The San Francisco 49ers opened training camp proper on Saturday, and the coaches were available to the media. We already talked about Jim Tomsula and a lot of what he had to say on Friday with his transcript here. On Saturday, defensive coordinator Eric Mangini met with the media and discussed a number of topics prior to the players actually getting onto the field.
Obviously, the biggest story on the defensive side of the ball is linebacker NaVorro Bowman and his recovery. I'm expecting big things from Bowman, and so is ... well, everyone at this stage. Mangini said that Bowman had a "really good spring," and talked about his work ethic being exemplary. He was also asked about how Bowman looked a few months ago compared to how he looks now, and the results were positive.
Aldon Smith also came up (imagine that), though I thought Mangini didn't do a great job of answering what I think is an interesting question. Smith had a great dynamic with Justin Smith and was most definitely a better player when lined up with Smith, and who he lines up next to should play a big role in his effectiveness, but Mangini simply said that Smith works well with everyone. That's a fine enough answer but I was hoping for a little more about the things Smith did for him. But ya know.
Anyway, the full transcript of what he had to say is below and once again, keep in mind this was from before the actual practice on Saturday night.
LB NaVorro Bowman prepared for this and you've got to be excited to see what he does back on the field?
"He's been great. He had a really good spring. I've gotten to know NaVorro a little bit since I've been here, but it's different when you start coaching a guy and to see him work in the classroom, to see his work ethic on the field, the leadership that he's shown, it's been fantastic. Got to talk to him a little bit about the work he's been doing with his foundation, things like that, so really pleased with what he's done so far and looks like he moving around good here early."
Can you see the progression in his movement from when you first were looking at him in April or May to now, August?
"Yeah, with any of those injuries where you miss that kind of time, there's always that process of breaking down all the scar tissue, all those things. Getting back to feeling completely comfortable with the movements. Understanding that your body can respond the way you want it to respond. It's incremental. It was a little slower initially but it came along pretty quickly. He moved better and better each day."
He said he's not going to argue with the training staff and the coaches about putting that brace on for now, is that sort of the plan for a while?
"In terms of that, I'm not too sure. [Head coach] Jim [Tomsula] would know better than I. With any of that stuff, it takes time and sometime you've got to wear a little bit extra. It takes getting used to, especially when you've never done anything like that. I know offensive lineman always complain about wearing knee braces and defensive lineman, it just restricts you so you get used to that stuff."
Can you talk about LB Aldon Smith and what kind of asset he can be for your defense? And what you need to do to put him in position to succeed like he did his first couple years?
"He can be a tremendous asset. Watching him, there's not much he can't do. And he's one of those guys, where when you're on the other side of the ball like I was and you're watching one-on-one pass rush and working with the tight ends last year where they had to block him in some of those one-on-one pass rush, you appreciate just the volume of moves that he has. How easily he does things that it takes a long time for other guys to learn how to do what's natural for him, instinctual. That, just straight pass rush, he's got tremendous ability. And then if you can mix him with some games or combine with some blitzes or move him around to where he's in different spots, whether he's on the left or the right or inside, get to that point where now you can match him up with certain guys, I think that could be a good situation for us, too."
He had good chemistry with former 49ers DT Justin Smith over the years. Is that part of the process this summer, figuring out who he works well with on various sides, mixing him around?
"He works well with everybody. If he's with you, you're pretty excited that he's with you. It'll be part of that. Getting him reps at different spots so that he feels comfortable working in different areas, that'll be part of it. And understanding who he does have the best chemistry with and trying to get those pairings as much as you can."
You had your rookies on the field this week. What do you see from them? Anyone in particular stand out going into camp?
"Yeah, the thing I forget sometimes about rookies is how just much information that they have to process and what a huge transition this is for them. They're not only going from learning a new playbook but it's new coaches, new system. They're the big man on campus now they're in that other spot where they're trying to find their way. [S] Jaquiski [Tartt] was moving really well. Loved the way that he was communicating. Really picked up the information quickly. Comfortable in his role. Comfortable with this stage. [LB] Eli [Harold], I thought, has done a nice job as well. High motor guy, really high motor guy. He only knows one speed. Sometime you actually have to slow him down a little bit so that he's getting the right read, he's seeing things the way he needs to see them. Love the intensity, the effort, the consistency that he's shown too."
You've had DL Arik Armstead for just a short time, has he started to pick things in terms of how complicated the scheme is but--?
"Arik is a little different situation because we didn't have him for most of the practices. What I've liked about Arik is, obviously while he was gone, he was looking at the information. It's not like he came into the classroom and was lost. Even over the last three days, you saw that he had done work when he wasn't here. He's another guy, very conscientious. Looks like he's going to be outstanding in terms of his work ethic. Just haven't had as many reps with him as I have with the other guys."
What's your feeling about RB Jarryd Hayne at the moment? Do you think he is where he needs to be?
"I haven't watched him as closely, but I do appreciate the transition that he's trying to make. I started coaching in Australia, that's how I got interested in coaching, and Ben Graham was guy that I had worked out there when he was with Geelong at the time. And he came over and I ended up being the head coach of the Jets and he was my kicker, so I get that huge transition so he's a rookie plus. Every day, he's learning. From the outside looking in, it looks like he's picking up things better and better. Not working with him every day, I don't know exactly where he's at."
There a lot of pressure on him though to pick up the specific skills needed here in the NFL, isn't there?
"Yeah, there's going to be a lot of pressure. He and I met before he signed with the team, got to spend probably a half hour together, just talking about what that transition meant and the difficulty of it. In talking to him, he's a determined human being. He's going to do everything he possible can to make that work."
Can you describe the level of the game that he's coming from, for people who haven't watched that, to what he's now going to have to play?
"Is it Rugby Union or Rugby League?"
"Rugby League. I watched more Australian rules football when I was over there. But, I think there's definitely carryover in terms of having to make people miss, instincts, seeing the whole field, but it flows a little differently. You don't have the same blocking assignments. It's usually you're carrying the ball or you're tackling. I'm not an expert though in case there are any rugby aficionados out there."
Hitting is hitting. Is the hitting level--?
"I don't know how it translates to pads. And then you're returning kicks or punts and things like that, you've got to field the ball and then everybody coming down full speed and just being able to process that part of it as opposed to having a ball tossed to you and then processing that part, on a special teams level. But, as a back too, all of the plays are in a tight space with us and have got certain reads, so that might be a transition. Again, I'm not totally, don't know if I'm going apples to apples here."
DL Glenn Dorsey was in here yesterday, a big smile, good spirits, says he doesn't even realize that he had surgery. It's not on his mind. What are your observations of how far he's come?
"Glenn's a great guy. Always has that big smile, it seems to me. Yeah, he has not, I'm sure subconsciously there may be a component of that. But, when you watch him go through the drills and move and compete he's definitely jumped in with both feet and it'll be great to see him, not just in these early days, but as we put on pads against Houston to get him contact again. But, he's moving well and you don't look at him and go, ‘OK, he's favoring one side.'"
Who's going to get the first-team reps with LB Michael Wilhoite starting on the sideline as training camp begins?
With Wilhoite injured, who gets his reps?
"It won't be a function of one guy getting the reps every day. It's not really a depth chart component like that. So, what we'll do is [LB] Nick [Moody] will get, today he'll get the first-team reps, [LB Philip Wheeler] Phil will work in there, [LB Desmond Bishop] Des will work in there and we'll rotate those guys through. So, you may see him, Nick may start the practice, but there may be periods in practice with the ones where you'll see Phil out there or Des. We're going to rotate guys through, and that will be the same thing in the secondary. You'll see guys rotating through so that we can balance out, not just the reps, but the ability for guys to work with each other, communicate with each other and see where it all plays out."
How do you make up, compensate, for losing someone of the stature of former 49ers LB Patrick Willis?
"It's hard to answer that question. Patrick's a special, special player. The one thing that we've done well here is get a lot of other players that have tremendous potential, tremendous pro-potential that have learned while he was here, that are growing in leadership roles. It's hard to ever replace a certain guy and all the things that that guy provides, whether it's Patrick or any player of Patrick's caliber. But, when you have guys who have played around players like that, they learn a lot. They see the things that he did to help him be the player that he is and those lessons, there will be elements of Patrick moving forward because of the things that he left behind and the example that he set."
A lot of players are, almost to a man it seems, like you ask them about 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula and they say, "He really cares about the players." He comes up to them and says, "Do you need anything," etcetera. Have you noticed that and does he bring to mind any other coaches from your past, just that style and rapport he has with his players?
"Yeah, Jim, the thing I love about Jim is, Jim is Jim. He's going to be who he is. He's not going to try to be anybody else and guys appreciate that honesty, that sincerity. And he does care about the players. He cares deeply about them and that resonates, I believe, in the locker room. He cares about the coaches. He cares about the organization. That's just his personality. His relationship with everybody in the building, from the GM to the people that he meets in stadium ops that maybe he doesn't have contact with, treats everybody the same way and I have a lot of respect for that. He's got so much responsibility right now, but he's always taking the time to make sure that people understand he's accessible, people understand that if they need something his door's open. He's going to try to make it as good as he possibly can."
Along those lines, did you have any input in the scheduling? The players have said they had input in how the schedule went and they really like kind of the format of how the practice schedule goes?
"Yeah, one of the things that Jim did is he gathered a ton of information before he put together the final schedule. [49ers tight ends coach] Tony [Sparano] had some input on that, different guys who have been in that role, Jim asked questions, give him feedback, maybe look over something, try to give him feedback and at the end of the day, being in that position you know that you've got to get what works for you. But, he was really thorough in that process and he looked at it a lot of different ways and as he put it together he would ask questions in stages to make sure that he got the right spot. So, he worked hard to get to the spot that he likes."