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Jim Tomsula talks nickel defense, safe tackling, David Johnson

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The San Francisco 49ers head coach met with the media on Wednesday and had some interesting comments about Mike Mitchell's tackle, and how to handle improper tackling in practice. We've got the full transcript. You can also listen to audio here, and view video here.

Opening comments:

"We'll get you the full practice report afterwards. But, with the injuries here, with [RB] Reggie [Bush], we're still working through it. I don't know. I mean, he was out there yesterday working. Reggie feels really good and he's smiling and he's going. But, we're going to have trainers look at that and know exactly where we're at. [RB Carlos] Hyde, [WR Bruce] Ellington, [WR] Torrey [Smith], [TE Vance] McDonald, [TE Blake] Bell, they'll all be practicing today. Now, limitations, I'm not, I don't know for sure. We'll get into the individuals on those guys. Don't see anything that leads us into the weekend right now, but they'll be out with their stuff on at practice. So, that's what we have there. Yeah, that's it. So, anyways, what do you got?"

When you look at the Arizona Cardinals, how tough of a task is it going to be to get to Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer?

"It's tough. It's tough. I mean, these two games and he hasn't been sacked. They, between the offensive line and the protections and him getting rid of the ball quick and the way they're playing football. I mean, we've got to get going."

Are you, just what you've seen from your pass rush the past two games, especially against Pittsburgh, how do you feel about it?

"I've got a lot of belief. Again, since we started this, we've got a lot of work to do. I've never, I haven't tried to fool anybody. We have a lot of work to do, but we've got guys that are willing to work and we're working. So, we've got, do I have faith in it? Yeah. Am I excited about the guys we have? Absolutely. Do we have to continue to get better day-to-day, week-to-week? Yes."

One of the mention of the injuries, brought up something as far as the Carlos Hyde hit of the knee or whatever that was. You had a pretty good view of it. I'm sure you've seen it on film. What did you think of Pittsburgh Steelers S Mike Mitchell coming in and going for the knees like that?

"He came in to tackle low. I mean, I put it as a low tackle. Carlos is a big, strong, physical back. That's all I have to say on that. It's football and it's not a knee or a hip, it was in his leg, his quad. It was in here, the quad. So, I don't--."

Fair, legal play?

"Yeah, I mean there's no flags on the play." 

He has a reputation for fighting through tackles and not going down with the first tackler. That also exposes him to some big hits. Is that a balance he needs to strike moving forward?

"I don't think you change the DNA of a guy. I just don't think you change a man's DNA that way. That's him. That's what he does. That's what we love about him. That's one of the things we love about him. He's a hard playing Jessie, but we've got to take care of him during the week in terms of, and he does all of those things. So, I mean, I hope that's an answer for you. But, no, I don't see how I try to change people that way."

Given all that, do you have to spell him more?

"Yeah, I mean, we've got to do things in our, the way we rotate people and do things. So, and we have and are planned for that. But, that wouldn't necessarily, I mean, all backs to me you need to be able to able to rotate. You need to have a stable of guys that you can roll through."

Back to the hit, there's talk with the league taking so much emphasis on hits to the head that other players have indicated that, defenders have indicated that they might be more inclined to go low. Was that something you'd like the league to take a look at at some point, maybe in the offseason, in terms of those low hits?

"Well, here's what I know about the league and that. What I know, not speaking for anybody else, but from what I know, that's looked at heavily. The whole thing that you're talking about is looked at heavily and I know they're on top of it. I know that the players are on top of it and they're looking at those things constantly. So, all hits, you know, everything, open-field things like that, I know that everything is looked at hard. It's scrutinized. But, we're in a sport here, you tackle with your shoulders. I think it's very clear by the National Football League, it's very clear by the way I learned how to play football, it's very clear by the way, how we coach football, your helmet is a protective device. It's not a tool for contact. It's to protect. And you tackle with your shoulders and you wrap up and you form tackle. I mean, I believe everybody in football, not just the NFL, but everybody in football is on that page. We've gone all the way down to the youth leagues with that. Just getting back to what we were. I mean, I'm sure some of you all played football when you were young and you were taught to tackle with your shoulder, bull your neck, keep your eyes up, run through, tackle, roll, chip the ear, whatever the terminology was. I always said, ‘kiss the football.' And, it keeps you safe and it keeps the person that you're hitting safe. So, in terms of targets and target zones, obviously there's a lot of things going on there to protect players. So, I don't have any, I guess the word I would use is scrutiny. I think that everybody is paying attention to it and everybody is. That's why it's a topic of conversation, I guess. I guess that's why these questions come because there is such an emphasis on it and doing it right. And, this is a great game and we need to do it right and that's what we're doing."

Just a follow up on that. You see in the NFL so much of leading with the head. The hit on Blake Bell, for example. The guy didn't make an attempt to wrap up. His head wasn't up. He didn't use his shoulder. Do you think we need to move back to where that is and do you want to coach your players to wrap up every time they can and as you say, play the game fundamentally and play it safely?

"Yeah. That's all I've ever coached. Honest. Every tackling drill, every contact drill I've ever taught. You've got people here that have seen me with a guy in practice, a young guy, over the years, take a guy out of practice and take his helmet off because for some reason he's dropping his head. There isn't a guy here that doesn't know that. You drop your head in practice the first time, you're coming out. We're going to talk to you. We're going to explain to you what it was. Might not have been intentional, but that's a habit that's going to get broke immediately. If you go back in and it happens again, your helmet's gone. You're not practicing today. That's the way we've always, that's the way I've always done it. Whether it was Division II football, NFL Europe, high school, Pee Wee or the NFL. We're not going to do that. Just not going to do it. And I don't think a lot of those things are intentional. I don't. People want to make it intentional. I guess it's more sensational to listen to, but I don't believe a lot of those are intentional. I believe that. I mean, I want you to go run at something full speed that's four times your size. I want you to run as fast as you can at it and then make sure you keep your head up and your eyes on it while you smash into it. I want to know what your reflexes are. When something's coming flying at you, what's your reflex? So, that's just habits. It's just coaching and drilling and bringing it to the forefront which from a coaching standpoint, organizational standpoint, player standpoint, it is. So, I believe everybody's on that and that's moving in the right direction."

Just two games, but what do you see from DL Arik Armstead in those two games?

"Arik is progressing. I mean, we've talked about, he's a rookie. And Arik is working. He's working his tail off. And Arik is, with rookies you see that great play and then you see a play that tails off. It's just getting it up to that point and staying there. Again, creating habits. You are what you habitually do."

He seemed to get some pressure on Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.

"Push, yeah."

He did get some push. Is that progress from what you've seen?

"Yeah. He has that. We're real happy with Arik. Arik's working and growing. Couldn't ask him to be doing anything more than he's doing. He does everything we ask and more."

When it comes to the secondary, are you considering any changes to that unit?

"No, sir."

How do you approach a rookie running back like Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson, who's coming into a situation--?

"Talented. Talented son of a gun, isn't he?"

How do you approach that because he's only had a very small sample, very few touches? Do you go back and look maybe at college tape or what's the approach like for him?

"Yeah. We've got all the college cutups, but we're paying attention to what he's doing on the pro field. The offseason stuff, obviously, you looked at him on college tape because you didn't have any pro tape to look at. So, that's been done. But, now we're looking ahead. We're dealing with the facts. We're looking at where he's at now and what he's doing on the field. Maybe the one change, not change, but you know, maybe a little deeper. You look at that return. Offensively, we looked at that return. Not only our special teams. You look at the speed, you look at the, I mean, guy's a talented guy."

I know two games is a small sample size, but what are some of the more obvious differences you see in Kaepernick now compared to say a year ago or do you see any?

"No. What I see is, and again, because we're not asking for the same things. It's not the same. There's really not things to compare it to. What we're asking him to do and what he's been asked to do any other year. We're just going to, the way we're looking at it is, we're looking at a guy that's come in and the things that we've been teaching and talking about and coaching and the things he's been working on and we're looking at where that's going. It's going well. We had 11 targets and 10 guys catch a ball. He's doing a nice job in that sense, playing the offense. Look guys, everybody here knows how I feel about him. I'm tickled to death and happier than heck that Colin Kaepernick's our starting quarterback. I think he's an extremely talented individual and I'm a big fan. But, I think Kap, the way he's playing, just the way he's going about things and the way he's doing things, hopefully we're using his talents in a smart way. With a guy like that, you can become a jack of all trades, master of none because there's so many things he can do. So, we're trying to, from our end, from the guys with the ball caps on, we're trying to make sure that we don't do that. That we have just enough."

What's the thought process between the seven guys you're playing in the defensive backfield? You have one guy in who comes in on nickel and then by in large, he goes off and two different guys come in for dime.

"And the line changes and the configuration."

Why doesn't the nickel back stay in in that dime defense? What's the advantage of having those moving parts?

"Well, when you're talking about, when you look at the whole thing, it's completely different personnel groups. It is. I see where you're going [CSN Bay Area writer] Matt [Maiocco]. You're really focused on what the secondary's doing there, but take a look at the front too. Those are different personnel. We're attacking the whole thing differently. We've got different guys. You've got two outside linebackers on the field with a nose in one of those packages. In another one of those packages, you've got the nose, the two ends on the field, one outside linebacker. So, it's not just the secondary, it's everything and we're trying to put people in positions at their strengths. And the guy that you're referencing is [DB] Jimmie Ward right there without using Jimmie Ward's name, but that's where you're going. And Jimmie, in those packages, Jimmie's a tackler and a blitzer and he's played on the slot. You've got all those things. So, that's what we're doing. That's why we're doing it."

How would you assess that Cardinals receiving corps and the fact that the secondary's going to have its work cut out with guys like Arizona Cardinals WRs Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown?

"I have absolutely, we have nothing but respect for their receiving corps. Obviously, Larry Fitzgerald, I've been here for nine years. I've seen Larry Fitzgerald on the football field a lot of times. They do a wonderful job. They're extremely talented. Well coached. Nothing but respect for coach [Cardinals head coach Bruce] Arians and his staff. But, I also have a lot of respect for our secondary too. I like them. Got a lot of respect for them."