For the third time since he was drafted four years ago, Nick Bosa is learning from a new defensive coordinator.
Such is life for the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year and his San Francisco 49ers’ top-ranked 2022 defense. Two years ago, their coordinator Robert Saleh was hired as New York Jets head coach. This year, the Houston Texans hired DeMeco Ryans as head coach. Success in the NFL breeds turnover.
So Bosa turns to Steve Wilks, whom San Francisco hired after his successful stint as Carolina Panthers interim head coach last season, for the next iteration of a daunting unit.
Or will this iteration be that different after all?
“I don’t think there’s going to be much of a change,” Bosa told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday over Zoom, speaking in partnership with CELSIUS energy drink. “I think from Kyle [Shanahan] down, there’s kind of an understanding of how we do things with Kris Kocurek as our d-line coach. There’s always ways to improve. But as a d-lineman, I’m happy to say that I’ll be doing pretty much very similar things to what I’ve done the last four years.”
Niners fans will no doubt be happy, too.
Bosa missed the bulk of the 2020 season after tearing his ACL in the second game of that season. Since returning, he has been a force to reckon with.
Bosa wracked up 15.5 sacks, 52 tackles and a league-high 21 tackles for loss rushing from both sides during the 2021 regular season. Last season, he downed opposing quarterbacks even more frequently with 18.5 sacks, 51 tackles and 48 quarterback hits.
Versatility is key to Bosa’s production. It almost might be key to further growing his already-dominant game.
Bosa says he has identified which of his moves work best coming from the right side and which from the left, along with which ones he excels at threatening against a guard at three-technique and which from the edge. He studies opponents’ film to shift a weekly game plan to exploit a lineman’s weakness. His next goal: Refine his moves even more to where he can deploy all effectively from every spot.
“Spin moves, swipes, certain power variations I use are better on each side,” Bosa said. “It’s weird because it’s just a coordination thing. I’m ambidextrous but I do feel a little more comfortable with certain things on each side, from years and years of playing on each side and getting comfortable. I’m lucky because I kind of get to switch as I please, which is nice.”
Which moves does he feel most comfortable with at which spots?
“I can’t tell you that, it’s a secret,” Bosa laughed. “In the NFL we watch a lot of tape, so those guys are studying me and they’re really good. So they need to figure it out for themselves.”
At least one rookie defender, Bosa hears, is studying him, too.
Bosa weighs in on Will Anderson Jr., DeMeco Ryans
Bosa watches Saleh’s Jets defense and thinks: They’ve done a good job keeping our scheme in place.
He wonders if Ryans will similarly scheme the Texans in the fashion he coordinated San Francisco's defense. After the Texans’ massive trade to snag Alabama defensive lineman Will Anderson Jr. with the third overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, Ryans has his latest weapon.
Bosa said that to project Anderson’s potential, he’d want to confirm whether Anderson will be asked to play as a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive front or as a down lineman in a 4-3 scheme. Anderson’s production and athleticism at Alabama impressed Bosa.
“I’m pretty sure they’re going to try to emulate what we did in San Francisco because of the success we had, and with a young guy like that, you can mold him into a lot of things,” Bosa said. “It’ll be exciting. I heard he likes to watch tape on me so it’ll be fun to see him try some of my moves out. I guess they’re not my moves, but moves I use.
“Yeah, I can’t claim them.”
Bosa said Texans fans can expect a coordinator who knows when to take his shots, trusts his players and allows defenders to play free. Even more so, Bosa said, the Texans are getting a coach whose leadership abilities impressed Bosa when Ryans was a position coach.
“I think that’s his biggest strength,” Bosa said. “When you have a former player who was a great player and then comes in and demands respect from a room and is so comfortable getting in front of a room and conveying a message that really hits home and motivates, that's kind of a talent that you could build but you either have it or you don’t.
“You kind of need to be a motivator and a guy people respect. … The leadership ability is one thing I think the Texans are so lucky to have.”
Eagles-49ers NFC rematch awaits
As he enters the fifth and final year of his rookie deal, a contract extension likely awaits Bosa this summer. Niners general manager John Lynch said before the draft that extending Bosa is a “priority for this offseason.”
“I’m excited about working on that when the time comes,” Lynch said. “History says that we have a really good track record of doing [extensions] and making that come to fruition.”
Lynch clarified, when asked, that Bosa was not and never has been available for trade availability: “That hotline’s closed. That never opened.”
Regardless of when Bosa’s call from the 49ers comes, he’s spending the offseason training in South Florida with his brother, Chargers outside linebacker Joey Bosa. The duo shifts training emphasis every four weeks, drilling speed, sprints and agility alongside weight room work.
Wednesday, Nick Bosa swapped football training for Formula 1 training with Scuderia Ferrari trainer Rupert Manwaring. Some exercises translated, including neck exercises that F1 drivers rep to withstand the G force turning around the track as football players integrate them to help prevent concussions. Other exercises, like endurance and reaction work, differed from the burst work that pass rushing demands.
“I don’t really get to touch the ball much at my position, but I take pride in having the best hands on the d-line," Bosa said. "So I think I performed pretty well at most of this stuff.”
When the season hits, Bosa envisions another target he wants to get his hands on: the Philadelphia Eagles.
The defending NFC champions stockpiled talent in the draft and are arguably the team to beat in the conference. Bosa, whose 49ers lost to the Eagles in the conference championship game after quarterback Brock Purdy tore his UCL, is eager to rematch the Eagles this fall.
“Tough way to go out last [season] for us,” he said. “[So it’s] going to be pretty exciting.”