49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh spoke to the media yesterday and it might have been the most enjoyable press conference I've seen of his in a while. He is definitely more gregarious when the 49ers win, although he still holds most of his information fairly close to the vest.
The best run of comments came when he was discussing Frank Gore. At one point he discussed Gore's injury issues and described him as not normal and having super human powers:
I can't compare him to any other player that I've ever been around. Then, when you add up the injuries he's had, some of the serious knee, shoulder, hip type of injuries. Lesser guys would have called it a career, let alone to comeback and having the kind of year that Frank is having. He's a different guy. He's not normal. He's not you and me. No, he's not any of us. Not the normal guy. There are super human powers there."
Before that he was asked about potentially honoring Gore at some point for his record-setting achievement, passing Joe Perry on the team's NFL rushing yards list. He pointed to how they were more about spontaneous than planned celebrations, but that there should be some kind of tribute to Frank the Tank:
There should be [a tribute]. There should be a statue to Frank. Maybe with the new stadium. There should be something somewhere. A life size statue of him in one of those cool positions he gets in. About six inches off the ground, or a leg going on way, and the other going the other, twisting and turning. It's just so cool. It's just so cool to slow the tape down and watch what he does. Really, even the sweep he ran where he got to the six inch yard line. I really had to run that back a bunch of times. He may not have gotten in, but it was an incredible use of his leg strength. He got hit about the three yard line and stuck his leg in the ground and all that force is coming down on him and he's able to then catapult his body. And really, I thought, got the ball to the goal line. It was an amazing feat of leg strength."
This is the second time he has discussed how Frank is able to get down low and maintain an insanely low center of gravity. When Coach Harbaugh describes that play, or really any other exciting play or great performance, he really seems to light up. Given his playing and coaching career he's a lot different than we as fans. Nonetheless, there is something about Coach Harbaugh when he gets excited about something where he seems like just another awed fan. I don't know what it is, but it's pretty awesome. Makes it all the easier to be a huge fan of the guy.
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - December 5, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
What's the occasion?
"I was at a funeral for Chester McGlockton."
Was that up in Palo Alto?
"Hayward. Wonderful service."
Did you speak?
Have you gotten any of the results of the MRI from LB Patrick Willis?
"No. Nothing to share."
What is your sense on the severity of that injury?
"I would not be able to tell you that. Not in Patrick's body."
But just the black and white, what has the MRI shown?
"Like I said, don't have any results of that."
Have you spoken to him at all?
"Not to Patrick today, no."
Some of his teammates seem to downplay it, saying they're glad it was a hamstring injury and he'll be back shortly. Is that what you think as well? Not going to be a long term injury?
"It's hard to say with any injury including a hamstring."
Are you pretty impressed with the way LB Larry Grant was able to step in there? Obviously the defense didn't skip a beat if they posted their first shut out.
"I was very impressed with Larry's play. We've got a lot of confidence in Larry Grant as a football player. A contributor on our team. I thought he played outstanding. You could hear his play in the ball game yesterday. Big hit. I know I heard it from where I was. I think probably pretty far away too, you could hear that one. It was a physical game style of football that he plays. He's a very good football player. Everybody believes in him. And the rest of the guys, too. [LB] NaVorro [Bowman] continues to play at a consistently good, high level. One of the top backers in the game, really. He's becoming that before our eyes. It's great to see. [DTs] Justin [Smith], Ray [McDonald], [NT] Isaac [Sopoaga], again. They just played really, really good football in this game. The outside backers were excellent. Ahmad [Brooks], Parys [Haralson], Aldon [Smith], once again, did some things that were dominant at times. That bodes really well for us, the way all of our linebackers are playing."
Were you at all surprised that Larry Grant wasn't rusty at all, as far as playing from scrimmage since the first 12 weeks, his action was just limited to special teams?
"Rusty? Wow. No, I wasn't surprised that he went in and played well if that's what you're asking. I think everybody understands that Larry is an outstanding football player. Larry puts a lot into this on a daily basis. We see him every day. In fact, we see him sometimes on Tuesdays. Larry's out there getting extra reps on Tuesday. He's just been fantastic all year long. He's not a talkative guy when it comes to being a self promoter or anything like that. He just consistently plays hard, hustles, plays physical. Takes a lot of pride in his own personal performance. You see it every day from our standpoint. You expect it."
In the preseason, in the special teams also, just like yesterday with Stephen Jackson, he had very violent collisions. Early on when you were getting to know him as a player, is that one thing that kind of stood out to you? I guess you have to have that as a linebacker, but he seems to always be involved in very high impact collisions.
"Yes. Very much like that about Larry. He's got a high level of contact courage. We've seen it all year. The one that stands out in my mind is going back to Cincinnati. Seeing how fast he could get from point A to point B and make contact with his full body at full speed, full throttle. All the analogies you'd want to use: the hammer, not the nail; the aggressor, not the aggressee. At full speed it's a beautiful thing. In fact, Larry was the special teams captain going in to this game. Of course [RB] Frank [Gore] is our offensive captain, Patrick Willis if our defensive captain and then we name a special teams captain each week based on their play the week before. Larry was the special teams captain for this game."
Was that because they were playing the Rams?
"Based on their play the week before."
When you referenced the play against the Bengals in Cincinnati, was it a specific play you were talking about?
Was that his first time on kickoff coverage?
"No. It was that kind of collision, though. That kind of impact, contact courage, big hit play. A big one like that. That was the first one I remember. There's been several since."
There was a message in the locker room a little bit as we went around today. Sure, we took the first step by winning the division but we have a lot of improving on both sides of the ball and this is only the first step. This group wants to do a lot more. What's that kind of mentality mean to have at this stage for you guys?
"Improvement equals success formula. Our guys have been really all about that this entire season. Improvement will lead to wins. Wins will lead to championships. If we can get better than we were yesterday then we'll chase that .01 percent improvement. I think it's a great thing. Winning the division (is) much like a diploma or certificate that you might receive in school that has your name on it, and what you did, and put that in a little frame, put it up on the wall and feel good about that accomplishment. Then move forward to the next goal."
You knelt next to Patrick Willis yesterday when he was injured. What went through your mind right when he got hurt?
"Just checking on him. I guess I was more relieved that it wasn't a knee. That area that they were working on, I was concerned about that for Patrick and for our team. It was just like when [CB Tarell] T. Brown went down and kind of grabbed at his foot area, the first thing that goes through your mind is. ‘Ooh gosh, he went pretty quick toward the foot area there, I hope that's not an Achilles.' Those kinds of things. You go out and check on it and feel relief."
Talking to some of your players, they showed, especially on defense, some excitement yesterday on the field for the first time. They said they're kids, they want to enjoy, too. What is your message to them, though, as they go into the playoffs, a place where many of them haven't been, to have fun but make sure the celebrations aren't costly. What's your philosophy on that?
"As I told you yesterday, my feelings on celebrations are that they should be spontaneous, not planned out. When it comes to the three guys dancing, that's going to draw a penalty. Get over to the sideline and dance. Dance all you want, really. That's not going to get a penalty. Just being really disciplined when it comes to doing things that might cost your team, that you don't want to do."
Who gets your offensive game ball from yesterday?
"There's quite a few candidates really. Definitely Alex Smith would be a candidate for a game ball. Thought he was outstanding. Threw some beautiful passes in this game. Passes that went up, turned over, floated down like a feather on several plays. I thought he really stepped up in the pocket and made very decisive decisions and accurate throws. Kyle Williams definitely was explosive a couple times. Once with the great catch over the middle, which he's really showing an aptitude to do now. Make the tough spectacular catch over the middle, which is not an easy place to make spectacular catches. Then, the catch and run for the touchdown, the reverse. I thought he did a very nice job. Not happy with the clip. Frank, of course, has just been so consistently good. Tough yardage carries, explosive carries. Protection again was outstanding. One of Frank's better protection games. [TE] Delanie [Walker]. Also, [WR] Michael Crabtree continues to play almost better and better each week. Not just the catches, not just the things that show up on the stat sheet. The blocking and he's so on with his assignments. He's doing a great job. [WR] Teddy Ginn. Quite a few guys, really."
You managed to hit those deep balls. How important is that for opening things up for Frank Gore as the season progresses and you guys get into the playoffs?
"It's a part of it. You want that in your arsenal. You want that arrow in your quiver. You want that. You want that club in your bag. I think we've got the guys to do it. It was nice to see us execute it and not have it taken away by a penalty or something of that nature.
You mentioned Michael Crabtree. He wasn't on the injury report leading into the Rams game. Have you seen a healthier Michael Crabtree? Can you tell that he's healthier when you look at him on film and in games?
That catch that he made, could he have made that, run the route the way he did, earlier in the season?
"Hard to say. Yes, I think he's moving better. He looks healthier. His gate looks better. He's such a tough guy. He never says a word about what's nagging him or bothering him. He just suits up and goes and plays. You ask him how he's doing and he says he's fine. He's that kind of guy."
Playing off that a little bit, say Patrick goes into this weekend, he's cleared to play but maybe he's not all there or there are still some worries that he might not be fresh for the playoffs if he keeps playing on that leg. Do you think about that now? Do you think about resting a few to be fresh for January?
"We're not in a position to rest. But that's an easy one. I don't really even consider that hypothetical. That's the trainers and Patrick will give the feed back there. Those guys will make that decision."
Since Frank had that five straight 100-yard games and had to the leave the game against the Giants with the ankle injury, his production has dipped since then. Is that a function of defenses gearing up more so to stop him or is he still not playing 100 percent completely healthy or option C, a combination of both?
"I think we've played some good run defenses. I think Frank's healthy, though. He's another guy. He's just another guy that plays and doesn't really complain. He doesn't talk about bumps and bruises. Shoot, the one week, I still go back to that one, the Philadelphia week where he didn't practice at all, not all week. Not even a walk through rep. Didn't think there was any way that he was going to play, but there was some hope still. He got out there and we said we'll see how you feel pregame and he looked pretty darn good in the pregame. Then he had a really good game against the Eagles. I've never seen anything like him to be honest with you. I can't compare him to any other player that I've ever been around. Then, when you add up the injuries he's had, some of the serious knee, shoulder, hip type of injuries. Lesser guys would have called it a career, let alone to comeback and having the kind of year that Frank is having. He's a different guy. He's not normal. He's not you and me. No, he's not any of us. Not the normal guy. There are super human powers there."
Those end arounds, all three worked, or reverses... are those end arounds or reverses? We were having this discussion.
"Two were reverses. One was a fly sweep."
They were all effective.
"Thanks to Pete Lavorato over at Sacred Heart Prep. The fly sweep master. We had a great fly sweep clinic about two and a half years ago. He learned us up on the fly sweep and it's paying dividends for us."
They were all effective. The reverses and fly sweep were all effective yesterday. Is that a function of Frank Gore being in the backfield in part?
"In part I would think yes. Definitely, Frank helps the play action. Helps even some of the deep balls really because the safeties play lower. Helps the reverse game, helps the fly sweep game when defenders are playing tighter in the box."
When you watched film during the lockout and you tried to gather trends around the NFL and watch every game that you could, did you see the fly sweep being used in the NFL last year?
"Really only in the wildcat formations. There were some and mostly it was used as a fake. As an eye distraction."
But never as a hand off?
"I wouldn't say never. I can think of some of the wildcat, there was maybe a handoff or two, but mostly was used as an eye distraction to run. The running back steps back, fakes the fly sweep and then runs power off tackle. I can't recall seeing it as a handoff."
There's a national perception about the offense that at times it's careful, not turning it over, conservative and things like that. Do you think the kind of game you had against St. Louis where you throw a couple of bombs, you have these end-arounds or reverses, do you think that changes the perception at all of what the offense can do? Or what the offense is?
"I don't know. I don't know if it does change the perception or not or what the perception really was going in other than what you say it is."
At the appropriate time, might you pay tribute to Frank Gore for becoming the franchise rushing leader? I'm not saying now, but would that be something you guys would consider?
"I think so. It brings up a great question. Don't plan the celebrations, you know. There should be. There should be a statue to Frank. Maybe with the new stadium. There should be something somewhere. A life size statue of him in one of those cool positions he gets in. About six inches off the ground, or a leg going on way, and the other going the other, twisting and turning. It's just so cool. It's just so cool to slow the tape down and watch what he does. Really, even the sweep he ran where he got to the six inch yard line. I really had to run that back a bunch of times. He may not have gotten in, but it was an incredible use of his leg strength. He got hit about the three yard line and stuck his leg in the ground and all that force is coming down on him and he's able to then catapult his body. And really, I thought, got the ball to the goal line. It was an amazing feat of leg strength."
He seemed to want you to challenge that. Why didn't you guys do it at that time? Were you hearing something...
"I still haven't seen a TV copy of it, but upstairs they were saying that he didn't get in. He probably didn't. The ball probably was short of the goal-line, just from watching the coach's tape. When his back hit, that's what his first was his back. Couldn't tell exactly where the ball was on the coach's tape relative to the goal line. It was darn close. You guys see anything on the TV copy? Well, wish I would have."
Six hours after the game you said it was the best to celebrate the victory and you talked about being spontaneous. How did you spend your six hours?
"With the fellas in the locker room. Then, after in the parking lot a bit. Then drove home and hung out with the girls and went to bed at 8:30 pm. It was a really nice evening."
What time did you get up?
"Woke up at 3:30am."
Did you watch film?
"Well, I had to drive my car in though, first."
Your offense calls some play from the pistol formation and your backup quarterback in college was like the pistol master. Do you guys ask him questions about the pistol? Learn from him? Or do you and Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman sort of have your own handle of that yourselves?
"We have. We have talked to him on a few topics of the pistol offense."
Anything that you can share?
"No, not really."
What else do you do in the early hours? If you get here at 4 a.m. maybe?
"Not every day, but today especially I wanted to get the film watched before I headed over to Chester's service."
So a little earlier than a normal Monday?
Your players after the game were watching the Green Bay-Giants game. Is that something... I know Defensive Line Coach Jim Tomsula and other coaches talk about getting everything that is out there. Do you talk with players about other games and how they affect the playoff standings? I know you still have your job to do, but is that common topic of discussion?
"It hasn't been, no. It hasn't been a common topic of discussion. It's come up. I'm sure it'll come up more in the next few weeks. Has significance."