The 49ers moved into more red zone practice yesterday and it sounds like the defense had a strong performance. Practice reports indicate the quarterbacks struggled throwing interceptions. The upside is that maybe this means the 49ers defense can maintain its record-setting turnover margin with more defensive interceptions!
Greg Roman chatted with the media and discussed the red zone issues. He pointed that on the one hand, sometimes when a team is up a few scores, they may play more conservatively down in the red zone, resulting in field goals. Roman said that he thought the team was third in red zone scoring, which does indicate some measure of success. At the same time, Roman acknowledged that the team could improve. He had an interesting comment:
We didn't have enough time on task last year to be where we wanted to be in the red zone. It was a matter of execution more than anything. Last year, you've got this much time and what are you going to be good at? What's going to help you win? Where are you going to allocate your resources, allocate your time? Once we got comfortable with certain things, at a certain point in the year we were able to devote more time in the red area because we had to get other things nailed down first. It's a great lesson on history there, but irrelevant right now.
The coaching staff generally hasn't used last year's lockout as a crutch, but this is sort of an acknowledgement of the limitations it placed on the staff. Hopefully having a full offseason will provide noticeable improvements in some of these important, more nuanced areas like red zone and third down. If you want to read the rest of Coach Roman's comments, head after the jump.
"Hey, good morning. How many practices have we had now? [media response: 6] Yeah, you lose count sometimes. It's all about the next day. [Head] Coach [Jim Harbaugh] was just talking about how every day is a new day and it truly is. We're moving into red zone today. We've had some great, great work. Obviously when you work against a defense like ours, as an offense, it's the old saying, as iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another. When you play against our defense, from the front to the edges, with our OLBs on the edge, our secondary and how the play and how they disguise, it just provides a great challenge and just makes you better day-in and day-out. So, watching our defense compete against our offense is always good for the 49ers. It's good for us as an offense to play against that kind of defense. So, we're moving into the shorter field today in the red area. The windows are tighter. Things happen faster. All the guys are really working hard, dialed in. They're getting a lot thrown at them and we do that on purpose. We believe in the whole-part-whole method. Things happen fast on game day so we throw a lot of info at them. Any questions?"
With everything you studied from last season, what do you attribute most of the red zone problems to?
"I probably made this statement before, but we were a hair off quite a bit, not nearly as sharp as we needed to be. Red zone statistics can be deceiving because if you're three scores up and you're in the red zone and you decide to play it a certain or a conservative way to make it a four-score game, make it a three-score game, make it a two-score game, the statistics are not going to be reflective of the outcome. I believe we were third in the NFL last season in red zone scoring, which just speaks volumes about our quarterback, Alex's [Smith] understanding of the game, where we're at in the game. You can reflect back to Detroit [vs. the Lions on October 16, 2011] and New Orleans [vs. the Saints, January 14, 2012, NFC Divisional Playoffs] where you must score. Well that's certainly different than, any score will get you up two to three scores. We're in it to win it, but getting back to your question though, were we as good as we wanted to be? Heck no. Heck no. We didn't have enough time on task last year to be where we wanted to be in the red zone. It was a matter of execution more than anything. Last year, you've got this much time and what are you going to be good at? What's going to help you win? Where are you going to allocate your resources, allocate your time? Once we got comfortable with certain things, at a certain point in the year we were able to devote more time in the red area because we had to get other things nailed down first. It's a great lesson on history there, but irrelevant right now. This year it's all about taking the next step down there in the tight field where it's a challenge to the offense. You must be precise. You must be sharp.Feel really good about the work we got this spring as a lead in."
Have you done any type of depth chart juggling yet or is it pretty much the way you reported this season?
"I'd say it's pretty similar. I'd say it's very similar. I think guys' stock go up and down every day. Every day, every practice, every day their stock does something. We're certainly aware of that and as we work together, you get a better feel for each guy and how they deal with the day-in and day-out. We're pretty regimented. We are not just going to do, ‘Hey this is what we do, and that's it.' There's always information, plays, situations being thrown at these guys and you get to see how they react to it."
When you guys split up and you go first string on one field and second string on the other, I don't know if you do this every time. But I notice at QB Alex Smith and QB Josh Johnson will be one field, and QB Colin Kaepernick and QB Scott Tolzien on another. Why is that?
"There's nothing to it. It's just a rep, a function of repetition, allocation really. When they get tallied up at the end of the day, we generally find that they're pretty even and that's what we aim for. It's different at times where we might be working our shifts and motions against the defense on one field. We might be working our bunch package on the other field. Well, this quarterback needs to be able to work on his pre-snap management, therefore he'll be on this field and it might switch. So, all that's orchestrated with thoughts put into it."
Why wouldn't your starting quarterback have far more snaps than the other three?
"Because when we split up we just buy so many more reps. If you follow what I'm saying."
Would you ever change this format?
"No, no. Absolutely not. No."
Are you calling plays through the helmet like you would in games?
"At times. There are certain periods we are. Yeah."
Are you doing that today in the red zone drills?
"No. Today we won't be doing that, but tomorrow we will. We actually got new and improved headsets around the NFL which are much easier to use, much more what you would expect in the year 2012."
How are the headsets different?
"To make a long story short, the other ones, you push the button and you've got to wait. You hear a beep and then you can talk. That beep would sometimes be inconsistent. There was one time when I was doing it and it happened to be on the same frequency as an airline in a certain city and it was a critical situation in the game and all you hear is Southwest pilots talking. So, these are very efficient. You push the button. You talk. They hear, and here we go."
Did you land the plane?
"No. Never checked to see if it got in." [laughing]
Can you talk about RB LaMichael James' speed and how you're planning on using him in the offense?
"LaMichael James is fast. How we are going to use him I will not discuss because we're not going to talk strategy. That doesn't help us win. But when you really look at LaMichael and the body of work he put together in college, he was a very effective inside and outside runner. I think there's a lot of people that just watched their offense, which is a great offense. They do a great job there at Oregon and they thought, ‘Oh he's just an outside guy.' He's a tough, in-between-the-tackles runner in college and now it's a matter of just him adapting to that in the pros. We're throwing it all at him and we're going to just evaluate and get a feel for what he's good at. There's a general misconception among some people that think just because a guy's not a big guy he can't run inside. I think we have the guy that proves that theory wrong, and that's [RB] Frank [Gore], who's not a giant but he has such incredible vision, foot quickness and his mind and his feet work together. LaMichael's a guy that has really good vision as well. So, I think you can probably see him when he plays run inside, run outside, run pass routes, but it's a curve. He's doing a really good job as a rookie coming in. And it's day-to-day. He's right where we thought he would be."
Is it a tough transition? Because probably when he (LaMichael James) ran at Oregon inside, things were spread out. There was a lot more daylight. Does he have to adapt to running in tighter quarters?
"I think so. I think that's an accurate statement. Running the football in college is totally different than running it in the NFL, in the sense that the defensive lines in the National Football League are so much more physical and adept and skilled, man-for-man. In the college world you'll find a guy here, a guy there that's a difference maker, but you can generally find people you can pick on, not so here. They're so well trained and the coaches understand how to fix problems. If somebody's hurting them with something, in the National Football League, you better believe they'll have an answer. It's football at the highest level and it's an adaptation for every rookie."
What do you remember about LaMichael at Oregon? I know you ran the offense at Stanford, but any memories from when he played you?
"Bad memories [laughter]. We beat him one year and I remember it was a race to outscore them. I just remember he took one run and just ran right down the hashes for about 60 or 70 yards, it was a blur. All I remember he was very efficient and very effective. A lot of respect there."
Does it look like you'll get WR Michael Crabtree back today?
"Michael is working through something right now. I think you'd probably want to talk to [head coach] Jim [Harbaugh] about that. I have a sneaking suspicion you would probably get the verbatim answer that I just gave you."
One more about LaMichael, as you said you saw him in college and saw him a little bit before the draft. Is there anything that has surprised you? Like, I didn't know this about this guy?
"Very impressed with him as a person, a great kid to be around, great kid to talk to, class young man. I think our scouting department does such a good job here of looking deeper than the statistics. They look beyond the on-the-field stuff, so I think they painted a really good picture for the kind of young man he is for us. Not real surprised with anything with LaMichael."
What about RB Brandon Jacobs? He said a couple months ago that is goal is to run with more power, more burst, are you seeing any of that out of him?
"Most definitely. Brandon is a guy, and you think back on his career, when he gets his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage and gets a forward lean, he is something. He's a unique running back. We've seen a good amount of that. The big thing that I'm impressed with, with Brandon, one of the many things, is he's very critical of himself. He might make a great run and hit it with just some big power. He'll still say, ‘I could have done this better, I could have done that better.' That's impressive (trait). We like that, we like that, that's what we look for. He's been a great fit."
I don't remember seeing him, he may have done this in New York, it doesn't come to mind when you think of Brandon Jacobs catching passes out of the backfield. He seemed to be doing quite a bit of that in practice. Is that something that you want him to focus on more so than maybe what he did in New York?
"As we present the offense to these guys, it's important that they're not just living in a little box. They've got to experience and do everything and that's when we sit down and say ok let's focus on this with him, let's focus on that. Everybody on our offense, to a man, is probably going to practice anything we do at least once. That's a very important part of the process. He's done a great job of that. He caught a swing route the other day and it was like, hmmmm, pretty good. We're learning about our players each and every day."
Two part question on RB Anthony Dixon. Jim Harbaugh said that he had come to you guys and asked to get some reps at fullback. How's that going? Is it a major mindset change for him to go from a halfback, a guy that's trying to avoid contact, to a fullback, who's got to be seeking it?
"I think there's some accuracy there. The fullback position requires a lot of details, how to approach a block, how to finish a block, how to adjust when everything changes in front of you. The great thing about Anthony is his athleticism allows him to make those adjustments like a running back would. An effective fullback, unless you're talking about just the old-school hammer, the picture is going to change on him and instead of going in the A-gap now he's going to have to slide to the B-gap. We like that in our offense. [FB] Bruce Miller has an uncanny ability to do that. Anthony's got that down.He just needs to work through the high speed, short area collisions, and winning those battles early and winning them late. I think the time he's had on special teams has really gotten him ramped up for that because there's so much short area hand-to-hand combat, and avoid and blocking on teams. So he's no stranger to that."
How do you split those reps in the whole backfield?
"It's day-to-day, it's period-to-period. Jim is instrumental in that he does a great job of seeing everything and looking at all the different areas, each position balancing things out. It's day-to-day. With the numbers we have and the ability to split groups, it just gets everybody reps, gets the young guys more experience than they normally would have. It's all positive."
WR Nathan Palmer has made some nice plays in practice, what's your impression of him?
"Very positive, very positive. I like his demeanor, his athleticism, quickness, balance, ball skills, attention to detail, knowing what to do. Making instinctive adjustments that you can't coach, or you can talk about coaching, but not everybody gets. Very positive. He's done a great job. Nate, day-in, day-out, his stock's going up."