49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh Searching For Team Identity

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh spoke to the media earlier today and discussed the 49ers performance this past week in some fairly general terms. It was actually an interesting press conference in part because it focused on the 49ers identity, or lack thereof. While Coach Harbaugh does not reveal a whole lot of information in his press conferences, this one might have actually revealed a little bit more than normal.

From the very first question (transcript after the jump), this press conference seemed to focus on the team's attempt to figure out the identity of this team. Yesterday we saw some very impressive passing plays, some stout defense at times, and some solid special teams. What we didn't see was any sort of consistent rushing attack.

Coach Harbaugh was pressed on the identity issue and asked for specific things he wanted to see as far as the 2011 49ers "identity" is concerned. His response:

"We want to be a running team. We want to be a throwing team. We want to be darn near 50/50, and equally good in both. And then our assignments, our angles, the way we plan. These guys are just getting to know me. We're getting to know them. We are still in the process of forming that identity."

So we know they want a balanced attack, but now it is a matter of executing that balance. Part of that is in the execution of the players and part of that is in the game-plan of the coaches. How do you view the identity of this team? We know they want to implement the west coast offense and seemingly be aggressive on defense. Do you see a specific identity at this point?

While there were parts of yesterday's game that frustrated me to no end, I also am understanding of the fact that this is a process. The coaching staff has made some mistakes from which they will hopefully learn. In the meantime, this really is a developing process. We all want wins yesterday so it is easy to get frustrated.

It really is amazing how much "Patience" has become the theme of the 2011 San Francisco 49ers. It started with free agency and continues into the season. Really you could argue it began with the draft as the team mixed in a lot of developmental talent with guys they were hoping could make more immediate impacts.

I know patience is quickly becoming a beaten down cliche and some people will say [site decorum] that, but maybe that will take away a little bit of the sting? Or maybe this is just my way of talking myself through the loss.

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - September 19, 2011
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

The running game is something that you would expect bigger results from. Why do you think it's been different for the first few games?

"I think we're in a process of finding our identity, having it click on all cylinders. We're going to stick to our guns. In a lot of ways, disappointed like all fans, all players, all coaches. Everybody involved is disappointed but not discouraged. I feel we're on track."

You use the word identity. What do you want your identity to be?

"We want to be good in all areas. We talked specifically about the running game and it's the plan, it's angles, it's timing in the running game, and being more productive. Offensively, we have negative plays. Those plays, be it a tackle for a loss, or one or two yard gains, or sacks, those things, we have to get better at and eliminate."

You guys have been efficient offensively passing-wise with the quarterback rating, but have you guys posed a threat that has forced defenses to back off and defend you guys as a balanced offense?

"Like I said, we're trying to forge that identity. Like a lot of teams that you see are trying to find that. We're going to keep working at it and keep working to get better in all those areas, in our passing attack and in our running game."

You've had modest yardage in the first two games, will you open up your offense more?

"We believe, we're going to plan, we're going to practice it, we're going to scheme to put our players in the best position to execute and then execute. All those things can and will improve."

How well is RB Frank Gore running right now?

"I could go down and just watch the tape and just about everybody on our team including Frank are doing things that are really good, really positive. Playing well enough to win. Frank is doing some incredible things in the pass protection and some really fine runs. It all works together in terms of the scheme, the blocking, the angles, the timing and we are not where we want to be yet."

Was the way that TE Vernon Davis was targeted twice yesterday, is that just the way the game went? Why wasn't he more involved in the passing game?

"I just watched the tape and there's frustration on Vernon's part I'm sure that he was doubled much of the ball game in terms of the passing game. But still, finding that role, creating that identity for Vernon in the passing game and he's going to be asked to do multiple other things in terms of the run game and pass protection. Defining and getting better in his role and really everybody's... that's identity."

Was QB Alex Smith throwing to him or to WR Joshua Morgan on the interception?

"He was throwing it to Vernon."

When you talk about the negative plays and the situation it puts your offense in, you get in third-and-long a lot. Do you sense any trepidation from the players on ‘oh no, we're stuck in this situation again'? Because Alex was talking about in overtime yesterday, they got in third-and-long and he said it was next to impossible to move the chains at that point. Is that kind of the wrong mindset to have, though, to think it's impossible when it's obviously what you're trying to accomplish?

"No, I don't feel that any trepidation from our players or any uphill battle. Our guys fought. I sensed that and knew that after the game and talked openly about that, that I was proud of our guys, the way they fought. I felt like we played better this week than we had the first week. You got to stay ahead of the pitch count, you can't put yourself in positions where it's third-and-long. We converted several of those in the ball game. Alex played tough. Alex is a tough guy. Throwing into the teeth, knowing he is going to get hit and converting some of those third downs. You can't continue to ask a quarterback, or our offense, to continually convert those kind of situations. It all, again, works together."

You mention Vernon's frustration. Is that something you've talked to him about? He mentioned something yesterday about that he was a little bit surprised that he was held in to block as much as he was in the game. Is that something you will address with him?

"Oh yeah. I'll address Vernon and the entire team on where we're at, where we need to go going forward. And that's going to be sticking to our guns and continuing to develop our identity and our plan and what it's going to take to execute as our unit better."

When you talk about developing your identity, does that make you want to try a lot of different things and see what works?

"No, I think it's developing what you're good at and what you believe you can be good at and repping those as much as you possibly can. Then, areas where you need improvement, strive for that. There may be some of those that are eliminated. That's the general nature of that plan."

I think there's an assumption out there that as the year goes on, your passing game will evolve, it will get better and that early on you're going to lean on the running game while all of that more intricate stuff falls into place. Is that fair to say, is that correct?

"Specifically, with all areas, that's correct. We are in a process, I know everybody wants to solve the debt today, but that is something that is a process."

You said in the past that you have seven offensive linemen who are good enough to start. Are you considering making any changes there and trying a different combination?

"We're always looking at that. To a man, like everybody, players, coaches, you're going to watch this film and there's going to be calls you'd like to take back and an individual play that you're going to feel really proud of, individual coaching you're going to feel really proud of. Then things that we can do better and we'll strive to improve on. I think that goes for the line as well."

Defensively, what struck you as you were watching the film?

"You hate to give credit to the opponent, but start with that. They made plays, especially [Dallas QB] Tony Romo coming back late into the ball game and how well he was getting the ball out of his hand. Free rushers that weren't even in breathing distance from him by the time he got the ball out. Their playmakers made big plays. Same thing with our defense, I think you're going to look at this and see pass rush that was very good. Got a sack, got the hurries, got the hits. Very good against the run. There were calls that we'd like to have back. All those things, it's a lot to be really pleased with and then the rest is history. We didn't come out with the satisfaction of the win."

With the pressure you got defensively, was it about the same as it was against Seattle, but Romo's ability to get rid of the ball, was that maybe the difference between those two games?

"I think that's fair to say. No question that was a factor. There was times like I said, we were in rush three, drop eight. Rush four, drop seven. Rush five, drop six. Bring seven, play zero in the backend and even with the free rusher he was able to get the ball out on occasion.  So yeah, I do again give him a lot of credit."

Jim, you were talking about the identity before you want to establish, how long does that take to do?

"It takes the time that it takes and the main thing is that we all trust in the plan, we believe in each other. Those two things are critical. And the guys are working their tails off, and all that is outstanding. So, we'll stick with it. We'll stick to our guns on that approach." 

Jim, we've been using the word identity this morning. Identity is a thing. Some teams are running teams, some teams are passing teams. You also said today, I want to emphasize what we believe we can be good at, that's identity. What is your identity? What would you like it to be? What would you like to emphasize that you can be good at? Specific things.

"We want to be a running team. We want to be a throwing team. We want to be darn near 50/50, and equally good in both. And then our assignments, our angles, the way we plan. These guys are just getting to know me. We're getting to know them. We are still in the process of forming that identity."

With the receivers who may or may not be available this next week, do you guys have to go out and get somebody?

"We'll evaluate that. I was really pleased with the way [WR] Kyle Williams stepped up. He made a heck of a play on the touchdown. It was a heck of a throw. It was an outstanding catch. Happy for him because he's been working to dress the first game and got an opportunity, and shined. So, he's spot on with his attitude and his approach to the game, and you see the improvement and that pleases you. Pleases me." 

Does that mean that WR Braylon Edwards is not a long-term injury?

"Braylon's getting an MRI right now, so we'll find out where his status is."

At the end of the first half yesterday with a minute and 48 seconds left, and I think 34 seconds went off between the first two plays, what were you guys trying to accomplish there?

"Well, we were trying to pick up the first first down. That was the number one thing. Secondly we didn't have any timeouts. So we were playing it to pick up the first down, try to crack one, get ourselves in a position to get a field goal. But, staying aggressive but yet making sure we didn't do anything that was going to be negative for our ball club, and turn the ball over giving Dallas another shot before the half. Especially with us having the ball coming out in the second half. And we almost did. We almost did. You talk about things being so close. We ran a run-play on second down, and it was so close to going for 20-25 yards." 

With the time that you have at halftime, is that an adjustment for you guys to try to, I don't know how many adjustments can be made in that short period of time, certainly there's more time in college to do that, is that a feeling out process for you too and the coaching staff? How to make best use of that limited time?

"Yeah, there's a number of things that you can go in at halftime and address with your club. And you try to do as many as you possibly can. Fit them in. And it's pretty hectic to go in there, but process of doing better at that as well." 

Like with Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman coming down from the booth, that whole thing, how much time does he get in the locker room?

"Probably about six to eight minutes with the guys." 

After looking at the film, what stands out to you as what needs to be improved on to give Alex more pass protection after six sacks yesterday?

"We weren't pleased with that part. Disappointed like I said earlier, the negative plays, and sacks included in those. So, we'll hone in on specifically what we can do to improve that area." 

Can you just assess CB Tramaine Brock. He was inactive most of his rookie year and now he's playing a fairly big role on this secondary, especially the nickel. What do you see from him?

"A guy that's improving weekly. Again, it fits together, but I've been pleased with him, [CB] Tarell Brown, our secondary, that unit working together. Not where we want it to be yet, but I would say the same with Tramaine, but pleased with his process so far." 

You had two veterans who have been starters here in the past coming off injuries. Can S Dashon Goldson and CB Shawntae Spencer improve that secondary?

"Well, they definitely have the ability, the experience, and the license to do that. Definitely we'll have that shot this week. Both of them are working their way back into the lineup so that will be something to really assess and look at this week."

In your second half, you're not as productive offensively as you have been in the first. What are the reasons for that?

"We're trying to solve a lot of issues. I know you're trying to solve them right along with us. I don't have a great answer for you right there.  A lot of things we're looking at to improve ourselves."

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