"It's great to be right in the middle of training camp. I haven't seen you guys since the scrimmage. I think we had 94 plays so you learned a lot about your team. I don't know where you want to go with it, but fire away."
What have you learned?
"You know, the line is really improving. You guys that are there every day, you see how we're trying to find the right combination and we've just liked the progress. But, there are still mistakes that are made that we notice when a play goes south on us, but we really like the techniques and we like to see the technique that we're working on in individual group period come to life on those team plays, when it's 11-on-11's. So, that's where you start up front is training camp. You talk about plays and you talk about O-Line and D-Line and blocking and Saturday was tackling some too."
Is there a timeframe where you would like to settle on a starting five just so they can have--?
"You know, I think that's a real good question. We're going to get one more practice under our belt before we start to talk about playing time just in Houston and then at some point in time, right, the fourth preseason game, you've got to figure out your final 53. So, that's going to be a lot of young guys really competing hard. So, somewhere right after that first preseason game but before the final preseason game. And I think practice can give you a lot of confidence moving forward, but we're not there yet. We're still looking forward to going down to Houston."
Do you feel like you have the pieces here and all it is now is, like you said, finding the right five guys and then just building confidence?
"You know at the start of camp, two plays out of five, you think you got the right pieces and then you get to this part of camp and you're thinking maybe seven out of 10 plays you've got the right pieces. But, you're trying to work where every snap you feel like you've got the right pieces and I think that's the value of these reps that we're getting in and again, going back to the Saturday scrimmage, it was a pretty efficient scrimmage. We got a couple different situations and I think [tight ends] coach Tony [Sparano] had it on the clock, we were on the field for like an hour and 22 minutes and we got 94 plays off. So, that efficiency and then staying healthy and working with each other and still getting some live tackling. I think that's all really, really good stuff and full credit to [head coach Jim Tomsula] Jimmy T for having a nice camp schedule both on and off the field."
Last year, QB Blaine Gabbert had some rough patches in the preseason for sure. He seems more comfortable out there this summer. Do you see that?
"Yeah, no doubt. And you know, calm, comfortable, in command we always use. But, I think Blaine had that last year during practice and then you get into the games and he wants to do so well that it just, you know, you're in there with some inexperienced offensive linemen and all of a sudden it went south on him. So, that's going to be big. I know we want to see [QB Colin Kaepernick] Kap out there, but I think it's a fun preseason and I think for having Blaine in these games, I think it's going to be fun for him to play in these games. I'll be really looking forward to him. Even though he's been around, I think he wants to show the strides that he's made."
How would you evaluate the progress G Joe Looney made? I know he made a start at center in December in Seattle, from then to now?
"Right. You know it's funny because the center always touches the ball so we've noticed, I forget when it was, Saturday or Friday, we had a lot of snaps on the ground. But, that's still a skill. We talk about the skilled players and you're thinking the eligible receivers and then you've got the linemen, which by default makes them the unskilled players. But, really that's a skill that we're trying to get better for all those guys and I see with Joe that he's probably the most natural center because he's played in a game. [C] Marcus [Martin] played some, remember his first start was that home game against the Rams, but Joe's been around the longest and has played the most amount of center. So, I think he's, I'll use the term naturally comfortable with it."
Have you guys tried using G/C Dillon Farrell in that role?
"Yeah, you know, Dillon actually stepped in the game [G/C Daniel Kilgore] Kilgy got hurt in Denver. He was an undrafted guy, happy to be on the road trip and you know, looking around, all of sudden he's in Mile High Stadium and he had a lot of poise and handled that well. So, that's part of that mix of pieces that you've got to have and he'll have to play some in the second half, there's no doubt about it."
Were there any things that you learned about RB Jarryd Hayne in that live goal line drill?
"Yeah, that was, you know, we've seen him run and what a great thing. There's a language barrier even though he still speaks with that Australian accent, English. What does live mean to him, you know? Means something different. We were joking earlier, what does an odd front mean to him? It's a really odd front. So, all of these things, he's done a great job with the learning curve, but it still comes down to how am I going to run and what I noticed was that he had a run yesterday where, here's another football phrase, he put his foot in the ground and went north. I think he did that because he had confidence that it wasn't just a fog of bodies and that there's going to be some contact. But, he's been running through contact pretty much his whole life, so I'm really excited to see him play in the Houston game as well."
Did he put his foot in the ground on that play where the linebacker came and he missed and then he got drilled?
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, there's that learning curve and you can talk all you want about it or you can forecast all you want, I think it'll be exciting for him in the locker room before the game because we all know, you go to practice, then you go to a padded practice and then you go to a preseason game and that's how you ramp up. So, I'm excited to see him. We're definitely going to use him on all facets of the game. Running, catching, fielding on special teams, whatever [special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey Jr.] T-Mac wants to do. And at the end of the day, I think we'll know more about Jarryd, but it's exciting."
Both your quarterbacks, Colin and Blaine, have talked about how they like the fact that, you know, the way you're running the huddle in practice is just like it's going to be in games. It's not only good practice, but it's important for a quarterback to be commanding a huddle so it's not just on game day. The implication is other people are in the huddle, coaches were in the huddle too much in the past.
Looking back, why is this do you think the best way to handle things?
"Well, first off, I think that, again, Jim's got a good vision, Jimmy T, for how he wants practice to be run and I think we're getting efficient at that and we need that next test. But, with all of the coaches on the sideline, it is their huddle. And really a lot of the commentary really flowed from a [former 49ers and current Indianapolis Colts RB] Frank Gore comment about [Indianapolis Colts QB] Andrew [Luck]. And people, I think Frank was complimenting Andrew. Knowing Andrew, I think those were accurate statements about Andrew, but I don't know how much you can infer back to the first quarterback that Frank lined up with as a Niner. I don't know, I don't think that the context for Frank, I don't want to speak for him, but I know Andrew, he's a really good quarterback. And then this year, I'm really liking the way the quarterbacks have to solve problems in the huddle because we're on the sideline. And it's more structural. We're over here and we're trying to get the play in so they've got to solve what we don't have someone that can throw them a lifeline standing behind the huddle, which isn't the way most teams practice this time of year."
Was there value, and I think we all looked at it in the past like, "well, there's former 49ers and current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, he knows what he's doing, that's really valuable to have him in the huddle?"
"You are who you are. And there was a lot of energy that Jim brought and there was a lot of benefit from that too. You know, you're always concerned when there are no coaches around, are they really aware of its third-and-seven or third-and-two. Are you aware that it's a first down play or a fourth down play? Well, you kind of have to solve that in your small group classroom, not the teacher lecturing to you. And so there's a lot of benefits to doing it both ways. But, once we decided on this structure, I think the quarterbacks realized, this is great, this is game like, but it is on me to try and solve problems as they come up in the huddle and that gives them a voice."
What do you guys like for solving problems, if the radio goes out?
"Yeah, that's one example."
What do you guys do? Timeout or does he just roll?
"You know, it happens all the time in games, but you see where a guy's tackled. So, you say 'OK, the ball's going to be on the left hash.' So, you send in the play with the strength traditionally to the field and the guy spots it for some reason on the other hash, for whatever reason. We would get him on the timeout and say, ‘How come you spotted that on the other hash?' Those things happen, so you might have to flip the name of the play to reflect it to be to the wide field. Even though, again, at the end of the day in the NFL, compared to high school, college ball's always in the middle, sometimes we do like that extra six yards of space and so that would be an example to solve it. A lot of times, preseason games, if you're rotating through eight tight ends, you don't want to have 12 in the huddle. So he's got to step out and then we can still communicate and say to him, ‘Hey, get that tight end out,' or ‘this back is coming in.' The proper protocol is actually to step out of the huddle. You can't have a too many men in the huddle call if the quarterback isn't in there. So, all of these little things that training camp are real good for."
Have you done any stuff on purpose, send a 12th guy in to practice?
"That normally happens on its own, organically. So, yeah, you know, that was the one thing that, you don't want to digress into the virtual reality, but one of the things I noticed when you're looking at it because it's not CGI generated, it's real people when we were looking at it in the spring from Stanford. One of the guys broke the huddle and dropped his mouth guard. Now, you wouldn't write that as a script. Things like that happen all the time. So, now you kind of have to look down and wait for him to pick up his mouth guard and put it back in. So, that kind of trips you up if you're trying to stay within a rhythm or, ‘Hey, we've got to get up to this time.' Natural events like that happen all the time. How did that happen? He dropped it, he dropped his mouth guard. He's got to go back and pick it up. So, all of those little things are great to practice and when it's game-like or when the coaches are on the sideline, you kind of have to solve it on your own. You can't call a thirty second timeout or reset the play clock just because of that."
In terms of the name of the play call, without revealing too much, is it familiar? Is a lot of it new? Is it shorter? What can you say about it?
"There's been a lot of attention about how we're trying to keep our meetings to maybe a 30-minute block of time and then 10 minutes to reload, check your smart phones or whatever that is. But, we live in a more condensed, 140-character culture. So, I think at least my kids probably spell you, "u." So you try to take advantage of some of that and try to have, if we were playing charades, it would be one syllable words, things that like without giving them too much so that the length of the call, you can count the syllables up. That's a really easy thing to do and because we started this playbook from scratch, we felt like that learning curve has been great and that's an easy way to get out of the huddle is have shorter calls."
Colin threw an interception yesterday. He's thrown four or five during training camp. What have you seen from him?
"That was a, good question [Santa Rosa Press Democrat columnist] Grant [Cohn] because we worked on a fourth down scenario, so that would be one of those where it was consecutive fourth downs. So, that'd be a case in football where you wouldn't want to take a sack or just throw it away. And then sometimes you try new plays to see if they work. That was one of our newer plays, didn't work. But, it's great to see [LB NaVorro Bowman] Bo make a play. So, the ebb and flow of football. I just saw, [DT] Tank Carradine, he had a nice three-man rush, I would have given him a sack on a three-man rush. You normally wouldn't say it by chalk that he should get home on that, he made a play. And so, normally those all even out at the end. So yeah, it's an interception and yet you don't react to it quite the same way as if you're in Houston and it's Blaine and it's his first series and something doesn't go great. But, interceptions happen. I was giving Kap a hard time, people forget that Green Bay home playoff game, his first home playoff, he threw a pick-six, but fortunately he played well through that and we remember how the game ends. So, it's just what it is and compliment the guy that made the play, so Bo gets credit for getting the pick."
In general, how has he played in training camp?
"I thought that, again, the throw to [WR] Jerome Simpson, if you saw that on the left sideline, I don't know if we've seen that from Kap consistently. And again, there's so much to it than just, ‘Hey, let's take a shot downtown.' So, that would be one specific example from yesterday."
What was good about that throw?
"First off, he anticipated it, so if you had the clicker on, you'd see that he took the throw in rhythm. He recognized the leverage. Remember we talked about the last time that kind of nonverbal communication? That he had leverage on the defender and then if you remember it, you think it's an easy play, then you go watch the tape and the ball's coming down and there's a hand here trying to swipe it and it dropped in just beautifully. So, that would be one example where you're always thinking you're getting better. That's my most recent example of how Kap is getting better."