The 49ers sent out Greg Roman and Alex Smith to talk with the media yesterday, and they both provided some interesting insights into the offense. We will continue to get little in terms of scheme and game-planning, but both are incredibly smart, which can lead to some quality answers on more general offensive topics. They are both highly skilled in the art of the cliche, but once in a while you'll get a little something out of them. Head after the jump to read through what they discussed.
Roman discussed a broad range of topics, but he had some fairly interesting comments about the team's third down execution. He was asked why he thought the team would improve on third down after its struggles last year. His response was part optimism and part logic:
I would attribute that to really just time on task. And I would fully expect our third down production to be much better due to the fact that we've got a lot more time invested in it, and I think it's that simple. Now you've got to go out and do it. Just going out and practicing it doesn't guarantee you a thing. But I would fully expect our third down production to be better starting with time on task, guys knowing what to do, what spots they're going to be in, all the multiple coverages, protection. It's a laundry list really. But, really the best third down teams are generally really efficient in the passing game on all downs and really good in short yardage situations. That's just something I think will happen with our development, our evolution.
We'll have to see the execution happen, but this is another rare response pointing to the lack of time together from last year's lockout. That is one of my primary reasons for optimism about the offense improving. There is a certain subjective nature to that, but I think it is worth considering at this point.
Alex Smith was asked the same question and said:
I think in the end it just comes down to execution. For me as the quarterback it comes to just being decisive, pulling the trigger, good decisions, being decisive within that. Last year at times there were some opportunities out there and for whatever reason didn't get them, maybe unsure, different things, hesitant. As an offense and myself speaking, I think just a little better pulling the trigger this year, taking our shots that are there and executing.
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Press Conference - August 22, 2012
San Francisco 49ers
"Good morning. Grinding through training camp right now. It's a great opportunity for us to look at guys and how they deal with the day in and day out, week after week. So much of the NFL season is how consistent guys can be day-to-day, week-to-week. So many players over the years I've seen, just couldn't maintain a level of consistency mentally, physically, or emotionally. That's the kind of stuff that affects a team as much as anything. We're getting a real good chance here to work with our players over the course of time. We're having physical practices and you get a real chance to see how they come to work day in and day out. There's so much parity in the National Football League, as we all know. People that can come in day in and day out and you know what to expect from them as a coach, it makes planning that much easier. Very important component of what we're evaluating is how a guy can come in and bring it every day. With that, I'll throw it out to you, any questions?"
How do you challenge a player mentally when he is exhausted? What are you looking for?
"I think as a coach, you're at all times seeing how a player is engaged in what you're doing. Some guys just jump off the screen at you, as guys that are fully engaged at all times with what's going on. They're not daydreaming. They're thinking strictly about what's happening to them at that time. Or they're thinking about how what you're covering with them might affect them on game day. Guys that have a tendency to be a little less consistent, you definitely want to spend more time emphasizing how important it is to focus. So, it's really player by player."
Any guys that really jump out in that situation?
"Guys that to me and really to us as a staff - we have a really good group of guys, number one. These guys are a really good group. I think that the guys that we've had here, are to a man, really good in that regard. The guys that we've acquired in free agency or the draft - [WR] Randy Moss is a true professional, fully engaged at all times. [WR] Mario [Manningham], I know [RB] Brandon [Jacobs] who is injured, the same way. I think we're very fortunate that we've acquired some players that have that understanding of how important it is. As far as the young guys go, we talked last week about [RB] Kendall Hunter and [FB] Bruce Miller, how good they are. [TE] Delanie Walker is a guy, [TE] Vernon Davis has been phenomenal. Our quarterbacks are, and you have to be as a quarterback to have a chance. Really, to a man, the thing that's pleasing is that the players that we acquired are really 49er type of guys."
Do you ever fear that you might -when you're grinding it out- that you might have a player who doesn't grind it out very well, but still is a really good player? Do you think, alright he's fading now, but once we get into the regular season where it's not as arduous, he could be a great player for us? Do you have to have that in the back of your head at all?
"I think our approach is more, it's one day at a time. You try to get that player to perform at his maximum every day and understand the importance of that. And then it will be what it is. I don't think we take a break on that at all, or assume too much. I don't think you can assume. The way we look at it, what you do today is what you're going to do the first week of the season. That's just something that's just fundamental with what we do. It's truly one day at a time. We had a great day yesterday -well it's over. We had a bad day yesterday -it's over. What can we learn from it? How can it make us better? Now it's all about the next day."
Now that Moss and Manningham are on the team, can we expect more long passes in the games?
"It all depends on who we're playing. If they're playing way off, then I doubt it. If they're playing up close, I would say yes."
T Anthony Davis is going to be going against Broncos LB Von Miller early in the game. He is a quick, runs the arc well. Are you looking forward to seeing that matchup in terms of Davis against a smaller, quicker type of pass rusher?
"That's a good question. I think Denver has two really good edge players in 58 and 92 there, [Broncos DE Elvis] Dumervil and Miller. They're really good, productive players. Like you said, they can run that hoop pretty well and trim the fat there on the edge good. With crowd noise behind them, it will be great work for us. It will really be good work for us. I think just the way their defense is built right now with those two players coming off the edges, it's tremendous work for us. We have to be on our A game."
Who are your starting wide receivers?
"All of them. They're all starters right now. If we got into five wide receivers grouped the first play of the game, then five receivers would be our starters. If we had one wide receiver the first play of the game, then one wide receiver would be our starter. They're all contributors and they're all competing right now for a role. How they compete, what they show they can do well, that will kind of carve out a role whether it be small, large. It's definitely a very competitive situation. We've got some good guys there. Real fortunate."
Yesterday, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio told us he wants more of his reserve safeties to step up and take that backup role behind S Dashon Goldson and S Donte Whitner. Are there still some areas offensively, going into this third game you want to see more of that?
"Singling out a particular position, obviously early on there were a lot of questions about who the right guard was going to be. At this very moment all I can report to you is that [G/T] Alex Boone has done a very good job and continues to get better. The wide receiver position- we've got a lot of good ones. Our mindset is, well how can we use all of them? Why should we just play two or three of them and let two of them sit there and gather dust? I think that will continue to avail itself there and how we can use them. The backup quarterback position is a battle, it's ongoing. We'll see how that unfolds. The way we look at it, football is a rough game and we're trying to create depth as we go. You never know what's going to happen. We're trying to coach everybody, evaluate them every day. You're trying to build contingency plans as you develop your starters. The way we look, at it, all scenarios are possible because you never know what's going to happen. We had a couple guys get nicked in the game the other night, right? So, you better have a contingency plan, you better be coaching the backups at really every position. Pretty pleased though with how our offense is approaching practice. We're getting a lot of stuff done, covering a lot of ground. We've got a lot of work to do still."
How did RB Anthony Dixon do in those short yardage scenarios that probably would have gone to Brandon Jacobs had he been healthy?
"I thought Anthony had a really good game. The first third and one, we're not really game planning preseason games, but they kind of had us outnumbered there. Anthony basically was his own blocker to get us that first down. The second short yardage situation, which was afourth and short, Anthony got everything that was blocked for him. So, I thought Anthony had one of his best games since I've been here. And was very pleased with his physicality, his preparation and how he played. He did a great job. He needs to have another great one this week."
Why do you think the offense will be better on third downs this season compared to last season?
"That's a good question. I think time on task. I think number one, a very wise man said this to me and I found it to be true, you can look at statistics and that's great, because anybody can look at statistics. But the thing you want to know is why are these statistics the way they are? That's really what you're looking at. When you look at statistics, whether it be third down scoring, rushing yards, whatever, OK, why was your third down percentage what it was? That's the real question. And as we studied it in the offseason and really throughout the season last year, it was really just a lack of execution, a lack of cohesion. I would attribute that to really just time on task. And I would fully expect our third down production to be much better due to the fact that we've got a lot more time invested in it, and I think it's that simple. Now you've got to go out and do it. Just going out and practicing it doesn't guarantee you a thing. But I would fully expect our third down production to be better starting with time on task, guys knowing what to do, what spots they're going to be in, all the multiple coverages, protection. It's a laundry list really. But, really the best third down teams are generally really efficient in the passing game on all downs and really good in short yardage situations. That's just something I think will happen with our development, our evolution."
Will your first team offense play more this game than they have the first two games? Do you expect them to?
"That's possible. Not for sure right now. That's possible, not for sure."
What areas have you seen QB Alex Smith take his biggest strides in your second year working with him?
"Just knowing what words mean to start with. Everything. Everything. Totally understands the offense. Now he can recite things. He can fix things. Understands where people are. When we go back and look at our first early games last season, just getting through a straight progression was a work in progress relative to what it was late in the season, relative to what it is now. He's getting through his reads quicker. He's eliminating reads earlier and really just taking ownership of our offense. He understands all the different things that we do and he's really, really, really intelligent. Bright football player. Really intelligent. He is super smart. Savant-like at times and has great ideas. I suppose it's like when you're married the first couple months, the first six months or whatever, you're kind of still getting to know where the toothpaste goes and whatnot. And then after a while you get to know somebody and that's kind of how Alex is with our offense."
You mentioned savant-like, which is high praise. Anything caught your mind as far as what you've seen of Alex?
"You can have a play call that's 15 words long and if he sees it, he can just recite it. He doesn't need to look at anything to recite it. And then let's just say the person typing that play in made a mistake. He'll fix it right away without even blinking. I've yet to see that from anybody. That's just a quick snippet of his understanding of things and how quickly he'll pick something up. If I sit there and study something for hours on end, I'll pick it up too. But the first time out, he's pretty sharp."
Is there an area where you focus more on certain teachings with Alex Smith than head coach Jim Harbaugh does? Is there another thing that quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst does?
"There's no real specific area, but we definitely all work together with him. It covers all areas. It's just a team effort all around."
What about when Alex is in the pocket trying to elude with the pass rush? It seemed the sack numbers were high last year?
"Yeah, we'd like to get those numbers down, bottom line. Some of the sacks he took, I thought were what I would call smart sacks. But far too many of them were unforced errors, lack of execution on our part. That's something that has to improve. And that's not just the offensive line. That's receivers getting open, tight ends getting open, tight ends blocking, backs blocking, receivers that have to make hot adjustments. The one thing that Alex did through all that, did a historically great job of protecting the football, historically great. We look for more of that as well."
Has he had a straight incompletion yet? It seems like either someone was dropping it or he's throwing it away. It doesn't look like he's just all out.
"No, he's been pretty sharp. I think a couple of them have been six inches here or there. But he's been really sharp thus far. I think that's pretty accurate."
There was a 2nd and 7 the last game against the Houston Texans, Alex threw an accurate pass to TE Vernon Davis and he dropped it. It looked like WR Randy Moss was breaking open deep. After looking at the film, did Alex make the right read and make the right throw?
"In case somebody from an opponent is reading this, I don't want to let them know about our quarterback reads. But I thought it was the appropriate decision. There's times when a quarterback has to make a quick decision. And, let me put it to you this way, how open was Randy? How open was Vernon? Was Vernon that much open [hand gestures], that much, that, that [hand gestures]? It's going to be different every time. Randy, leverage, who's the corner? Where is he? Leverage. It's going to be different every time. He's got to make that decision quickly. And, generally speaking when you run somebody on a shorter route and one on a deeper, if it's man-to-man coverage, you're generally going to look to the shorter route first because he'll probably be open quicker. And that's not true of all plays, but I thought it was a good throw and I know Vernon was pretty upset that he didn't grab it."
QB Alex Smith
Press Conference - August 22, 2012
San Francisco 49ers
Both head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman said something recently that you have great ideas, what are they talking about? Are they talking about different plays to run, different ways of running them?
"That's a good question for them. I think it could be anything. I think the great thing here, and I've said this before for this coaching staff, it's so much about the best way to do things not necessarily cookie cutter, our way. If someone has a good idea, let's jump on it and go with it. It's not just me, I think everybody. A lot of people offer up ideas and that's really kind of the idea of the coaching staff, I think everybody's involved. Here and there if I've got an idea maybe, potentially throw it out there. Some get used and some don't."
Do you find yourself using ideas from all of your years of experience from different coordinators?
"For sure, just experience, things that I have done, different offenses that I have been in, yeah definitely."
Alex, there was a 2nd and 7 in the last game where you threw an accurate pass to TE Vernon Davis and he dropped it. On television it looked like WR Randy Moss was breaking open at the same time. After looking at the tape do you feel like that you made the right read?
"Right read? Yeah, right read. I think if anything it was man-to-man. If anything I would love to get Vernon a ball really pulling him away. I kind of put it up on his face there. He was running a crossing route. With Vernon, we've all seen it, hitting him running there, fast vs. man, how many times have we seen him pull out of that and score, really was the thinking there. If I had to do it over again, more and more ball placement if anything. It's critical vs. man, it's the NFL. Six inches here is a big difference playing man defense, and it's a big difference for Vernon. For me, looking back at that play, that's what I took away from it."
Speaking of just being kind of slightly off, it seems you haven't really had like a straight just incompletion. Either you are throwing it away or someone's maybe dropped it. Is that somewhat accurate?
"Yeah, I've felt good. I haven't had that many pass attempts. I don't know how many pass attempts in the two games. The one to [WR] Mario, [Manningham] we ran the double move that the safety dropped there. Really saw him get grabbed and throwing the ball and obviously hoping to get the call or the play and didn't get it, but that is the one that stands out in my mind. Other than that, as far as decision making goes, not too many that I'd want over again. Throwing the ball where I want to throw it, and if not, getting out of there. That one third down, that 3rd and 7 you were talking about after the 2nd and 7, potentially would like to have that one back. I kind of ran into a sack a little bit. It's a fine line there trying to use your legs and then it working against you."
Is it a goal or is it important for you to hit one of these deep passes in the preseason as sort of as a signal for?
"As far as just setting up tape? Better question for the coaches. Really just trying to show balance out there, not trying to give anybody any tells or anything like that. I feel like we are doing a decent job of it."
Alex, when you resigned here back in March you said that your relationship with head coach Jim Harabaugh was great because he was always honest with you. How has that evolved since that time? Was there any awkwardness at the start when you came back? What's it been like since?
"No awkwardness. Anyone that's been around coach Harbaugh for a while realizes, and I think it's a great thing about him, he's going to tell you what he thinks. Good or bad he is going to give you his honest opinion. You appreciate that, as someone who's been around for a long time and been with a lot of coaches, you appreciate a guy telling you the truth and being honest with you even if it's not always what you want to hear. I definitely appreciate the coaching level, the detailed coaching, work on this. It all comes out as he sees it and I think fundamentally I have improved a lot because of that."
Alex, why do you think you will be better on third down this season than you did last season?
"I think in the end it just comes down to execution. For me as the quarterback it comes to just being decisive, pulling the trigger, good decisions, being decisive within that. Last year at times there were some opportunities out there and for whatever reason didn't get them, maybe unsure, different things, hesitant. As an offense and myself speaking, I think just a little better pulling the trigger this year, taking our shots that are there and executing."
At what point did you go back and look at the 3rd downs from the Giants game, from the Championship game? Did you do it the next day or in a couple weeks?
"That game watching it the next day for sure. Coming off the season, in the offseason OTA's, you have just a huge catalog of everything. You've got every third down from the entire season which is a lot of third downs. You get to look at how teams are playing us, what we're doing, what we need to do better, things like that."
Are you watching this by yourself, with all the coaches?
"Both, literally every single third down snap, coming in watching it with the coaches, going over it by myself, game-by-game, things like that."
Can you explain a little bit or give us an insight as to like last year first year in the system do you expect to get the call and make the audible's as well, but this year did you know obviously what's coming and what you're looking for that you don't have to wait for the call every time. What's that communication like this year?
"Still waiting on the call. I think you just continue to get a better sense of what we're trying to do. Play call intent, what are we trying to get done out of this play call. You do a better job with that, hey we're calling this, this is what we're thinking. If we don't get that I'm going here. You get better at just understanding all that with the play call. The play call is just coming in, but you do a better job of understanding everything that comes with it and then getting to that faster, just operating quicker."
Is there ever a point in this preseason where you have just been able to conduct the drive how you want the whole way just to help you with that?
"It changes week-to-week. There's more on my plate some weeks than others, it just depends on who we're playing and how we're trying to attack them. Yeah, I guess I feel like all of our drives have been like that. We've ran the ball really well this preseason, kept ourselves in better situations. We've been ahead of the chains, a lot of positive plays. We talk a lot about negative plays killing drives. You continue to put yourselves in good situations, you're productive on first and second down, I think that helps your third down. We were in a lot of third and longs last year, and the entire NFL in general is not good at third and longs. It's a difficult situation. I think that kind of played into our lack of success at times last year, just doing a better job of putting positive plays together."
You were under pressure against the Houston Texans. How do you see your pass protection developing this year? Is it better now?
"I do. I feel like it's much better. I said this to [Comcast's] Matt [Maiocco] after the game, I take credit for quite a bit of that during the game. I felt like a lot of that was self-inflicted. First play, definitely my fault, that 3rdand7 sack, I really felt like I ran into that. Same as the other sack, which was really kind of a no-loss, it was right at the line of scrimmage, but on me as well. I really felt like protection was pretty good. There was the one where I got the roughing the passer. That's the only one that really stands out in my mind. Other than that, protection's been great. And I think we'll do a better job. Same thing, it falls on all of us. Offensive line, it starts there, but it's on backs, quarterbacks, receivers, getting the ball out, understanding when we're getting pressure, things like that."
What can you be doing better to deal with the pass rush?
"There's a fine line there getting the ball out in windows and then using your legs, and using them to help you. Not running up into D-Linemen, helping your offensive linemen out, finding the soft spot in the pocket, the quiet spot, things like that."
Now that you have WRs Randy Moss and Mario Manningham on the offense, can we expect more long passes in games and fewer check downs?
"The goal is obviously, the more weapons you have the better. In the end I'm still going to take what the defense gives me. I'm still going through my reads. There's no sense to just drop back and throw it up. Now Randy does provide some opportunities where if he's one-on-one and you're going to take some shots, just a guy who plays the ball that well in the air and that kind of ability, that's what you want. You want to create problems. To a certain extent, you're still going to go through your progressions and reads and take what the defense gives you."
Would you change your reads, the fact that it's Randy Moss?
"A little. Yeah, for sure, here and there."