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Kyle Shanahan talks George Kittle, D.J. Reed, quarterback depth

The 49ers head coach met with the media Monday to wrap up the Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. We have a full transcript.

Opening comments:

“Do you guys want me to start with injuries?”


“[T Joe] Staley, [C/G Weston] Richburg and [T Mike] McGlinchey all have knees. They’ll all be questionable this week. [RB Matt] Breida went out in the game. His shoulder was bothering him, he came back in. He should be alright. [WR] Pierre [Garçon] had an ankle. I think he’ll be okay. [WR Marquise] Goodwin will be questionable, his thigh and hamstring. [WR Dante] Pettis, he’ll be out this week. He’ll be week-to-week after that with his knee, also. [DL] Solomon [Thomas] went out with a shoulder sprain. I think he’ll be good to go. We expect to get [S Jaquiski] Tartt back this week. We’ll see with [CB Richard Sherman] Sherm. Probably expect him to him to be out, but we’ll see.”

Is Staley’s issue the same thing that he’s dealt with off and on over the last four or five years?

“Yeah, I believe so. Same knee, same areas.”

Do you think about moving McGlinchey to left or do you not want to--?

“No. We try to keep him at the same spot. Bring in [T Garry] Gilliam, put him at left. You don’t like to get worse at two positions. So, you try to not change guys when that happens unless you feel you need to.”

It seemed that one of the bright spots yesterday was TE George Kittle connecting so well with QB C.J. Beathard. Obviously they have the background with Iowa, but it also seems that C.J. is a lot more comfortable throwing to him. The ball is always right on target. Is there something to be said for him knowing how well he runs?

“I’m not sure. You could ask him on that. I think Kittle did a good job. It’s easier to hit people when they’re real open, and he did a good job of getting open. We had an idea going into the game that he had a chance to have a big game. You would think, they went to the same college together and stuff, so I understand the question. But, you’d have to ask him that.”

On the 82-yard touchdown pass Kittle caught, what was the name of that play or concept?

“H3, 2Y, Knot X Go.”

Is that a west coast offense concept, play?


Is that something former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh would’ve used?

“I don’t think it was in his 1985 playbook. I’m not sure. They probably would’ve called it ‘Hound Two.’ But, yeah I don’t think they did that. I don’t know.”

Can you take me through the play, what Kittle did, how he won?

“It was a zone play. So, all he tried to do was not show that he was running a seam so he ran a nod instead. When you run a seam, the safety carries you. When you run a 10-yard out, he doesn’t. So, you try to make it look like that. That’s why he was wide open. It was zone coverage. Then, it’s up to C.J. to look the middle-third player off to get him to defend a go-route, which was on the left side. The O-Line gave him enough time to move his eyes to the right, to the left and to come back to the right. So, he moved the coverage well, which got Kittle open. He was wide open just by the coverage and the quarterback, then Kittle did a hell of a job making it into a touchdown.”

How good is Kittle right now?

“I think Kittle’s very good. I think he’s been good since he got here. He was a guy we were very surprised on that he fell to us in the draft. I thought he was one of our best players last year going into the season. He got banged up early on, as I’ve talked about. He made it through and kept playing, but he wasn’t moving the same way he started out. He got healthy towards the end of the year to where I think more people saw his ability. Then he’s been healthy this year, so I think it’s been easier for him to show it.

Beyond the health, he’s talked openly about how last year he felt like he was kind of lost and swimming a lot in the playbook. How much growth have you seen in that regard from him?

“A lot. And, you see it with everyone who gets to play a lot their first year, especially when they’re throw into situations and put a lot of pressure on them when they’ve got to do a lot and it’s early for them so they are kind of swimming, just trying to catch up every week. It’s their first time going against NFL defenses every week, along with running a playbook for the first time. Then, they make it through the year, they get to get away for a little bit, they come back and they hear the same stuff. Everything sticks a little easier. You come out of the huddle and you’re not trying to remind yourself what that word meant again. You’re just thinking about the looks, leverage, man or zone and that makes you play a lot more freely.”

It seemed like Los Angeles Chargers QB Philip Rivers wasn’t super aggressive pushing the ball down the field. Was that an indication that DB D.J. Reed Jr. was doing well on the back end or what did you make of Reed’s play?

“I think I was happy with Reed’s play. I think Philip is just very smart. He knows what scheme he is going against and he knows when he has a chance to go deep, and he knows when he doesn’t have a chance to go deep. He can recognize that extremely fast and he doesn’t mess around with it. When you play certain types of coverages like we do, like Los Angeles does, I mean, there’s a lot of bend, but don’t break situations, where you’ve got to check it down. Philip knows his strengths and weaknesses. He is very smart and doesn’t mess around. I thought D.J. Reed did a good job in the game. Improvement from the week before. I think he’ll continue to get better with more reps.”

Do you anticipate he is going to hold onto that starting job?

“I think [DB Adrian] Colbert will be healthier this week, which will give Colbert a much better chance to get his spot back. We’re one day into this. We’ll see by Wednesday how much better he is. But, I expect Colbert to get out there eventually, but D.J. got his opportunity because of health reasons. Sometimes all a guy needs is an opportunity. We’ll see how this week goes.”

Do you need to consider other personnel changes on the front seven of that defense considering how the tackling has been?

“I did think we improved in the tackling, I’ll say that first. I think we made a big emphasis of it. I know it was important to our players, also. I think they did a better job wrapping up there, especially in the first half. I think as they got worn down, I thought it was definitely not good enough there in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. I think [Los Angles Chargers RB Melvin] Gordon [III] made a number of good runs where he ran hard and we did not wrap up well. We have 53 guys on our team, so we’re going to put our best players out there every week. I believe we took a step in the right direction. By no means is it good enough. I think we’ll continue to go in that direction and not take steps back.”

I know there’s been talk about C.J. needs to get the ball out of his hands faster. But, part of his game is that he’s willing to hang in there. A lot of times you just have to do that. But, he gets pounded. What level of concern do you have about him surviving for 12 more games?

“It is with all quarterbacks. He did get hit a lot in the game yesterday. There’s times that he can avoid it, and there’s times you can’t. You try to talk to him about those, get him to understand both of those. C.J.’s not trying to get hit. He’s just trying to play the way he’s always played and he’s trying as hard as he can to win. But, he’s got to understand when he has a chance to avoid those and when doesn’t and when he can recognize those to take care of himself, which I know he wants to do. But, there’s a time in the heat of battle that that’s tough to do. Kind of similarly with what I said about Philip also that you know when you have a chance to hang on plays and you know when you don’t. There’s times that I think the more he plays, and I think he was better at it, I think it’ll continue. Same stuff happened with [QB] Jimmy [Garoppolo], too. But, you’ve got to recognize when plays don’t have a chance to develop and get rid of it.”

It wasn’t his fault, but the roughing the passer, I think it was on Los Angeles Chargers DE Melvin Ingram III, when the pile drove him into the ground. How many times do you look at a play and say, “It’s time for QB Nick Mullens?” Did you think C.J. was going to get up from that hit?

“I very, very rarely see the hit. If I’m sitting there watching him, I’m probably not doing a good job of reading what the coverages are and trying to decide why or why not people are getting open and how to attack it. So, I’m always looking down the field. That’s all I really see. If someone’s open and the ball’s not out, that’s when my eyes go to the quarterback. Sometimes I can see him getting hit. But, I see him on the ground. When I looked back and I saw the flag, I was afraid there was holding on the play. I didn’t know that it was roughing the passer.”

Along the same lines though, he’s pretty fearless when he tucks the ball and runs. Is it a balance between getting him to try to be safe in those situations and not taking away just his natural mentality of it?

“Yes, no doubt about it. C.J. is very important to us. We want him to stay healthy. We’re going to do everything we can to coach him to do that. I know C.J. is going to work at it too. There’re times he’s got to get down and give up on the play. He knows that, I know that. It’s going to be hard for me to really go too hard on him when it’s third-and-five and the game is on the line. I can sit there and do it and he can say it, but most quarterbacks are going to attempt that in that situation. But, he’s too important for us to risk losing him in those situations and all quarterbacks are. I hope he can get better at it and I hope we can help him.”

How much self-evaluation do you do in terms of game management like maybe at the end of the half where that possession only took 13 seconds off the clock?

“Oh, always. That’s the first thing you think of before and after. So, you go back and when you talk about game management, is my goal to just manage the game or to try to do what I think is best to win the game? You get the ball with I believe it was 50-something seconds, we were up 17-14. I felt confident trying to go score. I don’t think we were doing anything ridiculous. We ran three normal plays. First down, we had an incompletion. Second down, we threw a five-yard hitch to Breida who ran out of bounds, stopped the clock, got us to third-and-three. We had a man play and our back going across, Breida, got picked by the D-Line and we didn’t get it, had another incompletion. I know how big of a deal three-and-out is, I did. You realize you put the defense in a bad situation there. If you know that’s going to happen, I’d rather just take a knee and hope that we made it easier. I also know that if I had to do it over again, I’m going to try that. At 17-14, I think we need to score some points in this game and I think we have an opportunity to do it there. Unfortunately we didn’t get the first down. So, when that happens, you’ve got to punt. I did feel pretty good punting the ball with 30-seconds and them catching it at their own 12. I thought it would be very hard for them to go score. I wish the offense didn’t put the special teams or defense in that situation, but we did and now it was up to our special teams to not give up a 60-yard punt return, which they did, which really hurt us. Then, I was happy that our defense at least kept them to a field goal.”

Should that punt have gone out of bounds so that there wouldn’t have been a return possibility?

“No, we weren’t trying to punt it out of bounds. We were just trying to hang it up there and punt it to the left. I think it went a little bit to the right, kicked it a little bit further so the hang time wasn’t perfect which put the guys in a little bit tougher of a bind. But, we had guys there that could have made the tackle. There was too much space for them and they didn’t get it done.”

On the last offensive play, the interception, is that up to C.J. to recognize that blitzer or is that somebody else’s responsibility?

“No, that’s C.J.’s. That was a very unfortunate play. He did a hell of a job with that throughout the game. That one kind of threw us all off. That was the first all-out blitz we’d seen by [Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator] Gus Bradley in a long time, maybe ever. It’s because it was a bust. [Chargers DB] Derwin [James] is always the guy who blitzes unless the other safety is down and that was the one time in the game the other safety was down and blitzed. C.J. was on it, saw the other safety and knew it. Derwin busted and he blitzed also. So, they had two guys blitz which is a busted coverage. But, that’s what surprised us. That was a hell of a bust by Derwin.”

Do you think it was a mistake by them and not taking advantage of his lack of experience?

“No, I know it was a mistake by them.”

What should C.J. have done in that case?

“Any time you get a blitz, when you have five guys on a protection, you throw off the guy you’re hot of. So, if the center is going to the right and they pick up the free safety, that means you’re hot off Derwin to the left and there’s a back uncovered to the left. It happened to them earlier in the game, the exact same play, when we threw it to them and Derwin jumped up and tipped it. That’s the exact same play. What’s different is the other safety blitzed on that play so C.J. saw that safety, felt fine and he was surprised that Derwin was coming also, I think. So was their coaching staff. So were we. It was a hell of a play by Derwin.”

You were talking earlier about protecting C.J.. One way to protect him is to run the ball. You came into the game averaging five yards per carry and your running backs yesterday averaged about four yards per carry. Why did you choose to run so infrequently?

“I think it was extremely hard to run the ball with the way they were playing. It didn’t feel like that was the best thing to do. You’d always love to protect the quarterback. You want to try to win the game. I did not think we were running the ball well. I think we lost three O-Linemen in that game, two tackles and a center. The center was able to come back and tough out through that game. That definitely affected him running the ball, trying to block [Los Angeles Chargers NT Brandon] Mebane and things like that. McGlinchey battled back and came in in the second half, but it made it tougher. It’s an eight-man front every single play and they’re running pressures to stop the run, to me, not for the pass. So, I felt good with what we did, just didn’t get it done.”

How did DB Greg Mabin play and do you anticipate rotating going forward or is he maybe going to get more snaps?

“I was happy with how he did. He came in, made two big plays on his first two plays in. His first two plays were right after the interception that they returned, the one that we had in our red zone and they returned it. C.J., Pierre, Gilliam did a hell of a job stopping them. Mabin’s first play in he had a tackle for about a one-yard gain. His second play in, he caused a fumble. Then the third play, we got off the field on third down. But, I was really happy with how he played and that’s why he got some time. That’s how he’s looked in practice and he carried it over to the game. We’ll see how this week goes. We’ve got a number of guys. I’m not expecting Sherm to be back, but I won’t put it past him. But, we’ll see how those guys compete throughout the week and make our decision as it goes.”

I’m wondering if you have a chance to get another quarterback? Are you looking for a guy that’s going to be on the practice squad? Are you looking for a veteran that can serve as a backup and Mullens goes back to the practice squad or has that been determined?

“We’ve got a bunch of situations we’re looking into. Right now, I would love to answer the quarterback situation for everyone because you do want a third one in your building, whether that’s practice squad or on the roster. But, there’s a lot of things that are taking precedent right now. We’re trying to find a starting X and a backup X right now. We’re not sure on our left tackle, our right tackle, our center, both of our safeties. So, it’s a real unusual roster situation where guys aren’t out enough to put them on IR and all of the guys, except for Pettis, are still questionable this week and I’d be surprised if they practice until Friday. So, there’s a lot of stuff up in the air to where I really can’t answer that right now. We’ve got to see what happens.”

Along with the unusual roster situation, WR Victor Bolden Jr. is eligible to come out this week. I know you don’t have to do anything right away, but what’s the plan there?

“We’re going to see how these receivers go. I know Vic could help us out whether we put him on practice squad or active roster. We’ve got to see how our X’s are. If we had to play today, we don’t have both of them just like we did in that game for a while. Quise was able to come in and spell us a little bit. That’s where I give credit to guys like [WR] Kendrick Bourne and stuff. He’d never played that position in his life and same with [WR] Trent [Taylor]. They stepped up, moved around a little bit and did some things they weren’t used to doing.”

How much X has Bolden played?

“He’s played it, yeah. He’s done it a number of times.”

You brought in seven quarterbacks last week. Are you going to bring in more tomorrow as well?

“No, we just wanted to see those guys, see how they were, the guys that we had on our list. They passed the test and now we’ll see how it goes.”