"Good afternoon. We're, obviously, knee-deep in St. Louis prep. A different package than we saw last week. A lot of things they do that stress you throughout the perimeter of the defense and then the ability for them to run the ball effectively inside. It's one of the main challenges that we have this week is being able to cover the whole field, both in the run and passing game, as effectively as possible with the weapons that they have and the way that they use the weapons."
With S Eric Reid back there without S Antoine Bethea, is he able to kind of run the show by himself now do you think?
"Yeah, it was a really good situation in there with Antoine and Eric. They are both outstanding communicators, both very confident in what they are doing in the scheme. They had a good relationship. But, with [S] Jaquiski [Tartt] and [DB] Jimmie [Ward], they are both young guys, to me, that are going to be very good players. I love their work ethic. You've been able to see Jaquiski some back there. You see what he brings in terms of his ability to close to the football, his ability when he gets to the ball carrier to knock the ball carrier back, his strength in the hole, all of those things I think have been good. The biggest challenge for a young safety is feeling comfortable enough to take charge back there, because you have to take charge. You have to be definitive. You have to communicate to the whole group. Sometimes you grow up a little quicker than you anticipated because you're thrust into playing right away. But, he's been good. I'm sure you've seen him on tape sometimes, coming up in loud situations and communicating. He knows what he's doing. I feel very comfortable with him. I'm excited to see him play."
Do you expect him to be tested? Is that something that you as a defensive coordinator expect when a rookie is in the situation that he is in?
"I think whenever you see a young guy out there you're going to see what you can do to him. You're going to see how much he knows. You're going to see how well he knows the things he's supposed to do. [Former NFL head coach] Ted Marchibroda used to always talk about that when we'd sit in quarterback meetings looking for ‘the tell,' and he'd always start with the youngest guy. He'd always start with the rookie, because they are most likely to play it exactly the way it is in the diagrams, in the playbook. So, from a quarterback perspective you look out, you check for the youngest guy, ‘OK, he's telling me what to do.' And then, you get your read off that. I always thought that was a great approach from an offensive perspective, because there is a lot of truth to that. Now, what I've liked with Jaquiski and Jimmie, and really [CB] Ken [Acker] has done a good job as we've gone on here of not giving it away, not being ‘the tell,' Not being the one that shows what we're in."
He comes from a program though, that maybe most wouldn't think has kind of the pro influence. So, when you see him in meetings, what does Jaquiski bring that is just unique to him, that he has that wherewithal in his rookie year?
"Yeah, I loved him coming out of college. We watched a bunch of safeties and he was one of the last guys I ended up watching, and then I had to go double check to see whether or not they were setting me up to see how well I evaluated, because he just jumped off the screen with the plays that he made in college. And you worry, you don't worry, but there's always a transition for all these guys. Biggest program, smallest program, there is a transition. But then, from a small school, even though you belong, are you confident that you belong? Some guys take a little bit longer to feel that sense of, ‘Hey, I'm here and I can compete and I can do really well with this group.' I've never gotten that from Jaquiski. I've gotten more of a, even early on, ‘Yeah, I belong and I'm ready to compete and I'm ready to perform at a high level.' So, that's what I've seen. That's what his approach has been. That's why we felt so good about playing him in dime early on. There's no apprehension from my part at all on his ability to do that."
How does Antoine's absence impact those sub packages and dime? Is Jaquiski going to be playing deep and are you going to have to insert new guys into that dime spot?
"Well, we've mixed that up. So, you saw Eric Reid play down there some over the last few games. He was learning it, Antoine was learning it. What we're trying, not trying, but what we do is we want those guys to learn jobs. To learn the concept of the defense and then what do they do within the concept of the defense. And when you have safeties on the field at the same time, eventually what you'd like to get to is, ‘OK, this play Eric you go down and play dime. This play, Jaquiski you go down and play dime.' So now, for the offensive line as they sit there and they've got to point out protections, they've got to account for linebacker-type bodies, but that body keeps changing. It's easier for us, because they know the jobs and it's harder for them. So, we built a flexibility with who can play in there. And then, we'll just hash it out here."
How much does Eric's job change depending on who the other safety is? I know former 49ers and current Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio talked about he wanted his safeties to be interchangeable, but it seems like Jimmie is much smaller than Jaquiski. Are those still interchangeable positions?
"The one thing about Jimmie is, and you'll see this with a lot of guys, there are guys that are small that play big and then there's guys that are big that play small. And to me, Jimmie isn't a small guy, but he plays bigger than his size. He's aggressive in run support. Very rarely do you see him take the brunt of contact. So, he plays with a good base. He's explosive. He has good leverage. Those things, when you're not the biggest guy on the field or the biggest guy at the position, it's really low man wins. How good is your base? How explosive are you? What kind of leverage do you have? He has all of those things that really help him with the position."
Jimmie and Jaquiski have been great friends since high school. Do you see that relationship as a benefit on the field? Have you seen that in practices?
"Yeah, I was asking him the other day if they hung out together and what they were like in high school and how could they ever lose any games in high school. You've got those two guys on the same team, that's pretty good. They have different personalities, but I would imagine it must be very comforting. I don't want to speak for Jaquiski, but it must be nice to come to a team where you know someone as well as he knows Jimmie and someone that can guide you through this first year. Because, this year it is so hard. It's so hard on so many levels for a young guy. As coaches, we often forget what a transition is like. I remember the transition, just coming here myself. There's so many things that you have to figure out before you even get to the football side and then you've got all the life components, all that other stuff. For young guys, new coaches, new system, big man on campus to not even close. There's no graduating class, you've got guys with kids. It's a whole different world. So, their relationship I think is, again I don't want to speak for him, but I would imagine it's nice to have a friend to help him navigate through that."
With St. Louis Rams RB Todd Gurley and his running style, does that lend itself to the possibility of more missed tackles or broken tackles?
"I hope not. What I like about Todd is patient, he's patient and he runs with a good pad level and he's thick through the hole, he's got a good stiff arm, all those things. You see some backs that they want to hit that first open area and then they're taking the brunt of contact. Todd does a nice job of being patient through the hole and then striking and then as he comes up on contact, being able to lower his shoulders and deliver a blow."
Does he have a little Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch in him or is Marshawn more violent?
"I've never been huge on comparisons. He's his own set of problems and they do a nice job too of using him. Or, he does a nice job of play action, selling the play action. The run, run, run, sell the run, as long as that fake is good by the back and the quarterback, it has a lot of draw on the secondary, a lot of draw on the linebackers, now they can go deep. And, again, talking about young guys, for a young guy he's doing it well."
He was viewed, for a guy coming off a knee injury, he was picked number 10 overall, etcetera. He was viewed as kind of perhaps a couple guy in a generational type talent. Obviously, he's three starts in, but from what you've seen is that potential there to be a great back?
"Based on his performance, he's done an outstanding job. Being that he is, those once in a generation, those unbelievable talents, and they're all potentially they could be, but you'd like to let it sort out over two or three years because there were some pretty amazing backs in the NFL over time, but I think he's outstanding."
Have you gone to the scouting department and looked at some of his pre-draft stuff to kind of gauge what you're going against?
"I remember him coming out and us talking about him. So, you've got that component and really you want to see him in this system because of how he fit in his college system could be very different than how he fits here. And, how does he relate to the blockers he has and what are they doing around him, what runs are specific to him. So, there's a little carryover there in terms of overall skill set, but it's how does that skill set now fit into this offensive scheme."
You said earlier Jaquiski was one of the last guys you evaluated as far as safeties. You said you might be being set up. Why was that?
"Because, he popped off the screen. You watch a bunch of the other guys and you're always looking at that draft picks where it's like the first few plays, ‘Woah, that's pretty good.' And then, 10 plays into, pops again, 14 plays into it, pops again. He popped off the screen with both his range, when he got to the point of contact, what happened to the person that he met at the point of contact and those things were impressive. And, watching safeties over the years, you look for their ability to move through traffic and their ability to move through traffic without getting caught up in the noise. And it's very different. Guys who can feel where to go versus guys who have to kind of navigate and stop and start. He had a fluidness to him that I really liked."
So, what happened to the individuals that he met at the point contact?
"They got hit and they got hit hard and very rarely was he going backwards. You've seen some of it already, when he gets there, it's going to get noisy."