Jim Harbaugh talks read option defense concerns, team captains, backup QBs

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Jim Harbaugh met with the media on Friday, during which he re-addressed his concerns about the NFL's rules on tackling read option quarterbacks. New to Niners Nation? Sign up here and join the discussion!

The 49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh, was back in front of the media to wrap up the week. He discussed team captains and the 49ers backup quarterbacks that went to Green Bay, but he also spoke in depth about his concerns with the NFL's rules regarding tackling read option quarterbacks.

Your three captains; QB Colin Kaepernick, DT Justin Smith and LB Patrick Willis, is that it?

"Our captains elected by the squad on Tuesday are Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Colin Kaepernick."

No special teams captain, or is that rotating on a weekly basis?

"Like we've always done, there'll be one pick each week."

And Justin was a holdover from last season?

"Correct."

And so, you did two votes and then Willis and Kaepernick got the two?

"That's right, yeah. Justin was not on the ballot, serving his two-year term as captain, the second of his two-year term. And then, Patrick Willis' two-year term was up, but then he was voted back as a captain for 2013 as well as Colin Kaepernick."

Was it a surprise to you at all that Kaepernick got it just given that he hasn't been a fulltime starter for very long?

"Well, I mean there's so many good candidates you know? And it was reflected in the vote. Both [RB] Frank Gore was, I guess you could call it an alternate, he was second in the vote getting and [LB NaVorro] Bowman was second in the vote getting on the defense. There's other guys. I mean there's a lot of good captain-type guys, leaders to choose from. The players always do a good job and that's why I just let the players do the voting. They know and they've always done a great job picking their captain."

Do they counsel with you at all during the season, Jim, or do you have a select leadership committee that sits with you at all kind of on a weekly basis or anything like that?

"Yeah it's official-unofficial, but yeah we do do that."

Is having a quarterback as a team captain something that you take for granted? Is it kind of, do you like that? Is it something that you want to see happen and when it happens organically it's great for the team?

"Well, don't take anything for granted and Colin is definitely a deserving choice, as would have a few other guys, a group there of guys that would have been a deserving choice. We've talked about it at length really this whole offseason, Colin's leadership skills and work ethic, plus-plus."

How do you feel about the clarification that you got from officials from the league about the rules on hitting a quarterback in the read option?

"I think it's flawed and a bit biased. So, I think it's flawed and biased."

Can you elaborate on that? Why do you feel it's biased?

"Well, we could get into a long discussion about it. But I believe that when a quarterback is handing a ball off or faking a ball, in the read option case he's reading on an option play, he's as defenseless as a quarterback who's in the act of throwing. And I'm not advocating that they don't hit the quarterback if he has the ball, but when he's in the pocket I believe there should be a strike zone. The same strike zone that is given to the quarterback when he's in the pocket and throwing the ball. I feel like you give a license now to players to hit quarterbacks at the knee or in the head, and it just seems to be a flip-flop of what the league's trying to get accomplished. Players safety, I've heard [Falcons President and CEO and Competition Committee Chairman] Rich McKay talking about the Competition Committee looking into ways to reduce chop blocks or a player is getting hit at the knee and now you're really opening up a door and giving a license to defensive players to say, ‘I couldn't tell if he clearly had the ball or not, so now we can hit him in the knee or the head.' It just, it doesn't make sense. Yeah, once the quarterback has indicated that he's going to be a runner, then I believe that he is a runner and should be treated like a runner, but when he's in the pocket in that vulnerable position, in that reading position, then I believe he should have the same protection as a quote unquote ‘throwing quarterback.' And then how do you decide? Who makes that determination that a quarterback is making a fake whether he's under center faking to a tailback or he's in the shotgun faking a running back to a tailback. By definition a fake is a deception, it's a deceptive maneuver. The quarterback that makes a fake and then waggles out on a bootleg, he's a runner or a thrower. Now are they opened up to be hit in the head and the knees, treated like a running back? So, that's how I feel about it. It seems simple, it seems like they would have more of an appetite to look at that and they've said they don't have an appetite to look at it any further. So, that's where we're at."

Does that force you to adjust anything in terms of how you teach how long to carry out play fakes after the ball is gone?

"Well, we talked about a grey area the other day and yeah I know what the rules are. I know how they've been explained, but still, there's still some grey area. I mean, when you start using words like clearly, he clearly doesn't have the ball then what does that really mean? ‘I just handed it off, I don't have the ball, he's got the ball,' or put your hands up. So, yeah there's a bit of a grey area there. To me, he's a quarterback until he leaves the pocket as a running threat. And it just seems, I think it's flawed the way they got it now."

How do you see that affecting the game on Sunday?

"We're going to play football. We're going to play. Kap's going to play. We're going to play the game."

Did the NFL disagree with your idea for the necessity of the strike zone or did they just not want to talk about it?

"There's been discussions, I referenced that the other day. There's ongoing discussions about it. Suggested the strike zone and it came back and said the competition committee didn't have an appetite to change it."

I don't remember many plays last year with Kap doing that, where he got hit or was susceptible to it. Were there some evidence on film?

"No, he was getting hit in the strike zone, because that's where quarterbacks were intended. That's been the rule that there's a strike zone for quarterbacks in the pocket, but it's just this new language where they keep saying treat him like a running back, we don't know who's got the ball. You're opening up a license to hit him outside the strike zone. I guess I'm entitled to my opinion, that's why I answered the question. I think it's flawed and I think it's biased. Really probably nothing more to be said about it at this time."

Your two former backups are now in Green Bay backup QBs. What kind of advantage do you think that gives Green Bay, if any at all?

"Can't really put a percentage on it. I mean they know things. We're not going to change anything. We're going in with our plan."

Obviously it's been a phenomenal start to LB Aldon Smith's career with all the sack numbers. What are your expectations for him in year three? Can a young guy like that continue and how long can he remain on the ascent as a pass rusher?

"Remain on the what?"

Ascent as a pass rusher.

"I think he's been that. He's been an ascending player, an improving player. We all can get better. We all understand how to improve in this game. That's getting a little bit better each day. So, he's still in that process."

One guy that we haven't talked much about since camp or anything was LB Ahmad Brooks and how he's looking on the field these last couple months. How have you seen him come on?

"Extremely good. Really excited, watched all through camp. I think he's got a chance to be one of the real premier edge-setters, outside linebackers, pass rushers in the game."

What are your impressions of the Packers offensive line and where you see you could take advantage of the rookie and second-year guy?

"They're the Green Bay Packers. They're one of the best offenses in the league. They're looking good. They've got our old friend [T David] Bakhtiari, over there playing. Great accomplishment for him in there as a first-year player. Known him for a long time, known the family for a long time. He's a football player, just like his brother was, is."

Are you coaching Kaepernick to raise his hands after a read option handoff?

"You'll see. You'll see how it's done."

Can you tell us who your kick returner is going to be on Sunday?

"We're still kind of finalizing that. So, you'll see that on Sunday."

How many different options do you have, you think?

"I think we've got a few. We'll unveil that."

What are your expectations of WR Kyle Williams?

"High, very high. He's had an extremely good camp. Just getting better, getting faster. I think he's come back stronger. He's come back faster than he was before. It's so important when you're coming off a big injury to come back stronger and fitter than before because if you come back the same that you were, then a chance that the same thing's going to happen. Noticed that he's a stronger, better version of himself."

Will he return punts?

"Did you say do I know who'll return punts?"

Will Kyle returns punts?

"We'll unveil that. I thought you said did I know who's going to return the punts."

As you get ready to start the season, what's the overall sense, personality, feeling that's unique to the start of the season for this team for you?

"What's the unique sense of the personality?"

Just personality, unique sense that you get from this team, this squad as you start the season that strikes you about this group as your about ready to start the season?

"I guess I don't have a sense for unique personality trait at this time. Your identity is one that's earned on the game days and looking forward to our 2013 team forming an identity. Feel good, feel confident, feel like our team is ready to play."

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