Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty may be new to the San Francisco 49ers but he's definitely not new to coaching in the NFL. He spent the previous 12 years with the New York Giants coaching the offensive line and the three years before that in Chicago coaching tight ends. He also had a long college coaching career.
With the fast paced offense of Chip Kelly, it would seem imperative that players be in top physical shape to keep up. It was observed that several players were gassed during the first week or two of OTAs, including a few members of the OL. Flaherty spoke about the conditioning needs of the OL and was completely aware that the time between the end of mini camp and the beginning of training camp will be crucial for the group to stay focused while no one is watching.
Flaherty spoke at length about the rookies, the power of the men he has in the room, the transition from power to zone, and even about Anthony Davis. Here's the transcript:
How are the guys looking?
Day by day we're getting a little better, making strides.
How is their conditioning looking?
We just talked this morning. The next 6-7 weeks after we break here, is going to be a true tell for what they do to get ready, but we do need better conditioning all around. Just not certain players but all around the offensive line positions.
You worked out Fahn Cooper at his pro day. What have you seen from him during his transition?
Well, from the first time he came in during rookie camp, he did a great job preparing for the combine and his pro day but what happens with those young guys, is that they don't condition to practice football. So he learned the first couple, or first five days, that he needs better football conditioning. We just talked about it and reminded them, going into the net few weeks when they're not here, or if they're here and we're not around as coaches, what they have to do to get ready to practice football. He's making good strides, he really is. It was comical, do you want to use that word? (laughing) The first time he went through, I told him, well all the rookies, at rookie mini camp, I said "What did you guys do for the last 3 months getting ready for the combine?"
"Oh, we trained."
"What didn't you do? Train for practicing football." and they got it. They're a pretty good group.
What players stand out to you as being able to go from a power blocking scheme to a zone blocking scheme?
They're all kind of in the same category from what we're going to do with our offense from what they've been used to in the past. Most offensive linemen you don't really get a good feel for what they're going to be able to do until they get pads on, which will be training camp. I'd love to talk to you then because I'm excited to see these guys. These guys, this group right here, this offensive line room has power, they really do and I'm excited from that standpoint.
Andrew Tiller is one of the strongest guys out there.
He sure is. He's getting himself in a little bit better conditioning than what he is coming off vacation. A lot of guys really enjoy that vacation, especially offensive line coaches and offensive linemen, we tend not to push ourselves away from the table.
Is Brandon Thomas going to be playing guard or tackle?
Right now we're trying to keep him isolated to the right guard position.
Is there a reason for that? Is it because of the depth on the left side?
No, not necessarily. We just kind of put him in. We'll move him from time to time. You'll see those guys move around a little bit more in training camp. I'll put Brandon over on the left side and the right side, but for right now, just to get through the learning phase of a new offense, I try to keep them in one spot. Now, some of the guys who have played, like Erik, he's taken some reps at left tackle.
You were doing some sled work, you don't usually see OL using it as much as DL.
I've always, you know my mentor, in the OL coaches was Dick Anderson from Penn State. When I was a very young coach, I was considered a part time coach, which means that you're full time but you get paid part time salary, like we're all used to doing. We were fortunate to beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, win the National Championship. He was a big proponent of the two man sled. I learned it from him. When I was in college, I always used to hit the one man sled as a linemen, because we didn't have a two man sled in division 2. (laughing) I've always loved sled work and this two man sled is a great teaching tool.
Who is the most cerebral in the OL room?
I think Joe and Zane because they have played more in this league than the others, but I see we're growing day by day. We're getting a little bit better. If we can do that as an offensive line, in terms of the other people, whether it's Marcus Martin, Brandon Thomas, Andrew Tiller, Trent Brown, we're going to be ok by the time we kick off the season.
There was an interesting rotation last season where guys would go in for a couple series and then out for a couple. How do you feel consistency or the lack thereof affects the OL chemistry?
Through the course of a game?
Well, you want to first of all, get five guys that are going to play together and then after that you want to be able to try and get your depth. Depth is as important as anything. I really have not been somebody that would rotate series to series, but you never know. If guys are close, in the battle of position, you want to give them the opportunity to take a strangle hold of the position.
Joe Staley spoke about building a chemistry with Zane Beadles. How important is that?
It is. It is important. But number one thing we need to do is we need to build chemistry in our room as an offensive line, and then we need to take it out on the field and be able to build a chemistry with the people you're working with. Very important. I don't know how critical it is this time of year, it's going to get more critical as we get closer to playing St. Louis.
How important is conditioning in this fast paced offense?
That's a great question. I'm a firm believer that you have to be in condition in any offense you play in. Obviously in this offense you better discipline yourself to be in better condition than in most. The advantage that we will have is because the defense always has to react to the offense. We're going to be high tempo, coming at you, keep coming at you so you better be ready on defense to take our audible punches, per se. Offensively, I get excited for it. I've always believed that you know the people who say that the defense players are better athletes that the offensive lines? Well, we know the snap count, we know the play and we can play to play longer. That's going to take better conditioning than the defensive line no matter what offense you play.
Speaking of those two positions, Alex Balducci, what makes him a better offensive lineman than defensive lineman?
That's a good question. I don't know him as a defensive linemen. I watched more film on his pro day when he worked out as an offensive lineman and what I saw was a guy that has very good strength, he has good leverage, and he has good balance. Once he learns how to use his hands, and get his feet in the proper position, you know I keep reminding our coaches, he's looking at things backwards. I remember back in 1992 when I went, you know through my youth I was an offensive lineman and then I coached the defensive line at East Carolina, and I thought I was looking at things upside down, you know, it took a while. One thing he has an advantage of is he knows defense, and when you know that, that's going to help you tremendously. He has the traits of a good offensive lineman, to develop into an offensive lineman because of what I just mentioned.
The first few practices, Trent Brown really looked like he was huffing and puffing. How has his conditioning improved?
It's improved. He's improving, he's working. the biggest thing with most players, Trent included, is the consistency. You can't be one of those people that goes out and works out one day and the next day you don't. There's a certain time for NFL players, as I tell them, you have plenty of time once the Super Bowl is over to vacation and you're going to have plenty of money to go wherever you want to go, and stay as long as you want, but during the course of the work year, you have to work. you're going to be monitored by strength coaches and position coaches and you have to be willing to do it or you're in the wrong profession. That's what I keep reminding these guys. It's not like this is the conditioning, this is the learning process this time of year. It will be amped up during training camp because of the pads. As I mentioned before, after we leave this week, the players, and the time they're away from the team and the staff till we start training camp, they gotta work and if they don't, you know, the old days where you could come back and get in shape in training camp, I'm talking about the Baltimore Colts days where I grew up, that area. It's no longer. You don't practice enough, so you're conditioning has to be better. It should be because you have to get ready to play the season.
Is he fine?
No. No, he's not fine. But you know I think as you get a chance to know me, I don't know if anybody is ever fine. I'm always going to look a if the glass is half full, don't get me wrong. That's what I believe. I believe we're going to be the best in the league and if we're not, blame me. I'm that type of person. I'll still think there's room for improvement. Even Joe has room for improvement and Joe is working his tail off. He will be better than what played last year. He will be, just because of the way he works. That's what Trent has to do. Young players, that doesn't sink in real quick to those guys. They don't get it. It takes a while.
Do you know anything about or had any contact with Anthony Davis who retired last year?
Early on, when I first got here, you know I'm coming from the Giants, Greg Schiano was my GA at Rutgers a long time ago, there was some familiar characteristics there with Anthony. He knows this, coming from me, if he wants to play, then he's got to come back and prove he can play. It's gotta come from within. You can tell him exactly what I just said, he'll have an opportunity to play. That's all it is. You decided for whatever reason to retire, and if you come back in the game, nothing is going to be handed to you. You have to work your tail off. The conversation that I've had, back when I first got here, was he was acceptable. Now, I don't see him. (laughing) I don't know why, so I can't answer that one. I need to talk talk to Drew Rosenhaus about that one.
So, it's kind of out of sight, out of mind?
Yeah, There you go. You know, we're going to be good. We've got a good group of guys to work with, a good young rookie group that in years to come are going to be very good players for the 49ers for a long time. The younger guys, like Trent and those guys, if they continue to have 'the want,' they'll be fine.
Do you think the learning curve for offensive linemen a little slower than for defensive linemen coming into the league?
That's kind of what I've experienced. They're a little bit ahead of us you know from time to time, but we'll catch up. In training camp we'll catch up to them. We have a good defensive line. I'm excited about it. My last experience, the other team I was with, we were hurting the defensive line in training camp. If you have a good defensive line, the Super Bowl teams I've been around, winners, we had a good defensive line. So, our offensive line got better just blocking them. That's the case it looks like here.