“I’ll start with my thoughts on the game, some things I thought we did well. We challenged our guys to possess those three attributes that we talked about in the spring; be relentless, be accountable, be productive. For the most part, we had some guys flying around. We had a bunch of guys that had some exceptional efforts making tackles 20-yards downfield, rushing the quarterback, getting in on some tackles. So, that was great to see. We feel like that’s going to be a big part of us playing great defense is getting 11 guys to the ball. The second one, accountable, with the exception of probably five or six plays, I thought the guys did a good job playing team defense and knowing what their job was and getting their job done. And then, productive, especially on third down, I thought our guys made some plays. Overall, I was happy with how the guys came out playing relentless, accountable and productive. The first half defense was really good. That’s who we want to be as a group and then just one thing we’re going to look at is plays per drive. It’s hard for us to control how many series we’ll have throughout the course of a game. What we do control is the length of those series, so we want to be right around five plays per drive and we were. And obviously, the quicker we can get off the field and get the ball back to [head coach] Chip’s [Kelly] offense, that’s going to benefit our football team. The things I think we need to clean up and do better, we’ve got to find a way to generate some turnovers. We had one ball on the ground that we had a chance to get on it and we did not and then we’ve got to finish the game. We went into halftime with a lead and then we obviously lost the lead and ended up losing the game. We’ve got to do a better job there closing it out. Questions, guys?”
How do you think your first round pick DL DeForest Buckner started the game, how did he do?
“I thought he was very solid. A lot of pluses, did a really good job getting his job done. I think that just the progression of NFL rookies is get my job done first and then once you get comfortable doing that in NFL games, then you figure out how to start making more plays.”
When you say, ‘Get my job done,’ are you talking about maintaining the gap?
“Exactly. I’m going to keep the linebackers clean. I’m going to make sure I get my job done. I’m out there with the ones. I’m not going to be the guy who gives up a good play and as you start to feel more comfortable at some point, and it’s different for everybody, it’s going to click for him and then he’s going to know when he can take shots and make plays.”
Watching his college film and he did so many things right, one thing that seemed to be an issue was that he would get a little bit too tall and off-balance sometimes and he was knocked down to the ground quite a bit. Has that been a concern for you? Has he been working on that? Is it an issue at all in practice and this game?
“No, he wasn’t on the ground and I thought he was very stout at the line of scrimmage. And if you watch practice, [defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro] Azz and the defensive line live on the sleds. So, I’m sure that that’s helped him a lot from his first year in the NFL to going back to college.”
Do you feel like you got a good mix of situational football, especially with them going for a fourth down early in the game?
“Yeah, it was good. We got the fourth down. We got the three-and-out in the two-minute drive before the half. There’s certain things in those specialty situations you don’t want to show in the preseason, but for the first game we got a good mix.”
Back to Buckner, giving him reps in base it looked like early in that game the Texans were going to run at him and test him, his ability to stop the run and plug those gaps. How do you think he did specifically in that area and if he’s out there in base situations would you expect teams to attack him because he’s a rookie?
“I don’t know if they were that detailed with their game plan given that it was the first preseason game. I thought he was very solid against the run. He did a good job for us. A couple runs squirted out on us for eight-yards, 10-yards. None of them were a result of him playing poor technique or not being in his gap or anything like that. He had a great start for us. He played well.”
Did you guys meet as a staff to kind of regroup on the positional battles and re-rank things after the first preseason game?
“We did, just kind of hit the reset button. This is where we’re at at every position, rank the guys and by no means is that settled right now only one preseason game in. We’ve got two great practices coming up against the Denver Broncos and then two more preseason games to figure out where we’re at heading into the opener. But, we do that every couple days.”
You talked about last week the battle to start next to LB NaVorro Bowman is something the staff talked a lot about. Do you talk to NaVorro about it and get his feedback?
“Yeah, I ask just from a communication standpoint who he’s comfortable with. I think he’s comfortable with all three of those guys. I think NaVorro just wants to win and he wants the best one out there next to him. NaVorro is a guy that obviously I’m going to lean on for a lot of things because he’s the leader of that locker room. He’s the leader of our unit. But, it’s going to be our decision.”
Do you need one of those three guys to wow you in these next couple of games or else it’s going to be a platoon?
“No. I mean, if somebody wows me then they’re going to be the starter. If all three of them wow me then they’re all going to play. It’s a very competitive group. It’s as competitive of a position that I’ve probably been around, having three guys that I would feel comfortable with putting out there. So, it’ll take care of itself. I’m not in a rush to make a decision and like I told you guys before, if somebody doesn’t establish themselves Week 1 against the Rams, then we’ll roll with all those guys and we’ll let it play out until it does establish itself.”
Did LB Ray-Ray Armstrong wow you in that game?
“He made some nice plays. The thing that really stood out with Ray to me was his ability to defeat blockers and still make tackles. A lot of guys will go blow up a blocker and leave it for somebody else to clean it up. Ray had two plays that jump out to me where one he took on a fullback and made a TFL in the backfield, and then another one he blew up an offensive guard that was climbing up to him on the second level and then he made another tackle. That was good because the one thing that people would question about Ray is his ability to play in the box just given his history being a secondary guy and he answered all those questions for me on Sunday.”
Can you talk about NT Garrison Smith and it looked like he did a really good job penetrating the backfield, especially on one play, I think he kind of just nicked the running back and he kind of fell for a TFL? Seemed like he played a lot of one-eye yesterday. Can you just briefly talk about that?
“Yeah. It was a great job by him. He gathered pre-snap information. He knew where the run was going. We were in a defense that allowed our nose tackle to take a shot and penetrate the A-gap. It was third-and-one. He knew the ball was going to his right, so he shaded the right side of the center and he blew through the gap and got us off the field on third-and-one. So, it was a hell-of-a play by him.”
Where is DL Arik Armstead in his return to practice?
“All I know is what coach said, is that if it was a game he would have played. But, like I told you guys, that’s up to [vice president of football operations Jeff Ferguson] Ferg and [director of human performance Mark Uyeyama] Uye when he goes. I can’t worry about it. I’d be lying to you if I, I can tell you I want him out there. He’s a hell-of-a football player, but when those guys say he’s ready to go, he’ll go. Hopefully, he’ll be able to go some in Denver.”
Are there any players in particular you are looking forward to seeing in those practices against the Broncos?
“I’m looking forward to seeing them all. I thought, just one guy that played really well, I thought [CB] Chris Davis did a good job for us. He had three third-down stops. He’s a guy that came flying into the screen a few times and put some big hits on some guys. But, I’m looking forward to seeing all of our guys. We’re going against the defending Super Bowl champs and if you can’t get excited for that, something’s wrong with you.”
How much work have those three guys competing to start next to NaVorro, how much work have they seen at MIKE? It seems like LB Nick Bellore has gotten the majority of the looks at MIKE with the reserves.
“The job that’s up for grabs right now is WILL. So, we’ve been focused on those guys getting most of the reps at the WILL linebacker position. The one swing guy we do have in the group is [LB Michael] Wilhoite. Wilhoite has taken some MIKE reps for us. But, right now, Bellore’s our backup MIKE.”
What is your feel as far as DT Tank Carradine’s concerned? It looked like he kind of looked stiff in space a little bit. He did a good job as a pass rusher, but especially at setting the edge on that, when you guys were backing up the Texans against, backed up. He kind of gave inside leverage which allowed the running back to run outside. What’s your take as a defensive coordinator knowing that it’s very important to maintain gap integrity?
“I thought Tank had a good game. You brought up, he had the one bad play. As a group, I thought our outside backers did an outstanding job on the edge. The one backed up play, you’re right. Tank kind of peeked inside a little bit and the ball ended up getting outside of him. So, that was corrected on the sideline immediately with [outside linebackers] coach [Jason] Tarver. We talked about it in our defensive meeting today. Those guys know that can’t happen. We’ve got to play 11-man football and that’s how you stop the run. But, the space stuff, I thought he did a pretty good job. There was one play in particular I remember, we were in Cover 2 and Tank was our curl window dropper. Ball was thrown in his zone. He did a great job breaking on it and making a tackle against a wide receiver. So, the stiffness in space stuff didn’t show up to me. I think Tank’s done a really nice job for us with his transition to the outside backer position. I’m excited about him on this football team.”
Before LB Aaron Lynch’s suspension, he was considered probably one of the most important players on the defense. And then Sunday he plays into the second half of the first preseason game. Could you just explain the thinking behind that and what you want to see from him early in the preseason?
“Well, the reason he went with the second group is we need to find out who’s going to replace him in the first quarter of the season. So, we’re giving guys reps with that first group. Aaron needs to play because he’s going to miss four games. So, we’re going to get him as many reps as we possibly can. My expectations for him if he’s with the second group is to dominate. He’s that type of player. He knows that.”
Is part of that too to get his conditioning up?
“Yeah. He just needs to play football. He’s going to miss four games. So, he’s going to get more reps in the preseason than some of our more established guys will get because we need those guys ready to go for Week 1.”
You mentioned Chris Davis. It’s always interesting when a guy’s playing pretty well and you say why wasn’t he drafted? I realize you weren’t making those decisions, but if you had to guess, can you see why he may have slipped through the cracks?
“I mean, if I could answer that question I’d probably be making a lot more money than I would be as a defensive coordinator. But, no some guys are just better scheme fits. They fit better with this scheme than they do other schemes. You see guys all the time get bounced around and they were unsuccessful in one scheme and then they go somewhere else and they are successful or are coached a little bit different way. It’s happened to us in the past where a guy wasn’t very good for us and he went somewhere else and was a good player or a guy for someone else wasn’t a good player, he comes into our scheme and he’s a really good football player. But, I’ve been very impressed with Chris, just his ability to play in the slot. He’s tough. He can blitz. He’s a really smart football player. He understands leverage and coverage and he makes plays. He had three third-down stops in one half of football. That’s pretty damn good.”
Does he remind you of Cleveland Browns S K’Waun Williams at all?
“I don’t want to compare them right now. K’Waun was a good nickel for us, but I like the progression where Chris has gone so far with our defense.”
You made some reference to his qualities, but what makes him a good fit in this scheme?
“Plays relentless. Gets his job done. So, he’s accountable and he makes plays, he’s productive. Those are the three things we look for.”
Do you expect CB Will Redmond to play Saturday?
“I hope. Again, that’s a decision that Ferg and Uye will make along with coach and if he’s ready to go, he’ll be out there playing. He’s done a really good job battling through his knee and playing through some discomfort. That’s just part of the progression for him. But, he’s a guy we’re excited about as a defense. So, the sooner we can get him out there, the better.”
Is CB Rashard Robinson healthy enough to practice today?
“I don’t know that. I’ll find out when we get out there. I haven’t spoken with Ferg yet this morning. Most of our morning was consumed with watching the practice tape and going over corrections and what we did well. But, I was disappointed that he didn’t play more. He’s a guy I’m very excited to see in live action.”