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Jim Harbaugh & Alex Smith Discuss Offensive Struggles Of Last Couple Days

The 49ers offense switched to red zone situations the last few days, and it sounds like the defense is dominating right now. Jim Harbaugh and Alex Smith both chatted with the media yesterday, and discussed the defense's strong performance in camp this week, and in general. I've posted the transcripts after the jump, so feel free to check them out.

The 49ers host the Minnesota Vikings in six days and we'll get to see where the 49ers offense stands. The offense struggled mightily in their preseason debut last year against the New Orleans Saints. Of course, I would be a little surprised this year if the Vikings unleashed the hounds from their defensive front seven.

As we head into the first game next week, I'd imagine many of us have our eye on similar things. Although we can point to a variety of aspects of the offense, it will really come down to the overall combination of things. Will the 49ers offensive line work well together, providing Alex Smith with time to throw and the running backs with sizable running lanes? Will Alex Smith and Randy Moss connect on a big play to stretch out the field? To get even more specific, will Nathan Palmer turn his strong camp into a strong preseason performance?

There are a whole host of answers we'll be waiting for heading into next week's game.

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - August 3, 2012
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

Opening statement:

"Hello. [G] Mike Iupati was excused from practice today, expecting their first child, [his wife] Ashley and Mike Iupati. Should come sometime today. Real excited about that. Our team's about to get stronger. Wish Mike and Ashley the best and our prayers are with them."

In Iupati's place was G Leonard Davis, getting a little bit of action on both sides. What have you seen from him in his time with the team?

"It's been good. It's all been positive. (Davis is) working extremely hard to get up to speed. He is right on track and done that. I think that's a product of being a veteran, being somebody who has been in systems and knows the game. He's a physical presence. Probably the largest man I've ever stood toe-to-toe and knee-to-knee with in my entire life is Leonard Davis."

You're getting a slimmed down version of Leonard Davis, aren't you?

"Yes we are. Yes we are. That's what I hear. He looks great."

Was this G Joe Looney's first time with team drills?

"It was. He got action in there at guard, and some good. It's good to have him back on the field, good to have him back started. I think we'll have a lot to work with there."

To the untrained eye, it looked like the defense was really on their game out there and dominated the offense. To the trained eye, did it look that way throughout?

"It did. It certainly did, about every which way it could be dominated. It was an outstanding day for our defense. Turnovers, pass rush, communication was great. The way they're playing together is at a very high level, both units, and the young guys as well, doing a fabulous job."

Is that to be expected this time in training camp? Is it normal for the other training camps you've been or is the defense even a little better than maybe some of the other defenses that you've seen at this point at training camp?

"I'd say it's a function of today. I wouldn't call it a function of training camp. It's been very competitive out here. It's gone up, down. There's been days where it's been sideways. It's been good, gotten a lot of competitive reps, a lot of situations. There's no doubt the defense got the best of it today."

It looked like there was a lot more switching, not just Davis for Iupati, but a lot more switching on the offensive line. Was T Alex Boone working through something? Why was he not taking part in as many reps and also C Jonathan Goodwin, it appeared he sat out a lot at practice as well?

"Boone got hit in the privates. He's going to be fine."

And Goodwin?

"No, Goodwin worked for a good amount of time and then backed off some of his reps. That was a function of taking the edge off of him toward the latter half of practice."

Randy Moss has been in every practice. It seems every cornerback's had a different chance to go against him. Do you sense that those cornerbacks have embraced a new challenge in guarding him?

"Yeah, like I said, it's been very competitive, especially in that area. But, it hasn't been self-centered. That's what I've been most pleased about. It's been just good work, sharpening, straightening, using it to get better. I think that's a great asset for our team to have that on both sides of the ball."

What do you mean by self-centered? That you're glad that the cornerbacks aren't self-centered about guarding him or about covering him?

"The way they work together. The way they work together. It's an angle of approach. It's an attitude to make our football team better. It's competitive but you don't see the chippiness, the grabbing jerseys and the cheap kind of shots. That's been a real positive for us."

Along those lines, with the replacement officials here, do you have any sense about, or thoughts on, starting the exhibition season and playing a few games with replacement officials and what have you seen from them on the practice field?

"They went back to back, two good practices. (I) haven't seen the film from today's practice, but (I) sense after yesterday's practice it was very good. They saw everything I was able to see and more. Then today they were right on it. So, I think they had another good day today. But, it's very beneficial for us to have the officials out here. "

Certainly another large human being who has slimmed down a little is RB Brandon Jacobs. Can you tell any difference? He said he's lost about 15 points since the spring. Can you tell any difference in his body and the way he's moving?

"15 from the offseason? No, I haven't noticed that in the way he's played. He's been good since he got here, and very light on his feet for a big man. Since the pads have come on he's even more of a presence out there because he's got great size and instincts and the ability to run the ball between the tackles."

Did you guys use the new helmet communication system today?


How did that go over?

"There was no glitches."

What was a typical glitch or a problem you might have had last year or in previous seasons with the analog system that you guys used?

"We never got the answer, but we had problems in a couple particular road games where it would shut off right in the middle of a play call. (It) happened multiple times in one particular game. I couldn't tell you what the problem was because I was never given a response to the question."

Today can you tell that it's just been a better system? A crisper system, just from the practice field while practicing?

"No, I couldn't say that I could say one way or the other on that."

When those plays were getting interrupted, how did they carry out?

"We had to switch over to a hand signal system."

WR Michael Crabtree hasn't played in an exhibition game since he's been with the 49ers. He's missed a week of camp. How much does missing that week set him back?

"The thing I feel for Michael, I know he's feeling too, is that he came in in such great shape. (He) looked fantastic and we feel like we'll get him back soon and we can pick right up. I don't think this is going to be a major bump in the road. I think it's going to be a minor one. He's champing at the bit to get back out there, and anticipate that happening soon."

Do you think just because he and QB Alex Smith have had such a body of work during the offseason program that that'll be easier to pick up? That the one week isn't detrimental?

"Both of them had fantastic offseasons. Michael was lean, in shape, tip-top shape, moving extremely well. I don't anticipate any issues when he gets back."

Based on what you've seen in the last couple of days, is there one area in particular you'd like to see the offense step it up in?

"We'll talk about that with the offense. They'll hear it from me. They don't need to read about it right now. That's coming off a day where we took a step back. Every day has really been getting better and better and better and better from the beginning of camp. So to look at this practice as a whole, would be a mistake of training camp. It's been outstanding. Another thing we've got to do is handle it, move forward, learn from it, and I think we will. That's the way this offensive unit has been since we got together. So (I) anticipate that we can handle it and make a positive out of it. And there were some positives. Not to say that there weren't any. There's another old adage, ‘That it's never as good as you think it was. It's never as bad as you think it was.' I know there'll be things that when we turn on the tape we'll be very pleased with. We'll look at it, we'll address it and we'll move forward."

Yesterday you talked to the team after practice and kept the twos out there. Was that a schedule thing that you planned to do that?


DT Justin Smith, how great of a test does he present the offense, because it seems like today he's in midseason form?

"He's a great player. There's no question about it. Every team in the league would love to have Justin Smith on their team. [Defensive coordinator] Vic Fangio made the comment that this is a great player. This is a strong man who plays with incredible leverage. But he plays like a guy that's fighting to make the roster. That's a special combination, a rare combination. A great football player. Glad we have him on our team because I know there's 31 other teams that would love to have him."

When you were playing, was the nickel cornerback role as specialized as it seems to becoming today? It seems like it's a real, almost a 12th position now.

"It is. I forgot a lot of things from that long ago, but I don't remember it being like the position it is now. It's really, in a lot of ways, a starting position when teams are playing that nickel defense, 40, 50, 60 percent, sometimes even 70 percent of their snaps."

Vic Fangio described it as sort of a quasi-linebacker. It could honestly almost be a linebacker playing it. Is that what you see as well, that there's got to be a lot of linebacker-like abilities from that player?

"Yeah, you must be able to tackle because you're playing so close to the line of scrimmage. He's got to be able to cover in tight spaces, and got to be able to cover slot receivers who are usually really quick, fast and can get open in a tight area of space themselves. It's a unique position and we've got guys that we feel good about playing it and it gives us options."

Do you have a status report on TE Nate Byham?

"No, not a status report. He's got something that he's working through.'

Quarterback Alex Smith
Press Conference - August 3, 2012
San Francisco 49ers

Listen To Audio I Media Center

How would you describe the last two days as far as it pertains to who has gotten the better of whom out there?

"Lopsided the last couple of days. New phase of camp for us in the sense that, kind of going first, second and third down and all of the sudden the last two days were red zone and red zone emphasis. First two days of it and not good. The defense definitely got the better of us, I felt like, in all aspects, 7-on-7 and team. So, obviously room for improvement, need to get better."

Was that due to the fact that there just hasn't been a lot of contact up to this point and that favors the defense?

"No, I don't think that. There's a lot of things that go into it. One, they're a great defense. Great players, ready players, they know what they're doing, play fast. We're not game planning what our defense is doing necessarily. You're putting stuff in that you're potentially going to see down the line versus different defenses. We still have got to go execute. There's no excuse. Yesterday, a lot of turnovers for a multitude of reasons. Today was a little better in that regard, but still didn't get much done. Just falls on us as a whole on offense, just need to execute better."

[Head Coach] Jim Harbaugh just described DT Justin Smith as a guy who every other team wants but still goes out there every day like he's trying to make the team. Do you guys ever tell him to slow down?

"I don't. Maybe the O-Linemen do. It seems like it's contagious. I feel like the entire D-Line plays like that. A lot of great players up there and they all practice that way. They all practice extremely hard and love football. The whole defense in general too, but especially that front. On one hand it's great for us. It's great to go against them every single day. They play every defense imaginable, every coverage, every pressure. They've got the whole gambit and they let you see it. So in that in sense, it's great work for us. We've got to get better though, better than we were the last two days at least."

How's the passing game progressed since training camp began?

"I feel like we've had a good camp. Obviously, I feel like everybody on offense has really zoned in on the last two days and made a lot of emphasis of it, and it hasn't been good enough. Prior to that, I feel like we got off to a good start. In the passing game especially been doing some good things. This is situational football. The last two days has been heavy red zone and like I said, it's a tough opponent but we've got to get better too."

That first day of camp I raised the question of potentially having WR Michael Crabtree for the whole camp and here he hasn't been out there for a week. Does that set you and that combination back?

"At this point, not worried about it. He had such a great spring and summer. I don't know when he's going to be back, but we'll look forward to his return. Hopefully it's not too long. I know I feel good about what he got done this offseason. It's a long camp. I feel like he'll get back and get some good work in."

What are your thoughts on DT Ray McDonald? He was riding the bench for a while, now he's getting his chance and playing really well. To what degree have you seen over time his confidence grown both off the field and in the locker room?

"I feel like that entire D-Line just feeds off each other, highly competitive group. They do everything together. They compete with each other at everything. Whether they're in the weight room squatting or out there on the field, who's making plays and who's not on game day as well. They're a fun group. It's infectious and I think it rubs off on each other. Ray's a big part of that. You see he's a big time player, really coming into his own as a player. No question when you do that, it creeps in and you get confidence as a teammate and leader."

You of all people must be happy that the radio system is new this year?

"Yeah, hopefully it's better than the last couple years."

Could you tell any difference today?

"It does seem better. It's clearer off the bat, comes in better. The last couple years it always seems like we never really had many problems on the practice field. It's not until you get to the stadium that for some reason it doesn't seem to work as well. Hopefully this one does better up at The Stick."

Did you guys ever suspect that it was a home cooking type of thing where the visiting team would always have something weird?

"Yeah, but it'd even happen at home sometimes. It just seemed like it was a touchy deal. Go in and out. For sure on the road it seemed like it would happen more often, but it would happen at home too. You expect more when you come in as a rookie, you're thinking this is going to be some crazy high-tech stuff and then you actually look in the helmet and it's not. You've got like AAA batteries sitting in there."

When you talk to [Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers, those other guys do they have the same problem?

"I think the headset problem is universal across the NFL. I think every quarterback has dealt with it and you have problems. You've got to have a plan ready, a Plan B, what you're going to do."

And how many times have you had to hear half the call and then make up the rest?

"That happens quite a bit. Sometimes no call at all and you just got to go with something. Sometimes it goes out. We were very proactive here especially last year with the backup system. With the wristband it makes it easier using signals and things like that we can get a play in."

What's your perspective on where WR A.J. Jenkins is as far as his progress?

"I feel like he's coming along just great. I think a lot got made of his offseason which is tough. I mean as a rookie the expectation level is nothing, to come in in an offseason and expect something. I think he's in a great place. He's got a lot of guys to learn from, a lot of guys that have played a lot of football, guys that all have different strengths. He can watch them play and see how they win. How they play to their strengths. Watch how professional they are. I think he's in a great place, a great place to just steadily keep improving. I think he's going to be just fine. No question about his talent. I think the big thing obviously is the playbook size is just so much different than the college level, run and pass, and just continuing to learn it and the details of it."

What is his talent level? What does he do that distinguishes him?

"I think he's a guy that can just about do everything. I think the thing that really distinguishes him is you just see the natural, I don't know if you want to call it foot talent, speed, in and out of cuts, that type of stuff. You see him in and out of breaks and you can see it there. The separation he can get, it just comes natural. Especially coming out sideways, breaking down, getting in and out of cuts, things like that. He has a great feel, great body language. I think it's something that is one of his strengths."

RB Brandon Jacobs was saying he's lost 15 pounds since the spring, he still looks fairly large, can you tell if the guy's changed his body?

"Yeah, I can. I don't think he'll ever not look large. But no question, I do feel I can tell he's slimmed down since the first day I saw him. In a good way. I feel like he looks really good. I know from the little bit I've heard talking to him, I know he really likes what's going on in our weight room and conditioning and stuff like that and has really taken to it. I think he looks great."