49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio chatted with the media on Thursday before practice and discussed some of the injury situations. We already know about Isaac Sopoaga, but it's worth noting that he thinks Donte Whitner should be good to go. Whitner was active last week but never played as it appears he wasn't quite ready to go in a starting role.
The other significant injury is Shawntae Spencer. Fangio wasn't sure of Spencer's status prior to practice and Spencer ended up not practicing on Thursday, which is now two straight days without practice. He could still play, but it seems highly questionable for now. If he is unable to go, that means a sizable increase in rookie Chris Culliver's role. We'll have a more on Culliver's performance against the Eagles a little later this morning, but for this Sunday, he could be looking at a third cornerback role. It's a tough situation so it will be interesting to see if Culliver is up to the challenge.
Head after the jump to check out Fangio's extensive comments about those topics and also the youth on the defensive line.
Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio
Press Conference - October 6, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
Listen to Audio I Media Center
Do you know or expect what the status of DT Isaac Sopoaga will be on Sunday? Do you expect to have him ready for the game?
"I think right now it would be highly unlikely that he'll play this Sunday."
What have you seen from his replacement [DT] Ricky Jean Francois? How many snaps, about, has he been getting at nose tackle in these first... because he didn't get a lot this last game?
"No, he didn't get much this past game. This past game was different in that it was such a passing game. They threw 60 passes in this last game, or called 60 passing plays and only 12 running plays, so obviously it was a different game. We're very confident in Ricky. When Isaac was out at the beginning of camp and Ricky was getting all the snaps and played nose tackle for us in the first preseason game against New Orleans, I believe it was and then played a good bit in the second game, he did fine. If he played the way he did in those games, we're more than in good shape there."
If it comes down to [DT Demarcus] Dobbs or [NT] Ian Williams to be activated this Sunday, really what are you looking for from those two players that will determine who will play?
"One's more of a nose, one's more of an end so it will come down to where we need the position by nose or end type thing. Both of them are capable of playing each other's position, but Williams is more of a nose who can play some end; Dobbs is more of an end who can play some nose."
Are you guys capable of playing a 4-3?
"We can, yes."
In that case, then you could have three of the outside linebackers become defensive ends?
"No, it would be the other way around because we only have three outside linebackers on our roster. If we lost two of them in a game, we would make one of our defensive lineman act like an outside linebacker."
You guys have only really used four defensive linemen in part of the rotation through four games. Will that continue the same way or will you expect Williams and Dobbs or both if they're going to be up, to be in a rotation?
"They'll be in the rotation just the way it's been going for the most part. If they're taking Will's place and they're taking Isaac's place on the roster, on the active roster, and Ricky's taking Isaac's place in the starting lineup, so those guys are taking the fourth and fifth spots. However we see fit to rotate those guys, just like we have in the first four, games will continue."
Is Tampa Bay the kind of team where you might want to rotate your defensive line more than usual just to keep those guys fresh against a guy like [RB] LeGarrette Blunt?
"As always, you want to keep those guys fresh. I think the biggest thing in keeping defensive linemen fresh is what kind of game is it. If you're getting, if they're driving and having a bunch of eight and nine and ten play series on you, then you need to roll your guys more than if you're getting off the field quicker, so it kind of depends upon how the game is going."
You had [S Donte] Whitner practice yesterday for the first time since he got hurt in Cincinnati. Do you expect him to be good all the way through?
"Yeah, he'll be available. He was available last week, but again like you heard me say many times, healthy players are better than unhealthy players and we're going to play the most healthy guys to go out there and play and how it matches up in the game."
What about [CB[ Shawntae [Spencer], do you expect him to play?
"I'm not sure on Shawntae right now. He did not practice yesterday and I haven't heard anything from the medical staff what his status is going to be going forward. I'll have a better idea after today and tomorrow."
[CB] Chris Culliver, is he ready to go? Have you seen improvements from him?
"Yes he's ready to play. He played last week, I don't know, eight to 10 snaps in the game and he's got to be ready to go."
Was the break down, pass-run break down by the Eagles, the primary reason why [LB] Aldon Smith played so much at outside linebacker that you needed the bodies to rotate through that position?
"Right, well Aldon plays in most of our sub packages. Any time we put a fifth or sixth defensive back on the field, that's when Aldon comes in and we're in more of those packages this past game because of the type of offense the Eagles chose to run against us. That's the main reason why he played more."
But he usually plays defensive end in those situations right?
"Correct, and that's what he was playing last week."
When he was standing up?
"He might have stood up, but still the same position."
What have you seen out of [S] Dashon Goldson now that he's got two games in?
"He's getting better each and every week. He came into camp late, had about 10 days of work and then got hurt, and that always sets you back. Now he's played a couple games in a row and I expect him to keep improving and hopefully he will. He had some good plays last week and we need to have good plays out of our safety."
Going back to Aldon, he played on the left side mostly against the Eagles and he didn't do that earlier than in other games. Is it more of a comfort level of him you're trying to get him accustomed, because he says he can play both sides, but we just haven't seen that much. What's kind of your thought on that?
"Well he actually played, I would say more on the right side than the left last week. There are some calls and packages that we use where he'll go over on the left side, but by and large, I still think he was more on the right. We do have some calls and certain packages where he will lineup on the left. He's capable of playing either side."
Where would you rank that play of [DT] Justin Smith where he stripped the ball from?
"Very high. There are a lot of things that go in to thinking about that play. Number one, that was his 70th play of the game, which is a lot for a defensive lineman, particularly in a game where they were throwing the ball as much as they were. Like I said, they called 60 passes in that game. The most physically taxing thing that happens on a football field is pass rush. Obviously, with all of those passes being thrown and him rushing the passer on all of those passes, for him to have that type of energy and hustle at that time of the game, knowing how his body had to be feeling at that point, speaks volumes about what he is as a person. That's a play that I think, that's a defensive equivalent of ‘The Catch.' Now ‘The Catch' happened in an NFC Championship game which added to the luster, this was the fourth regular season game, but it was a tremendous effort."
You guys have been able to generate turnovers when you needed to this year. What do you attribute that to? Is it just a product of the defense?
"Everything, you know. It's been emphasized. Good players, good players make good plays. That's been emphasized and we've tried to make it a big point of emphasis for our team this year."
How has [LB] Ahmad Brooks kind of developed as an every down player this year and what do you see out of him?
"He's developed well. He's played, like you said, almost every play so far this year. I think he's been out for 10 total and he's done a good job for us. He gives us good pass rush, plays the run extremely well when it comes to his side and he's been a good all-around player for us."
[LB NaVorro] Bowman took down [Eagles RB LeSean] McCoy in the open field twice on screens that he got and [Eagles QB Michael] Vick as well. Just his ability to get guys in open field and his athleticism, was that a surprise at all to you or did you see that coming in?
"No, I wouldn't say it's a surprise, but the plays he made were big time plays in the open field. Those are hard guys to tackle in the open field. You mentioned McCoy, who's got a lot of shiftiness to him and quickness. You mentioned Vick, we all know what kind of runner he is in the open field and how many people he's made miss in his career. For NaVorro to make those plays, were huge plays in that game for us to pull out the win."
You had said going into that game that spying is okay, but sometimes it's hard for that spy to take down Vick. Did what he did in the first half cause you to do more NaVorro Bowman spying in the second?
"No, not really. The one time that he ran for, I think it was 20-something yard first down, we were spying him then and [LB] Patrick [Willis] was actually the one spying him, and Patrick got a little bit out of position early on the down and you can't get out of position trying to spy a guy like Vick. Patrick will tell you, he saw how fast Vick was on that play. Patrick usually can run down anybody. But we were mixing who was spying on him."
Does Tampa play a lot of 3-wide? Are they going to test you in that area? Are you going to have to match them with a lot of nickel or do they pretty much save it for third downs?
"Pretty much, they save it for the third downs or when they're behind, two minute type situations. Hadn't been a big package for them on first and second downs coming into this game. We'll see what happens on Sunday."