Messages on rubber bracelets explain 49ers defense

MIAMI — Robert Saleh slowly rotated the two rubber bracelets on his right wrist, and over the next several minutes, offered a window into his soul and the heartbeat of his players. 

At a near-empty table inside a South Florida hotel ballroom this week, the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator took his time unveiling the secret behind the league’s most disruptive, destructive and dominant force this season. 

“A.G.N.B.”

“A.A.”

“E.V.”

The acronyms tell the story of a talented unit that was challenged to be the best version of itself by its head coach, Kyle Shanahan. The letters also are a reminder that all-out effort and commitment — both on and off the field — are daily requirements inside the 49ers’ building. Not just the expectation on Sundays.

“These are our core principles. What we try to be,” Saleh told Yahoo Sports, as he leaned in and pointed to the first set of acronyms on his bracelets. “No. 1 is: ‘All gas, no brake.’ 

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SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) celebrates a sack during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns Quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks on after being sacked by San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Tight End George Kittle (85) celebrates a first down during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns Quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks on in pain after being sacked by San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Tight End George Kittle (85) celebrates a first down as Cleveland Browns Defensive End Myles Garrett (95) during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns Quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks down during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) rushes Cleveland Browns Quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) celebrates a touchdown during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) runs down field celebrating with San Francisco 49ers Tight End George Kittle (85) after a touchdown during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) looks on during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) looks on during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns Quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) walks off the field during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns Running Back Nick Chubb (24) runs up the middle during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns Quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks on in pain after being sacked by San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) celebrates a tackle during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns Quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks on in pain after being sacked by San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) rushes the quarterback during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) looks on during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Raheem Mostert #31 of the San Francisco 49ers fights off the tackle of Eric Murray #22 of the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) waves the flag after the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Tevin Coleman #26 of the San Francisco 49ers carries the ball against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns returns a punt against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns returns a punt against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch congratulates Nick Bosa #97 after a win against the Cleveland Browns at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates with fans after a win against the Cleveland Browns at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Matt Breida #22 of the San Francisco 49ers runs through the tackle of Joe Schobert #53 of the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers fights off the block of Greg Robinson #78 of the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns looks on from the sidelines against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns stands on the sidelines rubbing his forehead against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. The 49ers won the game 31-3. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers rushes the line during their game against the Cleveland Browns at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: George Kittle #85 and Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrate after Kittle caught a touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. The 49ers won the game 31-3. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers is congratulated by Ross Dwelley #82 after he scored a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the San Francisco 49ers is tackled by Jermaine Whitehead #35 of the Cleveland Browns at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after catching a touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. The 49ers won the game 31-3. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Matt Breida #22 of the San Francisco 49ers runs with the ball against the Cleveland Browns at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Nick Chubb #24 of the Cleveland Browns runs with the ball against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: K'Waun Williams #24 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after he sacked Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers catches a touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. The 49ers won the game 31-3. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: K'Waun Williams #24 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after he sacked Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates with Arik Armstead #91 and Dee Ford #55 after sacking quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Kyle Juszczyk #44 of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball against the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Tevin Coleman #26 of the San Francisco 49ers is tackled by Joe Schobert #53 of the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers sacks Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns and forces a fumble at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns Defensive End Myles Garrett (95) sacks San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Safety Jimmie Ward (20) celebrates during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Running Back Matt Breida (22) celebrates after a touchdown during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns Quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) lies on the ground after being hit during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Nick Bosa (97) tackles Cleveland Browns Quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) as he throws during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Running back Nick Chubb #24 of the Cleveland Browns runs against the defense of Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers during the game at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers drops back to pass against the Cleveland Browns at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: George Kittle #85 is congratulated by Kyle Juszczyk #44 of the San Francisco 49ers after Garoppolo threw a touchdown pass to Kittle against the Cleveland Browns at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns gets up after being hit by the defense of the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter at Levi's Stadium on October 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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“On the surface level, people think about effort, but it’s more than that. We always talk about how it’s our way of life — the way you train, the way you study, the way you treat your wife, your girlfriend, your children, your friends. The way you go about your every day life. You wake up in the morning, step on the gas and don’t let go.”

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh directs players during a combined NFL training camp with the Denver Broncos Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019, at the Broncos' headquarters in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Saleh then rotated the rubber bracelet again.

“This right here is, ‘Always attacking’ the ball,” he said. “We’re a ball-hawking defense, we’re trying to create as many takeaways and explosive plays as possible.

“And this one right here,” Saleh said, shifting the bracelet again, “is ‘Extreme Violence.’ 

“People think about violence and hitting people, but it’s more than that. It’s violence off the ball, it’s violence out of your break, it’s violence with your hand placement, it’s violence with your feet. As a corner, ‘Am I being violent enough with my read techniques?’”

The bracelets — one black with yellow lettering, the other a red and yellow combination — have arrived every offseason since 2017, Saleh’s first season with the team. Each year, the team orders a new shipment that is delivered to the facility right before the start of OTAs. 

All of their defensive players have them. As does Shanahan.

“Sherm uses it as something to tie his hair,” Saleh said with laugh, referring to their star cornerback Richard Sherman.

Saleh had ordered a new batch of the same bracelets before the start of the 2018 season. But this past spring, he made a tweak: He had “Take It Personal” — the only phrase currently written out in full — etched into the bracelets.

“Everything in life is personal,” he said. “And if you don’t take life personal, you always shortchange yourself. So, just the mindset of taking everything personal — your effort, the way you attack the ball, the way you live your life — just take it all personal.”

DeForest Buckner and the Niners made life miserable in two games against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, including the NFC championship game. (Randy Vazquez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

That message was borne out of a particularly crushing Week 13 defeat in 2018. Shanahan seized the opportunity to make it a teachable moment in the midst of another trying season. 

San Francisco flew to Seattle as the clear underdog behind an inexperienced backup quarterback and, in the end, were pushed around for four quarters. The 49ers lost 43-16. 

“The Seahawks beat the brakes off us,” Saleh said of that Dec. 2 loss.

Two weeks later — and on their home turf — the 49ers faced Seattle again. At the time, the Seahawks were poised to clinch a playoff berth against a San Francisco squad that was scuffling at 3-10. Instead, the 49ers pulled off a 26-23 upset in overtime on a Robbie Gould field goal.

“Kyle made mention that that week was different for us on defense because he felt like it was very personal,” Saleh said. "And he made the challenge that we should do that every day. And he’s right. When it’s more personal, it’s more important and you find a way.

“That’s what makes Sherm special — everything’s personal,” he joked. “So if you can find a way to take it on a personal level, it’s amazing what the human mind and body can achieve.”

Clearly, the message was received. 

The 49ers’ ferocious front has harassed opponents all season long (See: Aaron Rodgers — twice — and Kirk Cousins) and stifled some of the game’s best running backs, like Dalvin Cook. Over the past few years, San Francisco has stockpiled defensive talent via the draft, midseason trades and offseason free-agent signings. And, as a result, the 49ers now boast playmakers at every position — speedy, cerebral, trash-talking guys who exhibit the type of physicality and grit that Saleh and Shanahan demand.

So many thought the so-called “gauntlet” between Weeks 14-16 —  games against Green Bay, Baltimore and New Orleans — would derail the 49ers’ hot start and expose them as a team not built for prime time. But that stretch only strengthened San Francisco’s resolve and its case for being the best team in the NFC West, and possibly the entire league.

This Sunday, they’ll face their biggest test of the season: Containing Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s potent offense in Super Bowl LIV.

But the next opponent matters little to a team that has felt slighted all season.

This is personal. 

For San Francisco, it has to be.

The latest mantra added to their bracelets in April is a reminder to be great in preparation for their latest obstacle.

Before the first game of their 2019 season, players, coaches and staffers were given military coins as well. The message behind the keepsake?

“The same,” Saleh said. “It’s all the same. Just written on a coin.”

The defensive coordinator then lamented that he’d still have his military coin if it hadn’t been stolen from his car.

“It’s an epidemic in the Bay area, people are smashing out windows and grabbing bags,” he said, before giving a stern warning to “never leave a bag” behind in a vehicle.

Saleh described parking his car a short distance from the entrance of a Starbucks, pointing to a column about 30 feet away from his table to illustrate the close proximity. “My car was right there,” he said. 

“I’m getting a coffee and someone taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Hey, your car just got broken into.’ And I just see this dude get into a Mercedes and speeding off. A Mercedes!” Saleh said, incredulously. “So it’s gone.”

He insisted he has made peace with the disappearance of a prized possession. For a moment, though, his face can’t mask his disappointment. 

But, as he often reminds his players, the past can’t be changed. All that matters is the present.

The intention behind the coins, and their bracelets, won’t be forgotten by Saleh any time soon. There’s still much more to play for on Sunday. 

One more opportunity to step on the gas and never let up.

One more opportunity to attack at will.

One more opportunity for the 49ers defense to be as violent as possible.

As Saleh sat at the white-clothed table inside the ballroom of their Super Bowl week hotel, his thoughts turned to the thief from that fateful day. 

He smiled and said: “Hopefully he made good use of it.”

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