49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh chatted with the media before practice earlier this afternoon in Youngstown, Ohio and actually had some intriguing comments about the benefits of this road trip. Most of his press conference comments don't tell us a whole lot, but once in a while he'll get on a topic where he feels comfortable chatting and will open up a bit.
In his opening statement he was asked about this week on the road and about the possible changes coming with it. Coach Harbaugh discussed how it is a chance for guys to get to know each other and spend a lot more time together since they're not just hopping in their cars and heading home after practice each day. Additionally he pointed to how on Monday most of them hung out and watched Monday Night Football at the hotel.
Some might view this as something that won't really make any difference on the field, but given the length of the NFL lockout, I do think this kind of trip can only benefit the 49ers. The 49ers players and coaches missed out on a ton of time and these kind of bonding events can have tremendous value. This may not lead to immediate improvement in the offensive line, or better chemistry between Alex Smith and his wide receivers, but I don't see how it can hurt.
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - September 28, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
Do you try to keep this week normal or do you want everyone outside their comfort zone a little bit?
"I like the part that it's changing of the routine. Sometimes the normal business-like routine sucks the life out of everybody. I like that part of it. There are so many good opportunities here that you really don't have in San Francisco as it relates to friendship. Getting to know maybe one or two other guys better than you did before. Know two or three things about them that you didn't know. Some guys will and some guys won't, and you have to go out of your way to do that. But that's coaches, that's trainers, that's managers, players, but that opportunity to really know something unique about a guy, know something about them that enables you to be friends with a guy or even closer. There's guys that kind of hang out in groups, but maybe add one guy to that group or two guys to that group. I see them doing it, you see a guy come over and you get a little smile and find out a little bit more about them and you have that opportunity to do that here. I've done that myself, found out [T] Alex Boone's wife is pregnant. She's right here down the road and Alex was able to go to their appointment yesterday at nine in the morning, and she's getting pretty close to having that child. [S] Donte Whitner, [WR] Ted Ginn were able to get home and spend time with their relatives. I found out [K] David Akers trains dogs, didn't know that before. [LB] Larry Grant enlightened me on a lot of the Ohio State traditions and his experience there. Great conversation with [S] Madieu Williams and his experience as a player in the NFL at Cincinnati. Just a lot of opportunities like that. Hopefully I can get two or three more guys today. It's good that way, I like that it's out of the norm."
When you first knew this was going to happen, was it easy? Has it been an easy transition to move the entire, so to speak, complex here to Youngstown?
"Everybody's really busted their tails to do it. The staff has been great setting things up and everything has been organized. That's easy for us to do, I like doing stuff like that. Coaches, players, we're pretty adaptable. We're kind of like big kids, this is like being in little league. I recall being in hockey as a youngster through like six years old to 14 years old. I never made the travel team. I was never a good enough skater to be on the travel team. All those kids would come back after the weekend and they traveled to Kalamazoo and they stayed overnight in a hotel or they went down to Toledo to play, or up to Sheboygan and you were kind of like ‘I wish I was on the travel team,' but that's pretty fun. To me this is a pretty neat thing to be able to do. And then when guys are done with practice, they're not heading to their cars and heading home, they're here around each other having meals and watching Monday Night Football. I think the infrastructure setting up, that's been very easy to do, not simple, but it hasn't been hard. The complex opportunity is really having the opportunity to make better friends with guys."
Do you understand the history between the city, the organization and the ownership and can you speak to that about bringing the team here?
"Absolutely, the connection to the roots of the San Francisco 49ers, this is the A-O of our owners, our organizational group. Going back to Jed's grandfather, Denise is here and our team to be able to interact with her, get to know her, her get to know our players, I think is something that's very good. That and this is football. This is where it was born. Canton Bulldogs, right down the street. It's a real positive from that point as well. I said before, the Midwest families, East Coast families, have a chance to be here, have a chance to be a part of it. Speaking for myself, my aunt and my cousin came by yesterday, my grandfather's here today, 95 year-old Joe Cipiti from Cleveland, Ohio, he's here eating lunch with the fellas. I know that's just one example, one person, but we have a lot of other players that are in the same boat with relatives back here."
Obviously this is in the middle of Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Are you surprised how many 49ers fans are here in Youngstown first of all and, second of all to see that 49ers logo on the DeBartolo building if you haven't seen it already. What did that mean to you?
"It means a lot. I had a chance to be here in the summer and take part in a fundraiser that the family was putting on. I got to see the passion for the 49ers and the long history of following the team, which was very exciting. So no, it wasn't a surprise when I got here. It was when I got here back in June. Every time I had ever visited here to recruit, my perception was this was all Ohio State and Notre Dame country, and good luck getting a player out of here to go to Stanford or anywhere else but those two schools. I would say Ohio State, Notre Dame, and the 49ers."
I could be wrong, but I thought I saw a walk-thru going on in the parking lot. How does this affect game-day preparations to the good or to the bad?
"We'll see how good it was, how not so good it was. So far, it's all been positive. Eluded to many of the positives. Had a great walk-thru in the back parking lot. That was one of the things when you're doing this, coaching as long as I've been coaching and playing and things like that, you get excited when you get a good walk-thru spot. Sometimes it's in a hotel ballroom, sometimes it's outside where people are looking and watching. That big slab of cement in the parking lot, even had lines and tall trees around it, it was very private there. That was one of the finer walk-thru spots I've been associated with."
Facility-wise, Youngstown State is very proud of their new indoor facility. How have the facilities stacked up for you guys as far as what you're used to working with?
"It's outstanding. It's top notch in terms of the stadium, the two brand new field-turf fields, the indoor, the outdoor, plenty of equipment. I went over there and previewed it on Monday and Tuesday. Crowther sleds and shoots and pop-up dummies, jugs machines, great video angles, everything that we need. The weight room's fantastic, our guys had great workouts in there. Really everything we need, you guys have here. The neat thing is we've been treated like kings. That doesn't happen very often in anybody's life, but it's been really good here."
What was the players' initial reaction when you came to them with this idea?
"To me it was good. We presented why we were doing it, these are the reasons and before it was over, there were 10, 11 positives that we really thought could come from this and that's enough, more than enough to try it. So, I think they were open, let's do it."
Two Cleveland guys, Alex Boone who you mentioned, and Ted Ginn Jr. who you alluded to earlier...
"[S] Donte Whitner."
Yeah. The first two, can you give me your thoughts, I know Ted had the great first game with those returns, Alex has seen a little bit of time, just some thoughts on those two players?
"They're both really good players. Both true pros and Donte Whitner is a pro's pro in that regard. They work extremely hard, very bright guys. Football guys through and through. Ted Ginn, coach's son. Donte Whitner, like Alex Boone, they both come from great programs and have been trained the right way. They're examples for everybody on our team, and making their mark on the field and contributing to our football team in a big way."
You've talked about Alex, that you have seven starting offensive linemen, Alex has only seen time really as a tight end so far...
"As an extra O-lineman, yeah."
Would you like to work him into the mix a little bit more, get him more snaps than just the base offense?
"It's always a possibility. How you deploy the guys and where you use them and how you use them, that's a week-to-week proposition. You know he's going to be needed at some point, it always happens on the offensive line. You can knock on wood all you want with those kinds of things, but he'll get his opportunity. He'll get his chance to contribute."
WR Michael Crabtree had the soreness after Week one, how did he come out of Week three with his foot?
"He's in good shape. He came out in good shape."
So, no changes to his workload or anything this week?
"He's in good shape."
Is RB Frank Gore still good to go?
"We'll see. Like I said yesterday, it was my prediction, didn't say he was good to go, Cam. I just said that I'm not in his body nor am I in Michael Crabtree's body or anybody else's body, but my own. It would be my educated guess that knowing Frank and knowing how tough Frank is and Crab, that they'll play Sunday."
You may have addressed this yesterday, I'm not sure, but with Eagles QB Michael Vick's health being what it is, how do you prepare against them? How does that affect preparation for you?
"You prepare for him. He's a great player. One of the big reasons they're the second leading rushing team in the National Football League is what he contributes on the ground, what he contributes in the air. He's a great player. I think with the injury he had two weeks ago, with the hand injury this week, it'd probably be the prudent thing to rest him for a week. [Laughs]. I would like that a lot. I think that'd be prudent for them to do that. But we can't count on that so we're going to have to prepare for him."
Coach, with [LB] NaVorro Bowman starting this year, how pleased are you with what he's done so far?
"He's been great, 11 tackles in the ballgame Sunday. Just one of those rough, tough football guys who does what he communicates, what he has to communicate. Smart, intelligent football player, and just plays the game all out, all the time. Constant hustle, hustling at all times. Heck of a ball player."
How do you like that matchup between your two wing-side linebackers, very fast guys, and [Eagles RB] LeSean McCoy, who's having a good season so far?
"Well, like always, it's an 11-on-11 matchup. LeSean McCoy's an outstanding football player, leading rusher on the second leading rushing team in the National Football League. He contributes a lot, five touchdowns in the screen game in their trickery package, receiver screens, back screens, shots down the field. He's a complete back and he's outstanding for what they are doing scheme-wise."
Have there been times that maybe you've not even recognized which inside linebacker it was that just made the tackle? That they, [LB Patrick] Willis and NaVorro, sort of resemble each other out there?
"They really do. That's a good point. Yeah there have been times when you see them running, making a play outside of the box, or physically coming up and take on a lineman, or a back and protection. They're very similar. They're very good. They're very athletic. They're very tough and they make similar plays."
Jim, due to [Ravens Head Coach] John [Harbaugh] and all that time he had in Philly, do you know [Eagles Head Coach] Andy Reid on any sort of level, or have gotten to know him?
"Oh yeah. John, my brother, coached there for 10 years. I went to many Eagles games, cheered for the Eagles, had a lot of Eagles gear sent to myself and my kids. Big fan of the Eagles. There's been an Eagles burning though. [Laughs]. Those clothes have been burned ceremonially. But, have great respect for the job Andy Reid has done. You're talking about one of the all-time great NFL head coaches. Pretty incredible too, just the coaching. Just to show you how great of a coach he is, the tree of coaches that have come from Andy Reid. It grows every year and it's a testament to the kind of organization, the kind of coaching job that he's been able to do there in Philly."
John give you any insights as far as what the Eagles do?
"No, and they've really changed a lot from last year to this year, especially on the defensive side of the ball."
Coach, you've had a chance to meet Youngstown State head coach Eric Wolford?
"Yes, I have."
And so, can you touch on that visit and what you guys talked about, and what your impressions of him were?
"I've known him and known of him for a long time. Going back to when he was the offensive line coach at Illinois. I have great respect for him. I went to a clinic in Chicago, believe it was St. Regis, one of the Chicago Catholic League schools, we were there both speaking at a clinic and coach had a video that he presented, drill tape, and O-line fundamentals and techniques. I thought it was just the finest drill tape I'd ever seen. So, spent some time talking to him there and was able to get a copy of the tape. I used a lot of the drills when we were coaching at Stanford, and then followed him from there. So, he's a fabulous coach and a great guy. I really appreciate everything that they're doing for us this week."
On Sunday you struggled offensively big time in the first half, but came on and won the game, made some adjustments, what are you hoping to build on that, particular aspect that you want to build on this week?
"Well first of all, football is a struggle. It is a big time struggle. It's tough. Every minute of that game, every second of that game was hard, and it doesn't get any easier. So, for our players to have to go through ballgames like that, young team, character-building opportunity because they're going to be in ballgames like that over and over again in the National Football League. That's this league. It just gets harder with each week. It was a good thing for us. Even going back and watching the tape, there were some positives, real good things. I enjoyed watching that tape. My old coach Bo Schembechler used to say, ‘You never played as well as you thought you did, and you never played as poorly as you thought you did when you go to watch the tape.' And it's really a football axiom. It's a true ism in football and he was right and it applied to this game. Because when I watched that game, talking about an offensive perspective, I enjoyed watching that. There were specific things that we can improve on and from, from that ballgame. I think people that like football liked that game. That was football. If you enjoy the struggle of football then you enjoyed that."
What positive things really stood out to you when you were watching that film?
"Just things that we can coach and things that we can get better from. You're excited as a coach when you know that they're fixable. Hey, we can learn not only from this tape, but going forward. So, we're implementing those things on Monday and today and excited to see how they look on the practice field."
So not so much that you saw good things, you just saw stuff that popped out that okay, now we know where the answers are?
"Well, when there's 11 guys on offense running a play, there could be 10 guys doing great things, and there could be one missed assignment or breakdown. And maybe that player on the next play, it's not him and it's another player. Or it's a call by you as a coach, or something that you didn't cover as a coach. All those little things add up. A penalty, a this, a that. So, you can have positives on a negative play, and then you can have correctable things on a negative play, and probably will on a negative play. So, how can there be positives? It's a lot of times it's on every time, most of the time, almost every time. So, hope that answers the question."
With the new kick off rule, is it more important to have a guy like [WR] Ted [Ginn Jr.] when your opportunities are limited to have a guy who can really cash them in?
"Yes, I'll tell you they're all bringing them out. It seems like if they're in the end zone, catchable and returnable, guys are bringing them out. It's good to have that guy and guys that make it so important, and want to be successful, like our guys that are blocking for Ted. Sometimes the balls are coming flat because the kickers are trying to kick them out of the end zone and hang time's not as high as it has been. Guys are catching them and bringing them out. So, that play is still alive in football."
From your time on the circuit, do you know his father at all?
Yeah, the recruiting circuit, the coaching circuit?
"Yeah I know, I have not met Ted's father yet, but he's going to be here this week."