49ers DC Vic Fangio Discusses Calvin Johnson, Third-Best Cowboys Receiver

The 49ers coordinators got together with the media today for a press conference, and discussed a number of things relating to the upcoming matchup with the Detroit Lions. Personally, I can't wait for this game, I think it's the first time in a very long time that one is able to say "That 49ers-Lions game should be one to watch!", you know? How long has it been since you've said that? The only way this matchup would have been interesting two years ago is if somebody had insulted Mike Singletary's mother and word came out that it was Moran Norris, who was bonded by trauma with his 0-16 2008 Lions teammates.

That being said, the conference was pretty long today, and I think a lot of good stuff was covered. More than anything, I love what defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had to say about Lions' wide receiver Calivin Johnson:

Is Calvin Johnson comparable to another receiver you've been against?

"Well, first off I want to say he would be the best receiver on our team, not the third best. So, we have a tremendous amount of respect for him. ..."

To me, that's awesome. I love that JIm Schwartz had some snark directed at Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and I love that Fangio is dishing some out, as well. If you had forgotten, Ryan had said that Johnson would be the third-best receiver on the Cowboys, behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. I personally have Johnson as the second-best receiver in the entire league, but that's just me.

There's more to that quote after the jump, and the rest of the conference as well. Fangio covers Carlos Rogers and his success, Jahvid Best and the problems he creates (especially in the wake of his breakout performance against the Chicago Bears), and confirms that he expects NT Isaac Sopoaga back in action. Make the jump for the transcript.

Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio
Press Conference - October 13, 2011

What kind of challenges does Lions RB Jahvid Best present for your defense?

"A lot. He's extremely fast, he's quick, he's very elusive. He's got deceptive strength, also. He's a hard guy to tackle. Any time he gets to the open field, he's capable of hitting a homerun, as I'm sure you saw Monday night when he had the 88-yard run for the touchdown. He's a big challenge for us and he's a big part of their offense. A lot of teams play coverage on these guys because of their receiving threats and the quarterback and it opens up their running lanes in there for him and they try to make you pay for that with him."

Do you guys figure you'll be in nickel quite a bit with the three wides they put out there?

"We'll mix it up. We stay in our base against three wide receivers some, and sometimes we go to five DBs. We'll mix it up."

What do you look for now from that number three cornerback? CB Shawntae Spencer was out a week, CB Chris Culliver played, so how do you guys determine who you go with this week?

"Number one it becomes a health issue for Shawntae if he's ready or not. Number two, just see how it goes from that point forward. Right off the bat, it's a health issue. If Shawntae is only 85 or 90 percent, then we definitely go with the healthy guy."

Speaking of health issues, do you expect to have NT Isaac Sopoago back at nose tackle this week?

"I believe he'll be available to play, yes. Right now, I haven't heard otherwise that he won't be."

When you look around the league, you see Lions WR Calvin Johnson's so big and all the receivers seem to be getting much bigger in stature. Do you remember a time when receivers were this large, this fast, this athletic?

"Everybody's wanted the big receivers for a long time now. He's definitely one of the elite ones in that category. It becomes an issue. We're basically trying to cover power forwards with point guards when the ball gets down the field and if the guy's athletic enough to get down the field and make those kind of plays, it can become a mismatch at times down the field. It's a problem and everybody's looking for big, fast receivers. Detroit got one; they got him obviously at the top of the draft. They're hard to find, also, just like big corners are hard to find. They've got a special player and he's hard to deal with."

The past few games you've been using CB Carlos Rogers quite a bit in the slot. Is this the kind of game, is Calvin Johnson the kind of guy where you might need to isolate Rogers the whole time?

"You mean in the slot?"

No, I'm just meaning wherever Calvin goes, Rogers goes. Not necessarily in the slot.

"No."

Do you just feel that he's not... does that sort of mess with the integrity of the defense when you start doing stuff like that?

"A little bit it does. We feel all of our up front cover guys in our nickel situation, we feel basically the same about all of them."

Why is Carlos thriving here? He has made a pretty simple statement that he gets to be himself working for you.

"I don't know the answer to that, you'd have to ask him I guess. I think he's enjoyed being here. He's had some success early on. He hasn't been perfect, but I just think he enjoys the environment, the way he's being coached, what we're doing on defense. And when you're winning, and you're playing good, things kind of snowball for you in a positive direction."

Did the Lions use Jahvid in any new ways Monday night? It seems like he's in a single back formation a lot, but did you see anything about the way they used him that kind of jumped out at you?

"No, it's been the same they've done all year. They are a single back team. They don't have a fullback on their roster. There's always only going to be one back back there, for the most part. On rare occasions they'll put a tight end back there. They are a single back team. It's just whether they have two tight ends on the field, or one with three receivers, or two tight ends with two receivers. That's their game. They're a one back operation."

Given his background, it seemed like Culliver might be a little bit of a project as a rookie. How has he been able to step in and be pretty effective?

"All rookies are a project in the beginning, in particular here when we didn't have the offseason. He's done a good job of progressing, trying to stay focused, learning the system. When he wasn't playing those first three games or whatever it was, still staying on top of his assignments and his techniques. I think [Secondary Coach] Ed's [Donatell] done a great job of coaching with him and meeting with him extra and keeping him focused and ready to go. When he got his opportunity here the last two weeks, he was ready to play and wasn't just going out there cold and he hadn't paid attention for three weeks. It's been two fold. One, he's done a good job of staying focused and being ready and I think our secondary coaches have done a great job of keeping him ready."

We've seen LB Aldon Smith as a defensive end we haven't seen him as an outside linebacker. How is he progressing just standing up, and is he ready for game action in that role?

"Well he got a little bit of it last week. At the end of the game we played him in our base package. And to answer that question, I don't know until we find out. If [LB] Ahmad [Brooks] or [LB] Parys [Haralson] have to come out he's the next guy in, in our base package, and be an outside linebacker. We'll find out at that point.He gets fair amount of reps at practice at it, and he stays on top of it mentally. And, we'll see."

Has Coach Harbaugh brought up his Frederick P. Soft philosophy to you coaches? I mean, he's been entertaining us with stories of this guy. What's your take on it?

"Ask Coach Harbaugh. He's used that in the past. He's more eloquent explaining it than I could be. But, I think it's just a fun way to remind everybody that just because we won a couple ballgames, it's not time to rest on the laurels or gloat on the past. We've got a tough assignment this week going up to Detroit, as you do each and every week in the NFL,particularly on the road. So, it's just his way of trying to keep everybody focused in a fun way."

Did Frederick P. Soft make an appearance at Stanford last year?

"No. The one game we lost, we lost. Not because Freddy made an appearance."

Do you know with any certainty the last time Freddy appeared?

"There's word that he's been lurking here in the Bay Area. That he may have come back. He's on the east coast and may have come back with the Raiders on their team plane from their last road game, and trying to make his way over here. So, we're on guard. Our security people out front have been given a description, and trying to keep him out of the facility."

What's he look like?

"I've never met him. So, I don't know that."

Is Calvin Johnson comparable to another receiver you've been against?

"Well, first off I want to say he would be the best receiver on our team, not the third best. So, we have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He's a bigger [Former WR] Randy Moss in some ways. In that he's a downfield threat. He's tough to cover down the field in the jump-ball situations, like Randy Moss was. But, this guy's bigger. He's thicker. He's listed at 235. I think he might be more than that. He's just a rare guy. He's that big, but yet runs as fast as he does. So, he's a real challenge for you in the coverage area. He makes some of those plays where you can have two guys there, you're in the perfect coverage, and it's just whether he comes down with the ball, or your guys can get it out. So, he is a double-tough coverage situation for us, as he is for everybody. And he's really what makes their offense go, along with 44 and their quarterback."

You've got a-not a huge safety, but S Dashon Goldson, a little bit taller than the normal one, long armed, is that a nice matchup when it comes to somebody like Johnson?

"Well ultimately whoever it is, whether it be Dashon, or one of our other safeties, they've got to go up and compete for the ball. I think sometimes guys don't go up and compete for the ball as aggressively as they need to when they're defending this guy. And, they need to go up and battle this guy. And Dashon would be a good candidate for us to do that. But, it could be any one of our safeties at any situation, along with the corners. So, we've just got to find a way to go up and battle this guy."

Can you practice that? I mean that would seem to be a maybe a dangerous practice maneuver to do, guys jumping for a ball in practice.

"Well, we don't have a receiver here that can really emulate him from a size and speed perspective. Probably the best we've got we were talking about would be to put [QB Colin] Kaepernick out there, who's tall and fast, but I don't know that the offense would be real crazy about that happening. It's hard, it's like anybody that's a little different and a little special. It's hard to simulate it in practice. It's hard to simulate the speed of Jahvid Best  in practice because he's extremely fast and he accelerates really fast. However fast he is, he gets to it quickly."

Last game was the first chance you had S Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson play at the same time. Can you talk about them as a safety tandem and is that what you were envisioning during training camp?

"Well, during training camp that was kind of a fluid situation. If you remember I really don't know what were envisioning back then because, brought one in and one got hurt and excreta. It was kind of a revolving door back in training camp. They are two good players, as is [S] Reggie Smith, as is [S] Madieu [Williams]. All four of them are playing a lot of plays so far this year. We're glad we have them all and the one thing we've proven with this season already, after only five games, is we kept 10 DBs on this roster and they've all played. You have to have defensive backs in this league. You must have depth back there and you need to have 10 and anybody that doesn't believe that, you're just rolling the dice. Eventually everybody is going to have to play back there. This has become a passing league and you've got to have defensive backs that can play the pass and be competitive back there."

Along the lines of Eric's question, is there anyone that resembles Jahvid Best?

"I need a list here to think. You know he's a little but like [Cowboys RB] Felix Jones that we played from  Dallas earlier in the year who was very, extremely fast. This guy I think runs a little bigger and accelerates quicker into his speed, whatever it is. They both may be as fast as each other, Jones may even be faster, but this guy seems to get to his top gear fast. They're both great players, and both great threats out there."

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