility of this offense, thrice lining up as a tailback last week, with the last of his out-and-out running back carries causing the hamstring injury which has him sidelined for the next two weeks.

His average target distance on receptions is the shortest in the league, and there is no one, not even Brandon Aiyuk, who can do what he does. His physicality and run-after-catch ability is what has been the foundation of this offense for their return to dominance in the past two weeks, when he has had 14 touches for 132 combined yards and a touchdown.

Clearly, Dante Pettis is not trusted in that role (he’s been inactive for three-straight weeks and has zero receptions on the year). Richie James Jr. has yet to practice this week. That leaves… Kevin White? This offense has Aiyuk and a bunch of slot receivers, and then White, who’s on the practice squad. They seemed to at least prefer him over Pettis, so it’s not infeasible to imagine him taking over Samuel’s role.

If you have a better suggestion, send it this way.

George Kittle acknowledged that Samuel’s skillset is irreplaceable, but placed faith in the coaching staff to work around that.

“I know we don’t have another Deebo on the roster, but I’m fully confident in our coaches being able to account and give other guys opportunities,” Kittle said. “It might not be Trent Taylor on a jet sweep, but it’s gonna be Trent Taylor getting the ball in space or anyone really, whether it’s our wide receivers, whether it’s our fullback, whether it’s Dwelley, whether it’s me. Our coaches always account for guys.”

(Almost) everyone hates Tony La Russa hiring

Well, apparently someone is a fan.

Thursday’s biggest sports story was definitively not NFL nor 49ers-related. It was the Chicago White Sox’s hiring of Tony La Russa. The 76-year-old, born the year before World War II ended, is a bizarre fit for a young White Sox team with a star player in Tim Anderson, who is vocal about social injustice.

The hiring caused uneasiness throughout the organization and was a decision made solely by 84-year-old owner Jerry Reinsdorf, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Sarah Spain of ESPN explained far more succinctly and intelligently why the move is, well, terrible.

Nearly everyone seems to be stunned and disappointed by the move. That is, except Jimmy Garoppolo. The Chicago native and White Sox fan was asked about the hiring on Thursday and was, shall we say, stoked.

“I’m happy about it,” Garoppolo said. “It’s exciting. I really didn’t get to keep up with them much this year just with the crazy season and everything but yeah, White Sox all day baby.”

Other notes: ‘Soft spots’ and practice report

Garoppolo sees ‘soft spots’ in Seattle’s defense

In classic Jimmy Garoppolo fashion, there was no real explanation of what the Seahawks are doing wrong, and somehow, those failures were mostly framed in a positive light. Far be it for me to expect a quarterback, let alone Garoppolo, to explain a gameplan, or to explicitly identify weaknesses, but the man has a real knack for saying a lot in order to say nothing.

Asked if he saw “soft spots,” Garoppolo concurred. Then, as if remembering his New England training, went back to complimenting a Seattle defense which allows a league-worst 368 yards per game.

“There’s some soft spots,” Garoppolo said. “They make you work for it though. There’s no gimmies against this type of defense. You got to earn it, work your way down the field. They’re very sound, but it’s unfortunate they’ve been giving up the yardage they have been, but it’s a solid defense overall.”

And the crowd went mild.

Practice report

Did not participate

  • WR Richie James (ankle sprain)
  • WR Deebo Samuel (hamstring strain)
  • S Jaquiski Tartt (groin strain)
  • RB Jeffery Wilson (high ankle sprain)


  • LB Kwon Alexander (ankle sprain)
  • S Jimmie Ward (quad)

Full participation

  • CB Jason Verrett (was given vet day on Wednesday)



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