The San Francisco 49ers opened up training camp with a media session and general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan were the first to speak to the attending media. They spoke about the positives of the new policy of only having to make one cut to get to the 53 and how they will evaluate players without “live hitting” at training camp.
The first two days of training camp will be similar to OTAs where players do not wear pads and then on day three, as Lynch stated, “It gets real.” Players will be striking each other but not taking each other to the ground because “that’s where the injuries happen.” Shanahan mentioned that twice during training camp he’s had players go “live” in a goal line setting and both times he’s lost players to injury.
So I asked, how much more difficult is it to evaluate players when you can only see them not giving 100 percent? Each had interesting takes on why they won’t have a problem deciding who will be part of the final 53.
Shanahan: “I don’t think it’s hard at all because, we do hit, we just don’t want to dive and take people to the ground. When two people meet each other like this it’s going to be as physical as anything. I don’t know, the rules aren’t the same now, but half the people in the league haven’t even worn pads in their pants for a long time and that’s because they hit here unless you go low and things like that. Most people know how to tackle. You don’t need to teach them how to tackle in this league and if you’re not going to hit you’re not going to go out there and do it, you’re not going to be on the team. You thud up, you hit people hard, you just don’t take it to the ground because that’s where the injuries happen and when you get into the game all the places I’ve been it’s really never been an issue.”
Lynch: “I would add there, I think it’s eased by the fact, I think one of Kyle’s strengths that really fits in line with the history of this place, [Hall of Fame 49ers head coach] Bill Walsh was known for it, noted for it, you have to learn how to practice and he stressed that a lot in the offseason. I was really excited to see the speed in which we practiced. When you can make things as close to game conditions as possible, obviously there’s no pads, but we teach tackling. The fundamentals are taught on this staff and we do it at an incredibly high rate of speed and so that helps ease that transition and I think helps you project, but there is always that unknown. We used to call it, One Buck All Americans. Certain guys shine in these offseason practices and you get out here and it just doesn’t happen for whatever reason. That’s part of this deal and why you’re even more intrigued to put the pads on and see who responds.”
Shanahan: “I’ve always had a hard time, not as much with the defensive guys because when you see a guy thud up, you can see that a guy can hit at a guy. He doesn’t have to wrap him and take him to the ground. My question is, I think the running back broke that tackle in practice but you don’t really know until the game and you want to see who can run through these tackles and who is ripping through them and getting the extra yards after contact and when you block it for one yard, who is getting three yards in the game. Those are the things that you don’t truly know until it’s full go.”
Having to only make one cut allows the staff to see players in four preseason games and gives them more time to evaluate the players. Both Lynch and Shanahan sounded off on how that will help the decision making process:
Shanahan: “Yeah, it makes it a lot easier. That last week, trying to keep guys healthy, also trying not to risk guys getting hurt that you know were in a game four days before that and they’re also going to be in a game nine days after that. So, you want to protect guys going into that fourth game, but sometimes it’s hard to even field a team. Now that we have the 90 guys, that takes away a lot of issues that we stress about. I think every special teams coach in the NFL is going to be a lot more excited. That’s usually a huge challenge for them. It just makes it a lot easier.”
Lynch: “The one thing I would add to that, that Kyle and I have talked a little bit about, in addition to helping us get through that fourth preseason game, it’s opportunity for guys. You never know. Kyle’s dad used to always tell the story about [former Denver Broncos RB] Terrell Davis, who’s going into the Hall of Fame here in another week or so. He showed his where over in Japan running down on a kickoff and that used to be a great training camp story. So, it’s another opportunity for that many more guys to be around for one more game and you just never know. So, I think it’s a good move for the league, good for everyone.”