Defense may have not led to the 49ers prevailing over the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants during this past season’s NFC Championship Game, but it kept San Francisco in the game.
It kept them in every game.
That was why, during this offseason, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke made every effort to retain the possible free agents that made up the vaunted squad of ball-snatchers and hard hitters.
“It just shows the confidence the organization has in this defense, just bringing everybody back,” cornerback Tarell Brown said Tuesday as the team continues its offseason workouts. “Anytime you have 11 guys — 11 starters — come back from an offseason like that, it’s special. They’re really buying into what we’re doing.”
What the 49ers did last year was only end eight seasons of misery behind one of the best — and at times surprising — defenses in the league. Of the 32 teams, San Francisco ranked second in points allowed, fourth in yards allowed per game and tied for second in interceptions, among other things.
Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson often times acted as the anchors of the 49ers’ secondary. Both recorded six picks apiece during the regular season, with Goldson notching one more in the postseason. And their teammate Brown, entering his second year as a starter, hopes to top them all.
Brown recently publicly stated he wants to lead the league in interceptions this year, a proposition that seemed more fantasy than reality before. But he finished last year with four, all of those coming in the final four weeks of the regular season. Last year’s league leaders had seven.
“I dropped four picks last year,” he said. “Easily.”
But the self-imposed wager, Brown insists, applies no added pressure to the five-year veteran.
“Pressure is only when you’re not prepared, I’m prepared for every situation,” Brown said. “I’ve trained myself hard. I put more pressure on myself than anybody could ever put on me.”
But success can result in being targeted. And that’s something a new acquisition in the 49ers’ secondary expects this upcoming year.
“From the job they did last year, it was great,” said cornerback Perrish Cox, who was signed in March. “You can’t look past this defense at all. Not even just defense, the whole team. Of course there’s a target on us, but hopefully we’ll keep this going.”
Cox, who the Denver Broncos drafted in 2010 out of Oklahoma State and then released in 2011, recently returned to the field after being sidelined due to legal troubles in Colorado.
“Whatever [the coaches] saw in [me], I’m coming to give it my all,” Cox said.
If San Francisco hopes for a repeat of its 2011 defensive prowess, everybody will need to give it their all.
“We know what we did last year,” Brown said. “But last year is last year. And this year is a new year, and we have to redefine ourselves as a defense and as a team.”