49ers Training Camp: Jimmy Raye on rookie improvements and offensive contributions

Jimmy Raye spoke to the media yesterday afternoon and as always I thought there were a few comments worth pulling out. People generally seem to enjoy his media transcripts because he provides a bit more insight than we might otherwise find.

Raye spoke in depth about the development of rookies Anthony Dixon and Nate Byham. This is particularly pertinent given our recent discussion of Brit Miller and the fullback battle. I realize Byham is listed as a tight end and plays mostly tight end, but the team has utilized him in a fullback and H-back type of role, so it's useful info:

On the blocking improvements of RB Anthony Dixon and TE Nate Byham between the first two preseason games:

"Tremendous from week one to week two. And as I told them Tuesday, we got sacked over in Indianapolis four times, we got sacked the other night once, and we had one penalty on offense; so we played much improved. The versatility of Nate is increasing in terms of his ability to play, to move position in the backfield and then on the line, tight end. And Dixon played better in pass protection; he's ahead of schedule in the run part of it because that's the easier part for him; it comes easier for him. He played better a week ago. We're continuing to have blitz periods in practice. Communication for him and being able to see things when they switch, but it's not so much the sacks I'm worried about, it's the hits on the quarterback. Those are the ones that you have to try to cut down or eliminate. If we can get that down to a minimum because that affects the quarterback more than being sacked, if you get hit, that causes you to start looking at the rush more than the coverage. Sacks, you get sacked to get tackled. But when you throw it and you step into it and you get hit and you keep getting hit and knocked down, that's what we're trying to shore up and eliminate at this point."

Miller has gone through quite the seesaw among 49ers fans. Early in camp he was the guy everybody was psyched about. Now, while people might still be pulling for him, the crowd support is not quite so vocal. Although the 49ers have only played half their preseason games, one would imagine this week is a big one for backups to make some noise. Obviously there's the fourth game against the Chargers, but at that point, it's going to be tough to make a different impression.

Raye was also fairly forthcoming about his views on Josh Morgan in the upcoming season:

"Well I think Josh has made tremendous strides and improvements in terms of being a route-running receiver. I wouldn't refer to him as a possession receiver, but the quarterback is very comfortable with him in the short, the immediate area. He has ability to get up on top. I would think he would be a factor and his play will improve because of the other people on the field and we'll give him more room and opportunity to work against the side of the field that he's on based on where [WR Michael] Crabtree and [TE Vernon] Davis and [WR Ted] Ginn are displaced. So I would expect his contribution to be greater than it was a year ago."

In light of my comments about Morgan's potential fantasy impact in 2010, this is certainly an intriguing bit of news. Obviously it's only talk right now, particularly in light of his numbers (or lack there of) in the preseason. However, it makes sense that Raye would see him getting open more frequently given the weapons already on the field.

The final major talking points were in regards to the offensive line:

"I'm getting better with it. I think the test Saturday will be another examination of where we are. I think the Raiders have a huge front, a good rush front, big people; [DE Richard] Seymour and [LB Kamerion] Wimbley in particular, and then [DT John] Henderson. It'll be a good test. It'll be another evaluation process that will help us and understand that it is an evaluation process so that we can further gauge where we are going into the season and what we expose our young group to; what risk-reward factor we take. So, I think we're doing OK there. The continuity is getting better, but it's still youth, it's still young and the preparation and evaluation going forward will help us in terms of planning for them going into the season."

I'm definitely happy the offensive line is getting a ton of playing time together in the preseason. The first game of the regular season is at Seattle, which will be a very tough challenge for Davis and Iupati. You can't really prepare for the crowd noise all that sufficiently in practice. It's really just something the young guys will have to experience and adapt accordingly.

Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye
Post-Morning Practice - August 25, 2010
San Francisco 49ers 

On whether TE Delanie Walker was in bounds on catch made in practice:

"He was in. It was in the booth. It would have been a booth replay. He sped up a little bit, or he had the route. We'll have to look at the tape and see. The official was right there and said his foot was on the line, even though he drug his inside foot up. But it was, it was an interesting scenario. It's probably one of the toughest calls you ever have to make to win the game, fourth-and-four at the four. You got what we refer to as one of our ‘got-to-have-its' best play, and missed it by a toenail I guess."

On measuring the red zone offense against the red zone defense:

"Yeah, well, we're very good there, in the red zone. We're one of the top five teams in the league in the red zone. A big part of that was in practicing this morning, was number 85. When you set that you got to determine the coverage mechanism on him, but the fact that they're so good, and with the versatility that we have, the combination of it gives us very good work. And the combination coverages that we see and the pressure that they mix forces you to get good really, really fast. So it's very good, very competitive and it helps us to maintain the level of play that we have down there."

On the drill when there was a lot of excitement in practice:

"The period is dealer's choice. It's ownership period, so the defensive signal-caller calls the defense. The coaches aren't involved. On offense the quarterback gets to call whatever play he wants. It's a three-play segment. This morning it happened to be red zone, yesterday it was two-minute situation; 1:35 with one timeout, need a touchdown, and the offense converted that. It gives them a chance to see what they would call in the given situation and then it becomes a competitive deal. You got to win four of the, if it's six you got to win, you got to win four out of the six opportunities. And then in two-minute, if that's the situation, you either have to get a field goal, touchdown, whatever the situation is to extend the game or win the game, touchdown. So you get to see where their thinking is along with what they would call and what they like in those situations and it lets you see them, see them play without the influence of the call of the play from a coach, and what they would go to in a situation if they were calling them themselves. It's a very good period that way."

On whether the players have ownership of the play calls in that drill:

"They have all the ownership, yes."

On the blocking improvements of RB Anthony Dixon and TE Nate Byham between the first two preseason games:

"Tremendous from week one to week two. And as I told them Tuesday, we got sacked over in Indianapolis four times, we got sacked the other night once, and we had one penalty on offense; so we played much improved. The versatility of Nate is increasing in terms of his ability to play, to move position in the backfield and then on the line, tight end. And Dixon played better in pass protection; he's ahead of schedule in the run part of it because that's the easier part for him; it comes easier for him. He played better a week ago. We're continuing to have blitz periods in practice. Communication for him and being able to see things when they switch, but it's not so much the sacks I'm worried about, it's the hits on the quarterback. Those are the ones that you have to try to cut down or eliminate. If we can get that down to a minimum because that affects the quarterback more than being sacked, if you get hit, that causes you to start looking at the rush more than the coverage. Sacks, you get sacked to get tackled. But when you throw it and you step into it and you get hit and you keep getting hit and knocked down, that's what we're trying to shore up and eliminate at this point."

On the importance of getting RB Frank Gore in the game with the rookie offensive linemen:

"It's unimportant to me. It would be different if Frank was a second or third-year guy. But we're talking about a guy that is a Pro Bowl player. I think he can get ready in practice. He's ready. He can handle the ball plenty."

On whether it's important for the offensive linemen to get used to RB Frank Gore's running tendencies:

"Maybe psychologically because what it does, the runner makes the offensive line better. So if you have that kind of runner like we happen to have, they'll play better.

On how much more he expects from WR Michael Crabtree this season:

"That's been a thorn in my side. He's been here but missed a lot of valuable time with the whiplash that he had on the fall ten days or so ago, and we're to the point where the continuity that we have to have, we still haven't at this point gotten a total group together with all the components he and [TE Vernon] Davis and [TE Delanie] Walker and [WR] Josh [Morgan] and [WR Ted] Ginn and [RB] Frank [Gore]; we haven't gotten that all together yet. And we're 10 days out or 14 days out, so we have some time, but we can't go back and get some of the time that we've lost in terms of the consistency or the ‘feel good' for the quarterback and him. His work has been good, his improvement has been good. I think he's such a natural football player, he'll play good. The nuances of the things that we mess up or miss in terms of formations and adjustments, the coverage; those are the things that are of concern right now. Understanding where the hots are, if he's out of position where he normally plays, which he will be some to try to create matchups for him. The nuances of learning to do all of that and the quarterback being comfortable, that is where we have to make some hay here in the next ten days or so."

On how much WR Michael Crabtree will play in Saturday's preseason game against the Raiders:

"At this point no, we haven't talked about it. We will talk about that at the end of the week and weigh that against what happens the following week. On the short week we come back and play Thursday, and how much exposure we get Saturday night with that group, with a short week coming up and then a cut down and then being able to go to Seattle, we got to make some hard calls here in about 72 hours."

On how he envisions WR Josh Morgan's contributions this season:

"Well I think Josh has made tremendous strides and improvements in terms of being a route-running receiver. I wouldn't refer to him as a possession receiver, but the quarterback is very comfortable with him in the short, the immediate area. He has ability to get up on top. I would think he would be a factor and his play will improve because of the other people on the field and we'll give him more room and opportunity to work against the side of the field that he's on based on where [WR Michael] Crabtree and [TE Vernon] Davis and [WR Ted] Ginn are displaced. So I would expect his contribution to be greater than it was a year ago."

On the progress of RB Brian Westbrook:

"I'm OK with it; I'm OK with it. It's hard; it'd been kind of like the situation a year ago with all of them when the system they walked in was different and in a change. You play one system of football for eight years and it's comfortable, you know what the system is, the plays the formations. And then you get this change and he's trying to transfer things from the terminology that he has and make it like so he understands it like what he is used to, conversion wise. And it will take a little time, but his physical play once he plays; he's a very good screen runner, he's a very good receiver and has matchup potential. We don't know anything about him as a pass protector. There's some things that we don't know; they bring two to the side of the back. But he's made three Pro Bowls. It's just a matter of him; I think it'll be like for him and [WR Michael] Crabtree at the stage we are rather than try to go back and learn all of the offense and all of the fundamental bases of it, he'll start to learn the game plan, which is easier, and what he does in the game plan. And you just have to live with the fact that until you get to the offseason and get started from the beginning that he gets the full understanding of what he's doing."

On how C Eric Heitmann is still contributing and helping G/C David Baas while injured:

"Well [C] Eric [Heitmann] is like the backup quarterback. He is the quarterback of the line, so he is very good at recognition of fronts and potential pressures and line calls. And with [C] David [Baas], we still involve Eric in the meeting at night when we go through the tape as a unit together when [QB] Alex [Smith] makes the call and he makes the line call, so it helps to have experience. But for the young guys, and particularly for David in that fashion, because he may see it one way; David may see it one way and Eric, through anticipation and experience, sees, through what he sees, to get to the possible, to the right thing. I don't know in two weeks of work that you can give a guy that in seven to eight years of experience, but he's very helpful that way, and particularly to the right and left side where [T/G Chilo] Rachal is and more particularly where 77 [G Mike Iupati] is. That communication is invaluable."

On whether the offensive line has come together to his liking:

"I'm getting better with it. I think the test Saturday will be another examination of where we are. I think the Raiders have a huge front, a good rush front, big people; [DE Richard] Seymour and [LB Kamerion] Wimbley in particular, and then [DT John] Henderson. It'll be a good test. It'll be another evaluation process that will help us and understand that it is an evaluation process so that we can further gauge where we are going into the season and what we expose our young group to; what risk-reward factor we take. So, I think we're doing OK there. The continuity is getting better, but it's still youth, it's still young and the preparation and evaluation going forward will help us in terms of planning for them going into the season."

On whether G/C David Baas has secured the starting center job in C Eric Heitmann's absence:

"I don't know that that's the correct ‘phrasiology' but I would say he's in the lead. He has the lead in the clubhouse. Now the rules official may come and say it was a sand trap and it's a two-stroke penalty, but I think he's the leader in the clubhouse and if he can; if the guy bogeys at [hole] 18, then he has a chance, he has a real chance."

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