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49ers OC Mike Johnson: Booth Or No Booth?

I wanted to look at one last issue from Mike Johnson's press conference yesterday. Before Jimmy Raye was fired there was quite a bit of discussion about whether he would be up in the booth or down on the field. Mike Johnson has been on the field as QB coach and now the issue has brought up with him as well.

On whether he will call the games now from the sidelines or upstairs:

"That is something that we are still trying to decide as a staff and we probably won't come up with that probably until Saturday, probably sometime Saturday evening. But, I think I'll be comfortable either on the field or either upstairs, so we'll have to talk about that and then come together as a staff and then decide what we want to do."

Yesterday Matt Maiocco wrote up a rundown of Johnson's press conference and at the end he put together a rundown of all the primary play-calling coaches in the NFL and where they called the plays. Of the 31 teams in the NFL, 24 had their primary play-caller down on the sideline. I'd imagine they all have assistants up in the booth, but the OC (or head coach calling the plays) is down on the field where he can easily communicate with offensive players (the QB in particular).

Any thoughts on whether this will make any difference for the offense? I suppose communication issues can be resolved when you remove any kind of middle man. And you can have an easier discussion of what went right and what went wrong on the previous series. And as long as you have somebody as the proverbial eye in the sky I'd suspect having the OC on the sideline can be a great benefit.

Offensive Coordinator Mike Johnson
Post-Walk Through - September 30, 2010
San Francisco 49ers 

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On what the first step is coming in here:

"Just making sure that we get the coaching staff on the same page. Make sure we get collaborated from an organizational standpoint, how we're going to do things from a system, and just make sure that we detail the meetings and just get to a point where we can operate from the same standpoint as a coaching staff."

On how your night went from the point that head coach Mike Singletary told you that he was considering making a change:

"Well, he gave me a call and had me come over and we talked a little bit, and he wanted me to put together a list of how I would do things. It's something that I have thought about for a long time, and basically it was just a how I would take personnel with [TE] Vernon Davis, [RB] Frank Gore, [WR] Michael Crabtree, and all the other guys that we have and then kind of put them together and make it work. And then it had a philosophical standpoint from how I would build a team, from an offensive standpoint of things that I believe in, and I did it. But, it's something that I have thought about before and something that just didn't come up that night. It was something that I have always had in my mind if I ever had the opportunity to let it out, I would."

On whether he was able to sleep at that point:

"I slept a little. I slept a little, but it was late when he called me and I went back home and I put it together and I brought it back to him in the morning, but I did, I did get a little sleep. But it wasn't anything that I had just thought of, you know, randomly. It's something that I believe in and something that I have always thought of. I was pretty prepared for that question if it ever came up."

On whether Singletary gave any indication that he was making a change prior to it happening and if he asked him why when he made the change:

"No, he didn't tell me anything the night before and I didn't ask why. He just gave me the question and I answered the question that he gave me. I didn't ask him why he wanted it. I didn't ask him anything. I just made sure that I gave him what he needed to make any decision that he had to make."

On what he plans to do with the offense that hasn't been done up to this point in terms of why the offense has been struggling:

"Well, the way I look at that is Jimmy Raye left a great foundation here. Jimmy Raye is one of the best football coaches that I have ever been around, and I kind of correlate it to two women wearing the same dress. You know you have football players, you have an offense, but you can have two women wearing the same dress and they look totally different, and what I'm going to do, try to do, is to get the ball to the players on our offense that can make plays. To utilize the talent and the potential that we have here as an offense, and get our quarterback and get our people, the skilled athletes that we have here, the ball in space where they can do something with it and run.

On whether he is leaning more towards the spread and what his general philosophy on offense is:

"Well, I believe that you have to be multiple and be diversified. I think you have to have multiple packages. I think you have to have two tight end packages, I think you have to have two tight end, two back packages, and you also have to spread them out. One of the basic philosophies that I believe in is that I think you have to make a defense defend the entire field. I think you can't let a defense squeeze you between the numbers, and we're going to do things to make them have to defend the entire field."

On his experience back in 2003 when he called plays for two games and how that has prepared him to jump in here and take over as offensive coordinator:

"Well, it's almost the same way. I got a call that night from [then Falcons head coach] Wade Phillips, after our game in Indy. We had two games left against Tampa Bay and Jacksonville after Dan Reeves had been fired, and he asked me to call the plays for the last two weeks. I had to go in there on Monday and come together with the staff and put together a game plan and then go into Tampa and play a very good defense. And the difference between what we are doing now and what we were doing there was that I had [QB] Michael Vick at quarterback and the one stipulation that I had was don't run him. So, go play a football game with Michael Vick and then don't let him run, and we had to do that. We went to the game and we ended up doing pretty decent and we won the game against Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, so those are the similarities. But I think any time you get to call the plays in an NFL game and you get to put together a game plan, I think that is good preparation for if you ever become a coordinator later on."

On whether he called those plays from upstairs or the sidelines:

"I called those games from upstairs."

On whether he will call the games now from the sidelines or upstairs:

"That is something that we are still trying to decide as a staff and we probably won't come up with that probably until Saturday, probably sometime Saturday evening. But, I think I'll be comfortable either on the field or either upstairs, so we'll have to talk about that and then come together as a staff and then decide what we want to do."

On whether getting Gore the ball is his emphasis:

"Well, I think Frank is a very good running back. I think he is one of the top 5 or so running backs in the league, so you definitely want to get him the ball. But I think we have other play makers here that have the ability to make plays that will make Frank's job of running the ball easy and I think what we'll try to do is just make sure that we get the ball to the people that we have and then each game will be a little bit different. You'll play some games where they try to load the box on you and you'll do certain things, and then certain times they'll probably play a little softer where you'll run it more. So, we're going to look at each game and then decide, based on how they play us, what we're going to do with Frank and make sure we get him the ball one way or another."

On whether your idea is to maximize QB Alex Smith's effectiveness:

"I think that's important for any quarterback. I think you have to look at what they do well and what they don't do well and then you have to emphasize the good points. I think what we're going to try to do with Alex Smith is to come together as a staff and then see what Alex Smith does really well and what he doesn't do well, and we are going to try and stay away from the bad stuff and see if we can get him to the point where we can get him a better opportunity to go out and win games.

On what his assessment is of Alex Smith's passes and why they are sailing high and being tipped:

"I don't think that. Maybe one high pass, but a couple of tipped balls have been in situations where we had a guy rushing and then he backed off and batted the ball and things like that. But, I think as a quarterback, you find throwing lanes. That's why [QB] Doug Flutie could be 5'9 and be an effective passer because you don't throw over defensive linemen, you throw through passing lanes. That's where we do our fundamental footwork drills and we slide and we reset and we do certain things to make sure that we get him to the proper throwing lanes so those balls don't get tipped and you get things like that. But, I don't think the tipped balls or things like that or balls sailing on him have been problems. I know one of the games, against New Orleans when he had a ball tipped and intercepted, we had some pressure off of one side and we didn't make the proper adjustment which caused that problem. So, I mean if we had handled the blitz situation better, then the interception would have never happened."

On whether you plan to incorporate RB Brian Westbrook more into the offense:

"We're going to look for ways to get anybody that can make a play for us to help us win a game into the process."

On whether you plan to incorporate specifically Westbrook more:

"I think we look at that each week. I think we look at who we're playing and does he give us an advantage? Can we put him on the field with Frank and then get a certain play where he can give us a first down or a potential big play? I think we are looking at that and trying to see if we can incorporate him, as well as other guys, [TE] Delanie Walker, as well as we can get guys like that into the game plan in certain situations to help us win the ball game."

On how much he can implement what he wants to do into this Sunday's game:

"Well it's difficult. You can't, you have a book, then you have a certain way that we have been operating so far for the last year and a half, and you can't go in in one week and change the entire playbook. I think there will be some different things, but as a whole, I don't think we'll make a bunch of wholesale changes. I go back to the correlation of the lady in the dress. We're going to take the same core plays, the same core concepts and make them look a little bit different to the opponent and then see if we can have a different result."

On what he can do to get TE Vernon Davis the ball even though teams are doubling coverage on him:

"Yes, and teams are doing things differently than they did to him last year. You know he had a great year last year and he had a lot of vertical plays down the middle and teams are adjusting to that. Other teams watch film also and there will be ways that we counter that. There will be ways that we do things differently to make sure that we get Vernon Davis the ball in space that will allow him to do certain things like last year. So, they may be able to take the vertical down the middle, but there will be other ways that we will incorporate in our game plan to make sure that he touches the ball.

On his creativity and whether he has been given the freedom to run the offense creatively:

"Yes I have. Coach Singletary has a philosophy and he has certain core principles that he wants to operate from, but he has given me the freedom to kind of do certain things within that philosophy to win the football game. And I think Coach Singletary has been misunderstood, to some point, about physicality and running the ball and only wanting to run the ball. That's not the case. He wants to win the game, but he wants to be physical in everything that we do. If we run the ball, he wants to run the ball and he wants every player on our offense to do their assignments with physicality. If we throw the ball, then we need to do that in an aggressive manner also. We need to run routes, we need to catch it, we need to tuck it, we need to finish. We need to do all the things necessary that good football teams do. And the number one thing that we have to do here is take care of the ball and have ball security. If we can do that, I think we're going to give ourselves a chance to win a football game."

On his evaluation of QB Alex Smith through the first three games:

"I think Alex has played okay. He has not played great, and that's why I think our offense is not played to that level. But in saying that, we have to give him a better opportunity as coaches to make sure that he is successful. And that's what I'm going to try to do with the entire offensive staff and we're going to try to put him in a better situation to make sure that he has the success that we need him to have to win football games."

On whether Smith will get more audible responsibilities: 

"Well, he has a lot now, and we just have to make sure that we look at what he's doing and not give him too much from that standpoint so he can go in the game and play without thinking so much."

On whether his previous success with coaching Smith in the spread will transfer to his using the spread more now:

"There will be some. Like I said before, we're going to be the first five. We're going to be multiple in formations and personnel groups and sets and we're going to do certain things to make sure that we make the defense defend the entire field and that will be one portion of the offense that we run."

On whether he scripts the first ‘X' number of plays:

"We will script the first part of the game as a staff. We're going to get that thing together and we're going to try to make sure that when we start a game, our offense understands and knows the plays that are coming early so we can get off to a better start."

On how long having scripted plays will last through the game:

"It depends. It will vary from week to week."

On whether the scripted plays are covered in the meeting before the game or whether Smith hands him the plays he is most comfortable with:

"Well I always ask Alex Smith what he likes in the game plan. I think it's important that the quarterback feels comfortable with the calls that are being made. Together, Alex and I will get together and we will make sure that some of the things that we call are things that he really likes, and if there are certain things that will help us win that he really likes, they'll come early."

On whether it is fair to say that it might take a little while for these new things to happen because of how important timing is:

"Well, it may take time to run it the best way we can, but what we're going to do early is make sure that we get the ball to the players that we need to get in space. Do certain things to make sure that we get the ball to Vernon Davis, we get it to Frank Gore, we get it to (Michael) Crabtree and the other people in our offense that can make plays. We're not sitting here waiting three or four weeks to try to get going. We're going to hit the ground running and the expectation is going to be what it's always been, to play at a high level and then do our part on offense to make sure that we help this team win football games. And that's not going to change."

On whether there is a lot of pressure on him with the team being 0-3 and the shift in offensive coordinator expected to ‘right the ship':

"Well I - some people may think that way but I don't. This is something that I have prepared myself for mentally. It's something that I'm not going to shy away from, I think I'll go into a game and I'll operate the same way that I've always operated. And now the way I operate will be from the coordinator's standpoint. Now I'll have the opportunity to put my stamp on how the game goes and how it's called on offense. And I don't feel that pressure. So I know I understand Coach Singletary's philosophy, I understand how he wants to operate and that's how I'm going to go."

On the process of how he became a member of the 49ers coaching staff:

"Well, Coach Singletary and I met maybe a year or so before I came here. I met Coach Singletary when I was a coach in Baltimore, and we just talked. And then he became head coach and he gave me a call and then we talked. We had an interview and he hired me. But, there was not a long standing relationship there. There were not certain things we had talked about before he got hired as head coach. We didn't have that kind of relationship, but I think he sees a similarity in some of the core values and beliefs that we have and I think that was one of the big selling points."

On what those core values are:

"Just playing physical football, being disciplined, playing smart, being detailed from a fundamental and techniques standpoint - all the core values that go into a good football team. And those are the things that I'm going to try to do with the offense to make sure that he gets what he wants."

On whether there was talk about him being the offensive coordinator earlier than Monday:

"Never. There was never - never discussed, never talked about. And the - up until Monday morning, it was never discussed."

On what was happening with the headset problems early in the season:

"Well, that's a question that I don't even want to go into or answer. I don't want to look back, I don't want to talk about what happened before when Jimmy was the coordinator. All I'm doing now is looking ahead and going forward to this Sunday's game. Whatever happened before that, it happened. And now I'm the coordinator. I'm going to move forward and try to get this team to play the best I can. But I really don't want to talk about what happened before he hired me Monday."

On whether he has talked to Jimmy Raye since Monday:

"No, I have not."

On why the team has struggled on the road and what he can do to fix that:

"Well, we're going to talk about it. We've talked about it as a staff, some of the things that we can change from the sideline snap count standpoint. And we're still searching for the best answer. We're going to try to do whatever we can to make sure that we help them out a little bit. But you know, tackles have struggled, quarterbacks have struggled. You know, some of the wide outs, running backs have struggled, struggled on the road in our first two games. And we're going to try to correct that ship going forward. And it's not just tackles - it's been us as a collective group. And collectively as an offensive staff and an offensive unit, we're going to try to move forward and play better on offense."