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49ers LB Fred Warner looking toward 2023 season: 'I'll always say defense wins championships' 

The 49ers have gone through ups and downs throughout the past five years with injuries and staff changes, but the few constants for San Francisco have been linebacker Fred Warner and its robust defense.

The 49ers have relied heavily on their defense to help them win. One of the major assets to this San Francisco defense is Warner, who has taken on a leadership role as captain for the past three years. Warner uses that to motivate his team as well as remind others that the weight of winning also falls on the defense -- almost more than it does on the offense.

"I'll always say defense wins championships, so it's going to start and end with us," Warner said last week at the Dwight Clark Legacy Series event. "We take that on our shoulders, that responsibility, and we need to be better."

Additionally, the 49ers have multiple superstars, including defensive end Nick Bosa, cornerback Charvarius Ward, linebacker Dre Greenlaw and safety Talanoa Hufanga, to name a few.

Throughout the past five campaigns, Warner has never missed a game or start, and he does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. In 2022, the 26-year-old tied himself for the third year in a row with 79 solo tackles. He also recorded an interception returned for 20 yards and six quarterback hits, the second most in his career.

The 49ers made the playoffs three times within those five years, making it to Super Bowl LIV in 2020 and the NFC Championship Game in 2021 and 2022. The inability to win a Super Bowl in that time frame still stings for the two-time Pro Bowler.

"To say that last year's ending was hurtful, it was," Warner said. "It sucks the way that it ended. I feel like we never had a chance to really compete in that game."

However, the 2023 season offers a clean slate for San Francisco, and new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will be the one calling the shots. Wilks has done it all when coaching on the defensive side of the ball. From 2012-2017, Wilks was with Panthers, taking on multiple roles, from defensive backs coach (2012-14), assistant head coach/defensive backs coach (2015-16) and assistant head coach/defensive coordinator (2017). In 2019, Wilks was the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. Most recently in 2022, Wilks went back to Carolina and was the defensive pass game coordinator before becoming the interim head coach. Now, Wilks takes his talents to the 49ers to build on the team's strong foundations.

All things considered, with Wilks in charge and Warner on the roster, the Red and Gold have a lot of potential as the team embarks on a new year.

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