Sprint Anti-Game Ball Of The Week: Decisions Regarding The Rookies

49ers Head Coach Mike Singletary spoke to the media today (transcript after the jump) and one of the prominent issues he discussed was the decrease in playing time for Taylor Mays and NaVorro Bowman. Both players have had their share of struggles and now their playing time has started to decrease.

On whether rookies S Taylor Mays and LB NaVorro Bowman had decreased playing time because they were making too many mistakes:

"You know, it's like anything else. I think the most important thing that we've done with those guys, is fortunately, [S] Reggie Smith is able to step in and do some things. I think Taylor Mays, as the more we pressed him, I think is just not all the way ready. There are some things that he can do well; there are other things that he is not quite ready for. So, the last thing that I want to do is to lose him. We have some more time, we have just one week at a time here, and I think when I look at Bowman it's the same situation. And you have to understand that these rookies, sometimes rookies are at different places when they come in the league. Sometimes they're ready to go, and then there are other times when there are other things that take effect and they handle them differently. I think both those guys are going to be great players. I'm very excited about them, and it may come this year. But up to this point, just very fortunate that [LB] Takeo [Spikes] is playing really well and shows no signs of slowing down, and I think Reggie is stepping in and doing a good job, so those are big pluses for us."

Every so often we roll out our Sprint Game Ball of the Week. A few weeks ago we made a change and went with the Anti-Game Ball of the Week. As some of you pointed out, how can you give out a game ball when the team loses? Given the 49ers performance this past week nobody is really worthy of a game ball, so I wanted to use the anti-game ball as a way to open up some discussion on this issue of the rookies that are losing playing time. It's not to say they deserve and anti-game ball, but rather the whole decision process involved in getting them into and out of the lineup, if that makes sense.

This past week saw all eight 49ers draft picks active. While that's great and all, there have definitely been some struggles for all of them. Some have had success while others have not. My question is whether the team pushed their rookies forward too soon, or if it was best to go with a sort of sink or swim mentality? It seemed like Reggie Smith was a guy who would get more playing time early, but then the team decided to get the future rolling with Taylor Mays at strong safety. Should the team be sticking it out with Mays, or will that only hurt his confidence? We talk about this issue all the time when dealing with rookie QBs and inserting them in the starting lineup, but it seems like this is discussed much less for most every other position on the field.

As for NaVorro Bowman, he's in a position where the guy he's trying to take from, Takeo Spikes, is still excelling in his role. It's a bit different than the Michael Lewis situation earlier this year for Taylor Mays. Bowman has been a bit inconsistent, but he's certainly in a position to learn from a great mentor like Spikes. For both of these guys (Bowman and Mays), it seems like we're going to have to wait until next training camp to see how far they've really come.

Head Coach Mike Singletary
November 24, 2010
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

On the focus going into this week:

"We'll continue to bring in the referees. I think it helped last week clean up some things. As far as other emphasis, continue to try and make sure that on the offensive side of the ball we just do a better job preparing our guys and making sure that everybody has the proper perspective in terms of the execution and all of those things that I know [offensive coordinator] Mike Johnson has talked about. On the defensive side, just continuing to hone in on the things that we need to do to do better in the red zone area. Special teams, just continue to really try and get [WR] Ted Ginn loose, try to get him into the end zone. Better field position for the offense - that makes everything better. So those are some of the points of emphasis this week." 

On whether the volume of new things in the offensive game plan will be kept the same or scaled back:

"You know, the simple thing that I would say is this. Whether you win a game or whether you lose a game, it always brings up questions if you don't win a game, is it too much? The thing that we have to do, and the thing that I really think Mike Johnson continues to work on, is last week was [QB] Troy [Smith]'s third start, and really when you look at that, we're still having to find out exactly what does fit. What is he best at? What things can we not do? What situations can we not allow him to be in? And as you go through a season, obviously the season is not the time to find that out, but that's where we are. So I think we're continuing to try to do and find the things that best suits him and the offense as a whole, and go with that. Does that mean scaling back? We'll have to see as we go forth."

On at what point the risk of starting Troy Smith is so big that he would go back to QB Alex Smith:

"Well you know, I still like Alex. But at the same time, as the head coach, the most important thing for me is to really look at where our players are, where our team is, and last week Troy was coming off two wins and you want to ride that. This is the game where we have to take a step back and look at how he responds during this game and how he does. We'll see how it goes. But at no point in time have I ever said, ‘Alex is out of the picture, that's it.' But I have to make sure that if we have Troy, and he's done some good things, to make sure that I fully exhaust that, and at some point in time, it's we see what you need to see, and you like it, or if you have to go in a different direction."

On whether rookies S Taylor Mays and LB NaVorro Bowman had decreased playing time because they were making too many mistakes:

"You know, it's like anything else. I think the most important thing that we've done with those guys, is fortunately, [S] Reggie Smith is able to step in and do some things. I think Taylor Mays, as the more we pressed him, I think is just not all the way ready. There are some things that he can do well; there are other things that he is not quite ready for. So, the last thing that I want to do is to lose him. We have some more time, we have just one week at a time here, and I think when I look at Bowman it's the same situation. And you have to understand that these rookies, sometimes rookies are at different places when they come in the league. Sometimes they're ready to go, and then there are other times when there are other things that take effect and they handle them differently. I think both those guys are going to be great players. I'm very excited about them, and it may come this year. But up to this point, just very fortunate that [LB] Takeo [Spikes] is playing really well and shows no signs of slowing down, and I think Reggie is stepping in and doing a good job, so those are big pluses for us."

On whether not wanting to lose Mays refers to losing confidence:

"Yes."

On whether he is committed to Troy Smith for the whole game or whether he is on a short leash if he is struggling in the first half:

"You know, any game that I go into, and I always tell the quarterback this, any game that I go into is always with the intent of doing what I have to do to win. And so we're just going to let things figure themselves out, work themselves out. I have all the confidence in the world that things will work just fine. So that's kind of my thought process."

On not having practice Thursday and how much having the Monday night game helped and allowed him to make that decision:

"I just feel that sometimes at this point in the season, we're going to get together on that day, on that morning, and go through whatever we need to go through. Sometimes the mental preparation is just as important as the other, but we do have guys that are banged up, we do have guys on the defensive and the offensive side of the ball that need to take a step back, and if we can get them a breather in here and there, get them off their feet, it's going to help us."

On whether he expects to use WR Ted Ginn or WR Kyle Williams on punts:

"Well, as of right now, Kyle could very much be in that role, but we'll just have to see who is up and who is down toward the end of the week, and make that decision then. But Ted will definitely be the kickoff guy."

On what is lacking in that phase of the game: 

"Well, he's [Ginn] been close, I just think we have to keep working at it. We have to keep working on it. Hopefully he gets hot here real soon and busts a big one, because once you do, the next one is not far behind."

On what he sees from Arizona's defense on film versus in their rankings:

"I see a team that's playing hard, but rather than really focus on them, I just think that when I look at us, that's the thing that I'm always focusing on, what are we doing. I just think that whatever they're doing, we have to do a good job of trying to take advantage of that. The last thing I look at with teams is if they may be not very good here, they may be last in this area or whatever. The most important thing for me always is to look at the film because when you see the film, you always see what the real truth is about that team, and I just think that when I looked at the Arizona team, I see a team that is fighting, and every now and then something may not go right or whatever, but we hope that it stays that way for another week."

On why LB Ahmad Brooks hasn't taken the next step to solidify himself as a top-notch pass rusher:

"You know it's a hard thing, it's really unfortunate because he was having such a tremendous training camp, but sometimes it's just hard to get back after you've been injured and that type of injury because even when you come back there's still things that you have to fight through, and then you haven't won a starting position and you have to play special teams, and then you get banged up and nicked up in that situation, and sometimes it can take your focus away from where it was when you originally started."

On whether there are members of his staff looking ahead to Green Bay film because of the quick turn-around for the next game:

"That's always - you know, whether it's a short week or a long week or whatever, the staff is designed for someone to always look ahead and keep it going."

On whether he is in the mindset that Troy Smith is the quarterback for the rest of the season:

"I'm in the mindset of this; I'm going to have to do whatever I have to do as the head coach to put us in the best chance, give us the best chance to win. And that's the mindset that I'm in. And it's not going to change."

On how that mindset applies to Troy Smith:   

"If Troy is the guy that is helping us win, then he's going to play. If he is not, then somebody else is going to play."

On whether T/G Barry Sims will start at left tackle:

"I think right now we're going to continue to look at it. I thought he did a decent job, but we'll look at it throughout the week and see how it ends up."

On whether the 3-7 record or must-win situations is why he is not using Mays and Bowman as much:

"No, I think what it comes down to is you're trying to win football games, and that's all it is. It doesn't go to a must-win, it doesn't go to 3-7, it goes to if Takeo is feeling good and he feels good about where he's at, if he wants to play, I'm going to let him play. And same thing with Reggie. Reggie is doing a good job and seems to be making strides and Taylor is, you know, he is coming. So I think with both those young guys, it's as I said before, I'm thankful that we have time for them to continue to mature and learn, and it could be that maybe at the end of this year that they're both making big plays. It could be this week. But it just hasn't happened thus far."

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