49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio met with the media on Friday before the 49ers hit the practice field. Here's a rundown of his transcript.
Throughout the offseason program a lot of your guys were on the shelf a little bit. What's it like to finally get them back out there and see the whole gang together again?
"Well, it's good. All offseason we didn't have [LB] Ahmad [Brooks], [LB] Aldon [Smith] and [DT] Justin [Smith] out there and we limited what [DT] Ray [McDonald] did. So, it's nice to have them all back out there and playing real football, although we don't have the pads on. We still got a couple more days of this type of practice. But, it is good. It kind of signals the start of the season."
Did DT Justin Smith look like a guy who is coming off a bad injury and a surgery or did he look like the old Justin?
"No, he looks fine. Fortunately, the injury he had is one that once it's healed, it's healed. I don't think it has many lingering effects at all."
The conventional wisdom is that you guys traded up 13 picks to get S Eric Reid, so of course he's going to start on week one and start the season. What's your take on where things stand? And is it just Reid and S Craig Dahl or are there other guys in that mix?
"Well, to address the first part of your question, if you go back to when we drafted Aldon Smith, who was the I think the seventh pick of the draft, he didn't start as a nickel rusher until after the last preseason game, which is when he actually went out and won that job. So, nothing was given to Aldon that year and nothing's going to be given to [S] Eric [Reid] this year. He's got to go out and earn it. Right now it's a battle, as I see it, between four guys because [S] Trenton [Robinson] had a good offseason and put himself in the mix there too between Eric, Dahl, [S] C.J. [Spillman] and Trenton. So, it will sort itself out. The one good thing about training camp, we get a lot of reps. Everybody will get a lot of work and it will sort itself out."
What about Trenton jumped out at you? Where did he make improvements?
"He just played better. It's one of those things where a guy from year one to year two, I think learned how to become a better professional football player. Took his job more seriously, and saw himself having a chance to improve his play. And the urgency of, hey, I need to make this team. Whereas I don't think he felt that urgency last year and I don't think he was as mature last year. So, when we started the offseason he wasn't talked about much into the mix for that. But, he's done well for himself here in the offseason and put himself into that mix."
One of the storylines throughout the NFL in the offseason was defensive staffs studying up, boning up on the read option. And some staffs went to colleges to learn more about it. Did you guys do a lot of that? And two-part question, and just how much does it help that you're facing it in camp this time of year every day?
"Well, it does help that we're facing it in camp from our offense. Last year when our offense would work on that during training camp, we wouldn't work against them. We would split it up and we would take our first-team defense on another field and work on more conventional offenses because last year at this time, the only time that we thought we would see it would be from [Patriots QB Tim] Tebow in the game against the Jets and there was no other time we would see it. So, we didn't waste our time working on it against our own offense with our first-team defense. This year, we will obviously. So, it does help having an offense that can run it and they know how to run it not learning it off of the scout cart."
Getting back to Reid, are you impressed, or where is he now as far as the playbook? S Donte Whitner was saying he was impressed at least how much he's absorbed at this point. Have you seen the same thing from a study-habit standpoint?
"Yes, the one good thing about Eric is he's plenty smart enough, he's plenty diligent enough. He's got a good understanding of football. The learning and mental side of the game will not be an issue for him. Now, he's still a rookie. The speed of the game, recognizing offensive concepts, reacting to different formations and plays, he's still a rookie. But, the mental part of the game will be a plus for him."
How much of your job is helping create or maintaining good chemistry in your defensive meeting room? And the reason I ask that is because of the LB Ahmad Brooks and DT Lamar Divens situation. Two guys who are in that room that had a very public incident.
"Well, whatever happened there, and again I'm not privy to all the details that happened outside of here. I have not seen any indication that it has dragged inside the building at all. And if I hadn't known that something happened, I wouldn't have known something happened by the way that people are acting."
Do you have to have a contingency plan in place in case Brooks is suspended at some point this season?
"Well, not really. It's the same contingency plan if he would get injured."
Well, having said that, does having LB Parys Haralson back full strength just even give you even more leeway at that position?
"Well, having [LB] Parys [Haralson] back is good. Also having [LB] Cam Johnson in his second year, who's made some really good strides. He's not even close to being the same player he was last year at this time compared to now. He's light years ahead of where he was. We've picked up [LB Dan] Skuta. We drafted [LB Corey] Lemonier in the third round. So yeah, we've got Parys back to health there, but we've also got other people."
How much flexibility do you have with guys like Skuta and LB Darius Fleming to move them back, inside, outside?
"Right now we've exclusively worked [LB] Darius [Fleming] at inside linebacker and Skuta at outside backer. We think that's the best position for both of them at this time. They both have experience at the other positions. Skuta had a little bit in Cincinnati, but it was a way different type of scheme. Although he was an inside backer there, wasn't a lot of carry over in the way we play. So, he can go back in there in a pinch if we need him to."
Why is Skuta a better fit outside?
"His body type and the way he moves is better for an outside linebacker. You know, he was a defensive lineman in college. In fact, he was a defensive tackle. So, I think he's more suited to play up front, get his hands on people, rush the passer, etc."
Do you keep them more on one side though or do you kind of get them-?
"They can play either side."
Same with Parys?
"Yes. Parys played right in 2011, but he can play left. And we mix it up daily and within a practice what side they go on."
You talk about chemistry, what's the chemistry like among the coaching staff right now? What's it been like having senior offensive consultant Eric Mangini around and some of the other coaches?
"The chemistry on our staff is great. Eric's here to help the offense and to help [head coach] Jim [Harbaugh] and that's what he's doing. Nothing's changed there."
No defensive responsibilities for him whatsoever?
Have you talked to him about?
"Not yet. I'm sure over the course of the year we may have a discussion or two. But he's got his hands full learning our offense so he can help in our offense and then he's going to help our offense from a defensive perspective."
Behind LB Patrick Willis and LB NaVorro Bowman there doesn't seem to be much proven depth. What do you see at backup inside linebacker?
"We still have [LB Michael] Wilhoite, [LB] Nick Moody, Darius and [LB] Nate Stupar. Those four guys are fighting it out for two spots, possibly. And again, like you guys have alluded to before, we can move Skuta back there if we need to. So, nobody has surfaced yet. It's early and that position is really wide open, those backup ILB spots."
Is that an area of concern at this point or do you feel like someone has the ability to emerge?
"Well, it's an area of concern and I do have confidence that somebody, one or two of those guys, will emerge. So, hadn't happened yet. They're all at different stages in their career. Moody was a safety in college a good bit of his career and now he's playing inside backer. So, it's all new to him. Michael Wilhoite has been here for a year and a half and played some last year on special teams. So, he's got the lead from a knowledge standpoint within our scheme. Darius has just moved there and had zero practice last year. Was an outside linebacker in college and now he's trying to learn inside. And Nate's been doing a good job, too."
Do you have an equivalent of Mangini on the defensive side, someone who looks at it through the offensive lense?
Would it be helpful?
"Generally speaking, I think defensive coaches have a better understanding of offenses and what offenses are being taught to do from a schematic standpoint. I think offensive coaches do not have as good an understanding of defensive football."
Are you saying that defensive coaches are smarter than offensive coaches?
"I didn't say that, you did. No, it's kind of a fact because I did that role one year in Baltimore and they learned a lot from having a defensive guy in the room. They just don't always understand the adjustments."
At the end of last season, a lot of points scored on 49ers defense, particularly in the first half, as the season wound down, in the postseason. When you are putting together game film to show CB Carlos Rogers and the other DBs and everyone else on the defense, what changed? What were the keys that jumped out at you in those final games?
"Well, you're talking about the last two games in particular. Number one, you're going against elite offenses and elite quarterbacks, so everything's got to step up. That's number one. And number two, we just got to play a little bit better. I think at times, in those games, we didn't play with the technique discipline that we always were accustomed to and prided ourselves on here. So, we've got to be able to play with great technique even on the big stage."