49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman chatted with the media before practice yesterday and had a chance to discuss the performance of the offensive line. The o-line received a lot of criticism in training camp and early in the season. They still make mistakes along the way, but it seems to me that there has been steady improvement within the unit.
As I have watched the 49ers over the last ten weeks, it is often hard for me to fully assess the work of the offensive line. There are times we see somebody blow by a lineman and wonder what happened. There are times a gaping hole opens for a huge run. One thing that has potentially improved the team against the pass rush is that it seems like Alex Smith is doing a better job of stepping up in the pocket and creating some time with his legs. Either he is rolling further out or he just goes straight into rushing mode.
Consider this sort of an open thread for offensive line discussion. I don't spend as much time as I should going back and just looking at offensive line performance. I'm thinking as we get into the offseason i'll spend some time on that going one player at a time. For now, what say you?
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Press Conference - November 17, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
"We're working hard on this Arizona defense. They had a coordinator change this year. Their defense is a Pittsburgh Steelers scheme. They brought in their defensive coordinator who had been with the Steelers for quite awhile. They play extremely hard. They're getting much better, playing with much more confidence and expertise within that scheme. They've got a really active front seven; very athletic. The DBs are very active, the corners have great length and very good ball skills. They're really tough and they're an improving group. The past couple weeks have been very evident of that. Our focus is strictly on getting ready for this game. Okay, anybody got anything?"
Given that during the lockout (inaudible) seeing them on film, how much do you think that is from learning and scheming for him?
"I really don't know, I'm not there, so I don't know. I don't think they've put in the full Pittsburgh package. They've got quite a bit of it in, but I'm sure they will at some point. Maybe this week, so we better be ready for it."
Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson has gotten a lot attention for his punt returning but he was drafted mainly to be a corner. What have you seen from his as a cornerback?
"Great question. Very athletic, changes directions extremely well. Finds the ball extremely well. Has very good length and jumping ability so he can make plays on the ball. He's not playing like a rookie, that's for sure. You're talking about a very, very athletic guy who plays hard. He's a very talented guy."
He had returned a lot of punts and kicks for touchdowns and also interceptions for touchdowns in the college game. Does that ever coach to what you guys need to do if there is an interception? Do you coach your players on how to chase down a cornerback or a safety?
"We sure do. We try not to do it full speed all the time because in our history there have been some great blow up shots there in practice on your own team. In the sake of protecting our players, we try not to do that full speed. We don't want one of those big guys to pull a hamstring either."
Speaking of big guys, how is your offensive line playing? How have they made this transition over the last seven or eight games?
"They're transition really started the day they got here. Learning a new system and gelling together, that certainly is part of being a good offensive line. They've done a really good job just coming in every day with a lunch pail. Every aspect of their game has improved incrementally throughout the season. We look forward to that process to continue, but it's definitely a trend at this point. Those guys are working extremely hard, very detail-oriented in really all aspects, run game, pass protection, understanding the system, communication which is paramount with the offensive line. In pass protection, our backs do a great job and the tight ends have done a good job. So, we've got to continue doing a good job."
When you say that communication is paramount, does that mainly filter through C Jonathan Goodwin?
"It does. It generally starts through Goodwin but every player at some point will facilitate some communication or adjustment, but primarily through the center."
T Anthony Davis gave up a lot of sacks and had a lot of penalties last year. This year those are way down. Is he a guy who's sort of made the most improvement through this year on the line?
"I don't know about comparing him with others but he has definitely made improvement, very much so through the course of training camp and this season. He really has, I'd say, I don't want to use the word skyrocketed but he's playing at a much higher level. Success breeds confidence and confidence breeds improvement. That's what we're seeing and we need to continue to see it."
The perception of the team so far is that despite Coach Harbaugh saying he wanted to be 50/50 run and pass, you guys have excelled way better in the run over the pass. But then Sunday did more pass because that was your game plan. Do you feel like you made a statement to the rest of the league or at least to yourself that even though we're doing the Roman run, we can also be a good passing team?
"I understand what you're saying. I don't think it was a statement at all, it was really us going out and executing the game plan. We understand the nature of this and when a team takes extreme measures to stop one thing, then you want to attack elsewhere. That's what happened on Sunday and we felt that that would happen and that's what happened. I don't think on either side of the ball you can be one dimensional, on defense or offense. We strive for balance and every week is different. Our players knew they could do that, we practice it every day. It's something we have to continue getting better at. You got to be balanced, got to be able to do both."
In your view, is the term ‘game manager' a compliment to a quarterback?
"I don't even know what that is. To me, I understand what people are getting at with that but you're talking about a player that basically runs the offense, has four or more 280-plus pound guys trying to knock his head off every play, and has to play football every play. He is a football player, a quarterback. Said it before, managers are in baseball, quarterbacks are in football. Obviously a quarterback is a quarterback. His skill set may be different, just like a running back's skill set is different or a defensive end's skill set is different. To try to take the quarterback position and say ‘this is what a quarterback is' is lunacy."
How would you describe QB Alex Smith's instinct?
"Extreme. Alex Smith is very athletic, very smart, thinks well on his feet, very accurate. All the things that go into being a quarterback. Very poised, very good communicator, very smart, can learn something cold after one explanation and can transfer that from the meeting room to the field. Some guys can recite the game plan to you inside and then they get outside and the screen goes fuzzy. That's not the case with Alex. Understands defense, just a very good quarterback. Alex, like everybody else, has got to continue to strive for improvement."
How much does the pass blocking change if you don't have RB Frank Gore available. I know RB Kendall Hunter is expected to step in but they have different skill sets. How does that change the offense as far as pass blocking?
"It doesn't really because those guys have done a good job when they've been asked to. Our protections change, however, on a week to week basis, based on who we're playing. We spend a lot of time on how the best way to protect is versus certain teams: 3-4, 4-3, blitzing, matchups, scheme, players, formation, tendencies. A lot of thought and preparation goes into that. Every running back in the NFL has to be able to pass protect or he is a liability."
What's the largest player you've seen Kendall take on?
"I can't remember offhand. I've seen him take on some of our guys at practice. He's doing a great job."
Do you ever think twice about having him in pass protection?
"No. He's strong. Strong lower body and gets better all the time at pass protecting. Kendall will develop into a great pass protector at some point."
Has any team this season before the Giants been as extreme about wanting to take the run away and do you anticipate other teams doing that in the future?
"I think that's a great question. To answer your question, no. The Giants took extreme measures. Measures that I have rarely seen in the National Football League. Nice adjustment by them, it really was. Do I anticipate it happening in the future? You never know. You got to be ready to adjust, people can do whatever they want to do. It was definitely something they stressed."
What was so extreme about it?
"It was pretty much a numbers situation. Extremely loaded boxes. You got to go to some high school fields to find that loaded a box. It is what it is and they're a very good team. We were glad to get away with that one but right now it's all about Arizona."