Niners DC on competition: If I were playing my mother in chess, I'd 'try to beat her in 3 moves'


How competitive is Robert Saleh? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

The 49ers defensive coordinator meets with a familiar foe Thursday night in Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. Saleh and LaFleur struck up a friendship while working together on Central Michigan’s staff in 2004 before crossing paths again in Houston, where Saleh held the title of “defensive quality control coach.” LaFleur, meanwhile, served as an offensive assistant under veteran coach Gary Kubiak.

The two eventually branched out with LaFleur ascending to head coach status in Green Bay via Tennessee and Los Angeles (where he rubbed shoulders with offensive prodigy Sean McVay) and Saleh joining forces with Kyle Shanahan (also a Texans alum) in San Francisco. Despite their shared past, the 41-year-old Saleh has no plans to go easy on LaFleur Thursday night. It’s difficult to compartmentalize when your opponent is a close friend, unless you’re Saleh, who claims he’d go full throttle against his own mother if he ever got the chance.

Yikes. Saleh is not the sentimental type, it would seem. Jason Pierre-Paul of the Buccaneers made headlines last week when he expressed wanting to “destroy” his former team, the New York Giants, on Monday Night Football. That’s one thing, but dunking on your own mother? That’s cold.

The Saleh/LaFleur narrative is certainly a thread worth pulling on, but the bigger narrative surrounding Thursday night's game is the lack of available bodies with both teams weathering mass absences brought on by the continuing spread of COVID-19. It’s a marvel the game is even being played with Green Bay trotting out spare parts at the running back position (forgotten sixth-round pick Dexter Williams will be tasked with backing up Aaron Jones in this one) and San Francisco down to its millionth-string wide receiver (who, apparently, is Richie James). To quote the great Jerry Seinfeld, “good luck with all that.”

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