Could you quantify how much progress the offense has made, particularly in the passing game, from when you first got here?
“Yeah, I think finally last week we got done with the install. So, now we're coming back around things a second time and you're getting the see the same play maybe against the same look or maybe against a different look. You’re always progressing. I think anytime you go through minicamp, OTAs, all of that stuff, when you're installing your offense, the defense is installing their defense, you're going to go run a play against a look that you're really not prepared for. Now we've kind of settled in, we know what the defense is doing, we know what we're doing and you see the progress then. I think it’s kind of they throw everything at you and see what sticks and then you come back around and keep improving on those plays. Basically, now from the end of today until when we come back from training camp, you just go back over it, watch the film and let it all soak in. That way, when you come back to training camp, you're not starting from day one again, you're picking up where you left off. You go by days with installs, but it's stuff that you've already done before.”
You've done it before, years ago. Do you see that this play fits with this play and that this is what we're trying to make this play look like?
“Sure, and I knew that from when I played with [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] before, but now this time around I'm trying to see it through Kyle's eyes whereas last time I was just trying to keep my head above water. I just tried to know the play and run the play whereas now, with a little bit of background, I want to see it how he sees it. I can definitely see where that is kind of starting to take place, but it’s also there are so many different plays to see which ones he is trying to tie together, which is great. One of the coolest things, I thought, is when we have our team meetings Kyle puts up plays and he explains them both from an offensive perspective and a defensive perspective. So, I sit next to [LB] Dekoda Watson and he's like, 'Man, I never even knew half of this stuff like who has got a certain gap and how we're trying to affect that gap.' I think that's one of the great things about Kyle as a coach, is that he is able to break it down to the simplest level whereas I think a lot of times in this league that people bypass that and they just want to tell you, 'Just do this.' Kyle is always good about giving you the 'why.' This is why we're trying to do this. This is why we're trying to affect this player. And, if you're really paying attention, you'll learn a lot about football and realize what he's trying to do with his scheme.”
Kyle was talking a lot about the importance of the play-action in the offense. How much work goes into selling those fakes and giving the defense the right looks?
“Yeah, no doubt. I think the one thing with our defense and defenses of that scheme, the linebackers are very good at coming from depth. I would say of all of the defenses that we are going to go against, defenses who play the scheme that our defense plays are going to be the toughest guys to get in play-action because the linebackers are very disciplined. We obviously have a lot of great linebackers with [LB NaVorro] Bo [Bowman] and [LB] Malcolm [Smith]. Malcolm has played in this system before. He's really hard to get in play-action, which has been good for us because the first guy is not always there. For us, offensively, we just try to run the play like it's the run. The only thing is, at that last second, you pull the ball away. The O-Line treats it the same way and try to get them. It's been a good battle back-and-forth. We have gotten some, they have dropped underneath some where we have had to check it down. It's been a good test for both sides.”
What are the nuances that the general fan wouldn't know about something that you take for granted?
“Well, I think probably the general fan would think it's all between the running back and the quarterback and I would say the majority of it is done by the offensive line. When the offensive line comes off like it's the run, you can see times where we watch the film and the linebackers are reacting to them. They're not even looking at us. They're looking at the offensive line's intention, the fullback, the tight end. We’ve just got to do the end part of it, which, I think for us is you just treat it like the run and the running back treats it like the run and he rolls over it and I pull it back, but I think a lot of the work is done up front.”
“Yeah, I think, first of all you have players that can make plays. Secondly, you’ve got a scheme that is very sound. It makes an offense play really honestly. I mentioned the linebackers, but you look at the secondary. I've been really impressed with [DB] Jimmie [Ward]. This guy is playing the middle of the third from twelve yards deep and still being able to take away plays in the deep part of the field. [S] Eric Reid is playing that [Seattle Seahawks S] Kam Chancellor role really well. The D-Line, obviously we don't have pads on so it's hard to tell, but there are definitely times where even without pads that you're feeling pressure. They have definitely given us a test every day and that's what you want. We talk about iron sharpening iron. We want to go out and have a good day to put pressure on them and vice versa. We want to have them put pressure on us and really make us work for everything that we get.”
Is there anything that you plan on doing over these next five-and-a-half weeks with your receivers?
“Yeah, we're going to get together and do a little thing I think. It is such a long period of time that you want to get together at least for some period. We're aiming for right in the middle of when we leave and when we come back. We'll get as many guys together as we can. You can't accommodate everybody because people are going all across the country. We're going to get together and get three days in and then come back ready to go on July 27th.”
Will that probably be around here?
“We haven't determined the location yet. It's still in the works, but we have a good commitment on the amount of guys that are going to be able to make it.”
Could you take us through the bomb to WR Marquise Goodwin yesterday? The play and then the satisfaction that the offense gets from that to open practice?
“Yeah, it's like the old baseball commercial, 'Chicks dig the long ball.' Anytime you throw a deep ball, everybody gets pumped up. The good thing with us is that we have a guy like Marquise, and I'll even throw a guy like [WR] Aldrick [Robinson] in there, just guys who can stretch the defense. When I played for Kyle in Cleveland, we had [current Los Angeles Chargers WR] Travis Benjamin and we had [current Atlanta Falcons WR] Taylor Gabriel so we hit some of those deep balls back then with those guys. What it does is now the defense has to honor the deep ball. So now, we have routes where we send those guys deep and then we break them off and it's an easy throw. Those are low percentage-type throws and plus you’ve got to get the right look. We finally got it against the right defense yesterday. A lot of the times our defense is playing three deep so there's a guy in the middle of the field so you can't throw deep. Yesterday we got them in the right look and we capitalized on it. I think that's the major thing, but what it does show our defense and hopefully when we get to the season, other defenses is that we have a guy who can take the top off the defense, as [former NFL WR] Randy Moss used to say. The good thing that I've been really impressed about Marquise is that he's not just a guy who is going to run vertical and run deep. He has really worked on his route-running and yesterday he had press coverage, ran the guy off and ran a stop route and the guy was five yards away from him. So, to see a guy who is known just as a speed guy run intermediate routes and go across the middle and catch the ball, it's been a pleasant surprise.”
Same thing with TE George Kittle. You had a big play to him in that first team period. Has he impressed you?
“Yeah, he has. I joked because his offensive coordinator there is [University of Iowa offensive coordinator] Brian Ferentz. He was with me in New England. I said, 'I'm going to text him and tell him that they were using you the wrong way.' You think of Iowa, you think of these big, blocking tight ends. He has a really good football awareness, is what I would call it. A feel for where to break, how to break, read-zones. I've been surprised and, obviously, it's a good thing for us to have a guy who has that football awareness and some feel of the game to it. Obviously, that play was another hard play-action. We got everybody to suck up and they cut him loose. There wasn't really much for him to do on that one, but there was a play later on in practice where we basically gave him a two-way go and he made a great choice and caught the ball. Everybody is improving. I think that's the biggest thing, rookies, vets, everybody. Now we're in our last week. We've been running the plays. Like I said before, now you're coming back around and running some plays again. It's improvement. Now, every play is not great, but you learn from the bad ones and you keep capitalizing on the good ones.”
Would you say that your chemistry with your receivers is growing at about according to plan?
“Yeah, for sure. For sure. That's why it's important for us to get together at some point between now and training camp. We've thrown a lot of footballs together over the last nine weeks. Whether it was phase one, phase two or in practice, those are the reps that you get. So, that's why I said it will be good. I'll take a week off from throwing. I won't throw for a whole week and then I'll get back into a routine and then I'll meet up with those guys and then all of a sudden it'll be training camp and I think we'll be right where we should be.”
Is it difficult with so much rotation going on along the offensive line and how important is chemistry for you with the guy who is snapping you the ball?
“The only time I ever notice is when the center comes in because they let me know. Other than that, I'm thinking about the play, I'm thinking about what our offensive personnel group is, how many receivers we have in the game. Other than when a new center comes in, I really don't ever notice it. I think those guys have all done a good job. Obviously, the interior guys are rotating around all over the place trying to configure the best five guys that you can get. Like I said before, there are no pads on so you can't really put much weight on that right now. It's kind of unfair for an offensive line when they can only do so much without really blocking people. Like I said, I really only noticed when [OL Jeremy] Zuttah or [OL Tim] Barnes, when there is a center rotation they let me know because each guy is a little bit different. I have to take the snap a little bit differently.”
Other than WR Pierre Garçon, there haven't been a whole lot of guys right now on this team among the wide receivers who have accomplished a whole lot. Which guy or guys have stood out to you? Have any of those guys caught your eye?
“Well, I've been happy with all of them. That's the other thing, I don't really know which receiver is going to be in there at a certain time either, so you get work with all of them. I know what you're saying. Pierre is probably the most well-known, but really, and part of the reason I knew I wanted to come here is because of Kyle's offense. He is going to get guys open. It doesn't matter who they are. Now, when it's man-to-man coverage, you obviously hope you have a better guy than the defense, but when teams are playing zone the ball is going to go anywhere. It just depends on how the defense declares it and then it's my job to get it to the right guy. I think that’s always been one of my strong suits is not zeroing in on one guy, especially against zone defenses because they are going to make you pick here, pick there. If they give you the big one then you take it, but if not, the ball should go to wherever the open guy is. Until the ball is snapped, you don't always know where that's going to be.”
WR Trent Taylor obviously is not large and doesn't have a large catch radius. But, can you see the qualities that allowed him to, I think he led the nation in receptions last year. How is he able to do it? What contributes to that?
“Well, I think when you talk about man-to-man coverage, he’s a guy that, if it is man-to-man, he's probably going to win. It just depends on the route that you give him and does the defender have help somewhere. A lot of times, when we talk about man coverage, these guys, they play outside leverage or inside leverage based on where their help is. Sometimes when it's a man pressure and you know that he’s got a two-way go, he is pretty much going to win. Like you said, the hard part is sometimes with those little guys you can't always see them. Maybe you see like the top of their helmet or something. It's similar to when I played with [Cleveland Browns WR] Andrew Hawkins in Cleveland, a guy who would kill anybody in one-on-ones if you got him in man coverage, but the hard part is sometimes you’ve got to find a lane to throw to him. I think, if you watch him just practice, you can tell why he had the success that he had in college, there's no doubt.”