The 49ers released the names of all their team award winners, which was covered in plenty of detail by the mainstream media (see the last couple of Golden Nuggets for that). I don't have a whole lot more to add, but I at least wanted to share my thoughts on some of the awards. Also, after the jump are transcripts of some of the winners' press conferences. It includes their thoughts on the upcoming game as well. Also, check out 49ers.com for past award winners.
One of the most interesting winners was Isaac Bruce, who received the Len Eshmont Award, given each year to the 49er who best exemplifies the “inspirational and courageous play” of Len Eshmont. It's voted on by his peers and it's impressive that a former arch-rival received such a prestigious award. As quiet as he's been with the media, clearly his teammates love are big fans.
Justin Smith received the Bill Walsh Award, given to the team MVP as voted on by the coaches. Given the awesomeness of Patrick Willis, it says a lot about what the coaches think of Smith. I think most of us here recognize how good Justin Smith has been for the defense this year. His numbers rarely reflected his performance, but he impacted just about every single game.
Takeo Spikes won the Matt Hazeltine for most courageous and inspirational defensive player. I've never quite understood that kind of phrasing for an award. Spikes is having a great year and rebounded well from an injury last season. Not a complaint or anything, but just curious about why awards use this kind of phrasing.
Eric Heitmann won the Bobb McKittrick Award, given to offensive lineman who best exemplifies the dedication, excellence and commitment of offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick, a five-time Super Bowl Champion. This is the third straight season that Heitmann has won the award. Looking at past winners, centers have won a hefty portion of them. Plenty of tackles and guards have won it, but it seems like centers more often. Just an interesting tidbit.
Dominique Zeigler won the Thomas Herrion Award, given to the rookie or first-year player who best exemplifies the spirit of Herrion. According tot he 49ers, it goes to a player who has taken advantage of every opportunity, turned it into a positive situation and made their dream turn into a reality. Given Zeigler's time on the practice squad, I think it makes sense for him to get the award. He's definitely had to fight for what he's gotten.
After the jump, check out the interviews with Justin Smith, Takeo Spikes and Eric Heitmann. As more come in, I'll add them.
Justin Smith - Bill Walsh Award Winner
RE: What was your reaction when you heard you were chosen as the team MVP?
“You know, honored man, humbled. Just glad I get to play with these guys. I think we have a lot of stuff to build on, especially some of the things we have been doing defensively in the past five or six weeks. It’s just one of those things that we need to carry forward, finish out strong and use it to build on for next year.”
RE: Five or six, are you talking about pretty much the switch to a 3-4?
“Well, I think just becoming more simple in what we do and just basically sticking with what we do and do it well. I think [Defensive Coordinator Greg] Manusky’s approach has been good and he’s really relayed that to us and what he expects from us and I think it’s really helped us.”
RE: You started off the season, you were all over the place, in seven or eight different positions in a course of a game. Are you pretty much zoned in there at the right end position?
“Yeah for right now, it’s just basically a way to keep Parys Haralson on the field and I definitely don’t have any problems with that. He’s playing really good football and deserves to be out there starting like he is. It’s a way to have him and Manny [Lawson] both on the field and I’m comfortable there at end, so basically just keeping us out there lining up playing football. That’s basically what Manusky wanted to do, that’s when we were playing the best football.”
RE: Do you think you play your best football as a 3-4 [defensive] end?
“To me it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a matter of going out and playing, if it’s outside, inside, wherever. The main thing is you always want to have your best guys on the field and Parys [Haralson] is definitely one of those guys. He’s been playing good.”
RE: As you were talking earlier, how much more do you feel a part of that foundation now, just not on the field but also in the locker room?
“I mean it’s a great group of guys. Probably one of the easiest locker rooms I’ve been in to get along with people. Everyone is here for one reason and that’s to try and win football games. It’s something we definitely have to build on and get better at so that’s what we are going to continue to build on these next two weeks.”
RE: What has Mike Singletary brought here since he has taken over?
“I think he’s brought a singular focus on what we need to do. Things he always reiterates everyday is in the trenches, both offensive line and defensive line. I think both sides responded pretty well. Not turning the ball over and those things. He just keeps it pretty simple and can relate really good to us since he was one of us. He is one of the best in the business and you definitely have to respect him for that, so he’s been tremendous for this team.”
RE: Justin, that good locker room, how important is that and how far can that carry you?
“It’s huge. The main thing is the way this team has kept fighting when it could have went either way. I’ve been on some teams in the past where it probably would have went the other way but this one, guys kept fighting, kept plugging, trying to make the most out of it. If we get a few more pieces here and there, and with the right coaches in place, which I think we have right now, I think we can go a long ways.”
RE: Steven Jackson back this week, what does he do to their offense? How does he change things?
“He’s just a playmaker. A big guy, can run the ball. Physical. Physical when he runs the ball. A guy we got to account for. He’s a huge part of their offense that we’ll want to pay a lot attention to.”
RE: The team has honored you and knows what you brought to the team this year, but would you rate this season among your better season, personally, individually?
“I really don’t get into that. It’s about winning and losing. We just got two weeks left to try and do what we can do and get two more wins.”
RE: There seems to be a sense that this season has been divided in half and that you guys are taking some momentum into 2009 and the team is really playing differently the past few weeks or so?
“I mean we feel confident when we go out there. We expect to win every game and you can tell in the third and fourth quarter even if we may be down by a score, we are going to find a way to come out and win, and if we don’t like last week, we’re really disappointed. We just feel like we should be a playoff caliber team and clearly we’re not this year, but going forward, moving forward we feel that we should next year. It’s just a matter of keep building on what we’re doing right now. I think we’re headed in the right direction, that decision is definitely not up to me but I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
RE: Do you get a sense that your teammates would like to see Mike Singletary back as Head Coach next year?
“Yeah, definitely. That’s what everybody’s been talking about, but like I said, that’s out of our control, we just got to show up and play football, but he’s been a tremendous help for us.”
RE: Do you think you need to keep him as Coach to keep going in that direction and keep the continuity?
“I think we are heading in the right direction, but I’m not the one in charge of that. Whatever weight it holds from the players’ standpoint, we all feel comfortable will him and feel that he’s done a good job, but like I said, it’s not our decision to make.”
RE: What have you seen from their offensive line? They have Orlando Pace and [Richie] Incognito coming back, it seems like they are all playing better?
“They are. I think they are a pretty decent group when they play together. They got some players that are still playing physical. They can run the ball. They ran the ball on us a little bit last time we played them. A little bit had to do with the score and we were getting after the passer, but they are a capable group.”
Takeo Spikes - Matt Hazeltine Award Winner
RE: Takeo, talk about winning the award [and] what it means to you?
“It’s a big honor. I didn’t realize what I’ve won up until about a couple of minute ago, until it was explained to me just because of the reason that comes behind it. The long hours, the long days that I spent here at the facility on a consistent basis, for it to not go unnoticed. That’s what I’m more so proud of.”
RE: Can you talk about Steven Jackson coming back to the Rams this week? What does he bring for their offense? How does he change things for them?
“Explosive runner. The last time I played against him was his rookie year, so he really didn’t get a lot of touches at the time. But now, just from me seeing him, he’s explosive, man. Just being able to stop, start, change of direction. What presents the biggest problem is the size. He’s a big back, but he’s able to do what small backs are able to do – stop and change directions.”
RE: And he’s a pass catcher, too.
“He’s got good hands coming out of the backfield. He is the X factor. In my mind he’s the X factor, so we have to know where he’s at, at all times?
RE: Have you seen any changes in [Marc] Bulger since the last couple of games he’s kind of picked up his play?
“I think he’s more efficient. I think that comes from attention to detail as far as the guys running the right routes, catching the ball more than anything. I think that by his offensive line giving him a little bit more time to make the completions, I think that’s why he’s having the success that he is compared to last time.”
RE: And the line got [Orlando] Pace back. He’s kind of in the mix with [Richie] Incognito…a couple starters. That’s got to be the big reason, right?
“Yeah, the offensive line. They’re giving him more time, bottom line. They’re giving him more time to throw the ball. Early when we played against him the first time, he was very unsettled. Now you see him getting his feet set, making the correct throws, not rushing anything.”
RE: In the second quarter of the first matchup, you guys had [forced] three turnovers. It really got the momentum going. How big is it to just get that kind of repeat performance this time around and create the turnovers?
“It’s very big, because even though their record hasn’t indicated what type of team that they are right now, to me they are the most dangerous team to go in and to take lightly, simply because they’re a team that doesn’t have anything to play for. People could say that we’re a team that really doesn’t have anything to play for, but we know in-house we do. To let a team like that hang around, stay around the game, and if you don’t make the proper plays when needed, they will pull the game out in the end. It’s a must that we get the turnovers, we do everything that’s needed to be done.”
RE: Did you happen to see Singletary on “Letterman”, the actor Singletary. I know you guys are really busy but did you hear about it?
“I didn’t get a chance.”
RE: Letterman’s been doing like a kind of bit. They’ve had two Mike Singletary actors appear on his show.
“No [laughs]. Was it the press conference?”
RE: Yeah, kind of. [It was] like a little talkback type of thing going on.
“No, I didn’t get a chance to see it.”
RE: I guess my question would be you know how they do that ‘How long do you think before obviously the end of the season the real Mike Singletary…? Could you see him accepting an invitation to Letterman if he were offered?
“No, I don’t know if he would do that or not. Now, what would be the greatest thing of all-time, which I know he probably wouldn’t do, is after football is over when he’s out of the league. The Coors Light commercial. If they go back and redo his press conference, now that would be the best. That would be, but we can all dream.”
Eric Heitmann - Bobb McKittrick Award Winner
RE: On winning the Bobb McKittrick Award.
“It’s been great. It’s appreciated very much.”
RE: Did you know Bobb at all?
“I did not. I did not get to know him. I did get to play with some offensive linemen that had been coached by him. Everything you hear is – he’s just a legend.”
RE: Can you talk about the Rams defensive line? What have you seen from them?
“The defensive line from the Rams: they’re quick, they’re fast, and they’re a leaner group. Not typical from what we’ve seen in the past. I’ve heard Little’s a little bit banged up. But the guys that they’ve got to replace them, they’re great football players and we’ve got to be at our best this week.”
RE: Would you say the Rams stadium is a tough place to play because of the dome, the crowd noise…?
“It can be. The times I’ve played there in the past when it’s been loud – the fans there can really crank it up. So, again, we’ve got to be great on all of our signals, our calls, everybody’s got to be in tune. We can’t let the noise be a factor in this week.”
RE: Can you talk about DeShaun Foster and how he stepped up this week, and how confident you guys are in him this week?
“DeShaun did a tremendous job last week for us. He runs really hard. He hits the hole just moving his feet, getting extra yardage for us. As an offensive line, that’s what you want to see in a running back. With Frank [Gore] and DeShaun back there in our backfield, we’re in great shape going into this week.”
RE: Is there much difference really between those guys as far as how they approach their jobs and how you block for them?
“No, as offensive line, we’ve got our rules set on each play. We’ve got the linebackers and the defensive line, how we block them is not going to change from week to week. With DeShaun and Frank, both of them do an excellent job of reading our blocks and getting what they can out of what we do for them out front.”
RE: The Rams have Chris Draft at linebacker. What do you see from him since you guys played together?
“Chris is a tremendous linebacker. He’s a guy who’s experienced, he’s been around the league for a while. He’s a Stanford guy. He’s a good player. He’s a solid veteran. He knows where to be. He’s not going to make mistakes. He doesn’t really overrun things a lot. But again, he is fast. He makes a lot of plays. With him and [Orlando] Pace in there at linebacker, they’ve got a great linebacking core.”
RE: How do you feel about how the offensive line has played recently? You’ve got to feel pretty good about the way things have come together.
“The offensive line – I think that we’ve really jelled as a unit. We’ve done a lot to really upgrade our positions inside. We’re playing better. We’re keeping them off Shaun. We’re opening holes for Frank and DeShaun. We’ve got to continue to do that and keep building on what we’ve done, and keep getting better with these last few games approaching.”
RE: You see the good offensive lines are the ones that stick around have continuity from year to year. Everyone is coming back, everyone is under contract. Do you think there’s a chance here to develop into that sort of fixture?
“I think so. With an offensive line, you want to develop trust and continuity. I think those are the two things that are extremely important as an offensive line moves forward. To be able to have our offensive line and our group together, I think it’s going to really just be a great asset for us in the future.”
RE: Since you’ve been here, has there been that sort of thing where you’ve had the same offensive line for two straight years?
“The only year I can think of was maybe my first and second years here. Might be the only two years where we’ve stayed intact. Other than that, we’ve had injuries. Guys have shuffled in and out. Contract years have been up. So I’m looking forward to keeping the same guys together next year.”
RE: Could you talk about finishing games, finishing drives and how important that is?
“Certainly. The fourth quarter is huge for us as a team. As an offense, we’ve got to finish in the fourth quarter. That’s something that is paramount for us this week, into these next two weeks. Some games we’ve been in it in the fourth and we’ve played extremely well. A lot of the games this season we have not been good in the fourth quarter, and we’ve got to play well and finish this week.”