49ers Training Camp: Vic Fangio Discusses Overarching Defensive Philosophies

49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spoke with the media before practice today and discussed a whole host of topics. He discussed everything from Demarcus Dobbs and Ian Williams to Phillip Adams recovery to how Aldon Smith can improve. In discussing Smith in particular, he said:

"He's just got to learn his position better. That sounds like a simple statement, but it's a tall task for a guy coming from college who's played defensive end and defensive tackle to now having to be a stand up linebacker and get around pass key and drop in the right spots in zone coverage, and pick up routes accordingly the way you see them picked up. So it's a major undertaking that he's going through right now. Once he gets comfortable with that and can execute, then we'll feel more comfortable with it."

Somebody followed that up with a question about protecting Smith from situations like the coverage mistake that led to one of Owen Daniels' big plays. Fangio made the point that trying to mask one player's weakness could open up the weaknesses of another player on defense. Accordingly, Fangio is looking to balance out the defense as a whole and as Fangio said, "try and highlight [their] strengths and lowlight [their] weaknesses as much as possible."

It will be a growing year for the defense as a whole, but Aldon Smith in particular. While he did get some time standing up in college, he focused on the defensive line, which means a lot of new responsibilities at the next level. It will be interesting to see how quickly or slowly that transition develops. He can flash some of his raw skills for now, but he'll need to develop the all around game to prove worthy of the first round pick.

Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio
Press Conference - August 29, 2011
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

Do you expect to get CB Shawntae Spencer back this week?

"It remains to be seen. He's going to start trying to do some stuff today and we'll see how it progresses." 

Does he need to play in this last game in order for him to be in the picture for week one? Do you need to see him in a preseason game before you can decide if he's a starter?

"I think every injury situation is a little different. Obviously, he would need to at least show some stuff on the practice field this week that he's ready to go, whether he plays in the game or not may be a decision we won't make until Thursday. Obviously for week one in the regular season, he needs to start showing he's ready, both from a movement standpoint that the hamstring is healthy enough to play and from an endurance standpoint. Any time you're out this long with a hamstring injury, you're conditioning is affected also. All of that will be under consideration." 

What's your biggest concern going into the last preseason game on the defense?

"I don't think there's any overriding concern, whether it be one. I would just like to see a little improvement in a lot of areas. I would like to see our pass rush improve a little bit. I would like to see our details of our assignments and techniques be ironed out a little bit better than they've been. Just kind of where you would think we would be right now, nothing overriding."

How are you evaluating the free safety in terms of S Dashon Goldson starting the past couple of games, but S Madieu Williams has made some plays out there. Is that still a starting spot up for grabs or is that more on Dashon right now?

"No, I think it's still up for grabs. We still have [S] Reggie Smith that whenever he gets healthy and starts working again, we're hoping for him to start working some this week. Not in the game, but to see him out on the practice field, at least out running around to get his knee back right from the procedure he had. So right now, the three of them are in that mix." 

What are you seeing out of Madieu besides those turnovers he's created the last couple of games? What's he doing?

"He's played solidly. He's tackled well. He's, for the most part, been in the spots where he needs to be. I think he's a smart player. He's experienced. I think he's got some experience and wisdom that a guy that's played as long as he has carries with it. I've been overall pleased with his progress so far. He's gotten better and better each and every week." 

You mention he tackles well. He had a neck injury a few years back and there was some concern that he wasn't as aggressive since then. Have you seen any result of that injury?

"No. Pleasantly, we have not seen any residue from his neck injury of a couple of years ago where that's lingering in the back of his mind and has made him any less aggressive at all, and that's been a positive." 

Can you talk a little bit about the rookie DT Demarcus Dobbs and what a preseason he's having?

"He's done well. He's gotten a lot of playing time and he's flashed a lot of the time. He's had a sack in each of the last two ball games. There's still a lot of areas where he can improve on, but he's done himself well in this camp and gotten better and better as the camp has gone on, and I think it's a testament to his pushing himself and the coaching of [Head Coach] Jim [Harbaugh] on him, of [Defensive Line Coach Jim] Tomsula, and they've both done a great job." 

Normally in the fourth preseason game, you won't play your starters that much. With no OTAs, mini camps, do you see you playing the starters a lot in this game?

"Not necessarily. It'll be an individual thing. Guys that have been here and gone through the whole camp and really haven't missed that much time, they might not see as much action as say, some of the guys that have missed games. Like [CB] Carlos Rogers played more in this past preseason game than the other regulars per se because he didn't play in week two of the preseason. Everybody's kind of in a different spot individually, yet we'll try and keep the unit intact as much as possible. But it will be more on an individual basis." 

What does LB Aldon Smith have to do to make you comfortable as him as an every down type of linebacker?

"He's just got to learn his position better. That sounds like a simple statement, but it's a tall task for a guy coming from college who's played defensive end and defensive tackle to now having to be a stand up linebacker and get around pass key and drop in the right spots in zone coverage, and pick up routes accordingly the way you see them picked up. So it's a major undertaking that he's going through right now. Once he gets comfortable with that and can execute, then we'll feel more comfortable with it." 

You sort of put him in a little bit in of tough spot covering Houston Texans TE Owen Daniels on that one play. Was that by design to see what this guy can do when put in a situation like that?

"Well, it was by design that we knew he might end up having to cover the tight end. We weren't afraid to expose him to that and that's a learning experience for him right there on how to do it, how not to do it, and what to expect the next time he's put in that position." 

What did he do wrong on that play?

"He just didn't play with the right leverage and his technique was off a little bit." 

Can you protect him, scheme-wise, from getting into matchups like that during the regular season?

"Sometimes. One of the things that is commonly said by personnel people, media people, and fans is ‘this guy does this thing really good, you've got to try to keep him out of the things he doesn't do well'. Well, first question I have to answer when that's said is ‘how does that affect the other 10 players?' To cater to somebody's only strength and stay away from his weaknesses may be highlighting somebody else's weaknesses on your defense. I can't concern myself with one guy per se, although it's in my mind, just for the sake of one guy and it doesn't fit the rest of the defense. Some people like to say corners can't press, they can't do this, they can't do that. You better have two of them then. You can't just have one. It has to balance out with your defense as a whole, but yet we are cognizant of players' own strengths and weaknesses and try and highlight his strengths and lowlight his weaknesses as much as possible." 

How would you characterize where this team with defense is at this point in the preseason with one more to go and the regular season right around the corner?

"You mean in comparison to other places I've been the first year?" 

Yes, just where you'd like to be as you get ready for the first regular season game.

"I think in some ways we're fine, we're where we need to be, and other ways, we're not. We're still obviously behind from a mental standpoint as far as the whole package being implemented just because of the lost time. But we all knew that coming in so that was just something that we had to accept both as coaches and players. We had to learn the whole package in a timely process and we may never get to the whole package this year because of that." 

Is S Donte Whitner the guy that's going to be making the calls for your secondary?

"He's one of the guys. Really both safeties need to make the calls. It's always good to have one that's capable of being the so-called quarterback of the secondary and I think he fits that bill." 

[LB] Patrick [Willis] is the one with the radio?

"Yes." 

Why Patrick? Why not have the same guy who's making the calls as the guy with the radio?

"Well the radio thing is kind of tricky in a way because the DB-and some teams do use it. When I was in Baltimore one year we had a safety do it. Other years we've had linebackers do it. It's better off I think generally speaking to have the linebacker do it because he's more in the middle of everything. Sometimes the safety can be down field defending a deep throw, and he's got a lot more time to get back to the huddle to tell everybody. So you got a better chance with a linebacker being in the middle of everything more times than not being closer to everybody between plays." 

You spoke about Demarcus Dobbs, can you talk about [NT] Sealver Siliga and [NT] Ian Williams and how they're doing? Do you have some difficult choices to make at the end of the week given all the young linemen you seem to have?

"We do. You can only keep so many. Obviously we would keep at least five and keep upwards of seven, depending upon how the roster develops. Those are decisions that will be made by the end of the week, and all those guys are in the hunt somehow, someway." 

With [CB] Phillip Adams a couple of weeks ago I know you said he's not quite healthy enough to play in the slot, where is he with his health, and what about his slot responsibilities, if he's going to have any?

"I think health wise, I think you'd have to ask Phillip, but he's definitely not 100 percent. He's probably more in the 75 to 80 percent range from the ankle injury that he had, so that's holding him back some. He has some good days, some bad days, and sometimes after the rigors of training camp end, you get into more of a game week setting, the ankle will tame down a little bit, and maybe heal a little bit more. But, it's still an injury that for sure he's not over yet, and he's still rehabbing and trying to play." 

I know we talked last week a little bit about [LB] Ahmad Brooks and how well he's come along. After he had that interception for that touchdown, what's going on through your mind in terms of what a playmaker you have on defense with him?

"He's definitely capable of making big plays for us. He's done it since the first day of training camp here. We just have to work hard, both him and us as coaches, to get him not to have the negative plays. He's talented enough to do anything and everything we would ask him to do, and we need that talent to shine all the time, not just sporadically. I know he can get there and I anticipate him having a great season for us." 

Is conditioning an issue for [Ahmad Brooks]? Does he tend to have lapses when he gets tired or fatigued?

"I don't know that that's the issue. I don't think he was in great shape when he first started camp, but I do think he's in much better shape now. He was a little overweight early in camp. I think he's gotten that down. I haven't seen that being a problem lately." 

How has Ahmad been in the meetings and do you feel like he's got a pretty good grasp of your defense?

"I do. I think generally speaking he knows what we expect of him in each and every call and everything we may play. He just has to become more consistent in executing it down after down, after down. The true test will come when he's going to play every play, and generally speaking, a game will be 60 to 65-70 plays. On defense he's got to be able to execute all of those plays and not hit some potholes along the way." 

Is there a level of concern of so far with the preseason in terms of how things have gone, or is that a perception from the outside?

"You mean as it relates to the whole team?" 

Yeah.

"I don't think so. I always look at training camp and preseason games; our main jobs as coaches at an organization during training camp, which preseason games are a part of, is first and foremost to pick the right 53 guys for this team. Secondly, is to prepare this team for the regular season. I think everything we've gone through, good and bad, is helping us make the right decisions in picking the right 53, and it's helping us prepare this team for the season. Last year, I believe the preseason record here was 4-0 and that didn't translate into very much for the squad. I think you can be misled by records, but the fact of the matter is we haven't played as consistently as we need to, and we all need to feel the urgency to get that rectified pretty quick."

How does your game calling change from that fourth game to the regular season?

"It all depends upon the opponent we are playing. It could be pretty much what you've seen up to this day-up in the first three games, or it could change, and that's more based on who we're playing, and who we're playing with, and the matchups that we are going against - both from a schematic standpoint and our one-on-one matchups."

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