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Jim O’Neil: ‘[Marcus Rush decision] above my pay grade’

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The 49ers first year defensive coordinator was asked about Marcus Rush, amidst some fan disappointment with his departure.

The San Francisco 49ers saw practice squad outside linebacker Marcus Rush sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this week, and naturally that set people off. He led the NFL in preseason sacks, and was a presence throughout the August schedule. He was cut in early September, and after going unclaimed on waivers, he signed with the 49ers practice squad, where he remained until this week.

More often than not, a practice squad player is not going to make much of an impact. We get excited about such players, particularly when the team stinks, but I think most recognize the realities of such players. That being said, when a team is bad, particularly in an area of strength for a given practice squad player, it would seem to make sense to get that player out there for some work.

Chip Kelly has said the games are not for tryouts, and they’re trying to win games. I get that they want to win games, but when something isn’t working out (like the pass rush), why not mix things up a bit (with say Marcus Rush)?

On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil was asked about Rush. He had previously said Rush was doing good work on the practice squad, offering the offense the look of the opposing team’s best pass rusher. On Tuesday, he was asked if it was a disappointment to lose him this late in the season:

“Yeah. I think we talked about him a few weeks ago. He did a great job for our guys on scout team. He obviously had a great preseason for us. But, I’m happy for him. He’s got a chance to be on the 53, get a couple game checks and put some film out there for himself. So, I’m happy for him.”

He was then asked why they did not roll the dice on him at some point. O’Neil responded with, “Those decisions are above my pay grade.” He was then asked would he have done something if it had been his decision, and he said, “I’m not going to second guess people in the building. So, I’m not going to go there.”

I would expect most coordinators would choose to not critique the front office’s decisions, but I would have loved to hear what Vic Fangio might have said in response. I don’t think he would have necessarily openly criticized the front office decision, but if he liked Rush, I could have seen some kind of exasperated sigh.

Beyond that, I am curious how coordinators around the league operate in terms of pushing for players they like. I imagine those with more job security are inclined to push harder than those without, but personalities must play some kind of role in this as well. When Rex Ryan was still a defensive coordinator, I can picture him pushing for certain players he liked. That doesn’t mean he was successful all the time, but I could see him pushing for players just based on his personality.