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Robert Saleh on Solomon Thomas/Richard Sherman defensive position, turnovers, and more

The 49ers defensive coordinator met with the media and had plenty to discuss. We’ve got a full transcript.

Looking Ahead to Green Bay

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and CB Richard Sherman preview Monday Night Football.

Posted by San Francisco 49ers on Friday, October 12, 2018

What do you guys have to do to slow down Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers?

“To slow him down, it really comes down to executing our defense to exactly the way it’s taught. Aaron does a great job off-schedule. He creates plays. So, for us, it’s executing as long as the play is going. So, it’s whistle to whistle and making sure that we’re extremely disciplined in our coverages.”

I don’t know if this is the case on that first play of the game against the Cardinals, but do you really have to stress to your guys that when things are going not good and they want to generate turnovers, they want to make big plays, that they still have to just stay to their responsibility and not step outside their gaps?

“100-percent. When people feel like they need to do more than what they’re being asked to do, that’s when bad things actually happen. Right now, that first play, and [DB Adrian Colbert] A.C. will tell you, he’d love to have that play back, but the way they responded after that play and the way they came out and played and executed the defense all the way through, I thought was really good on their part to remain composed and to continue to fight all the way through the game. I thought the defensive guys did a great job responding, for sure.”

The defense has been put in some tough situations with turnovers, but it still ranks 11th in yards allowed and a little bit better in yards per play allowed. How do you feel your defense has performed so far?

“There’s always going to be good. There’s always going to be bad. All the way across the board. Just the way I look at it, I felt like we came out in Minnesota and we played a good game. Against Detroit, I felt like we played very well, with the exception of two very long third downs that we allowed starting on that third-and-17. Did not do well in that first half of Kansas City. Bounced back and played well. The Chargers game, battling [Los Angeles Chargers QB] Philip Rivers, I thought that game had a bunch of ups and downs but overall, felt like we did a really nice job giving ourselves a chance to win. Then, of course last game, took that first punch in the mouth, but responded and were able to clamp down the rest of the game. There’s been ups and downs. Overall, obviously we could do a lot better. There’s a lot of things we’re doing well. The most important thing is to continue to preach getting better at your techniques, get better at your assignments, get better at all the things that we teach and trust the entire process that we go through week to week and trust that if we do exactly what we’re supposed to do 100 miles an hour, all the way through the week, that the result will take care of itself. Obviously, there’s things that we’re doing good. But, we could be a lot better, also.”

The lack of takeaways I assume is one of the things you guys need to do better at. What goes into improving in that respect?

“We’ve had our opportunities this year. There’s an old cliché saying that, ‘Catch the ones that are thrown to you.’ We’ve had our opportunities, especially early in the year where I think we’ve dropped about three or four interceptions this year. We’ve gotten the ball out. We’re taking shots at the ball. There’s great intent. Takeaways come in bunches, they do. If I’m not mistaken, Arizona hadn’t really generated many takeaways and then all of a sudden, boom, they have five. Sometimes it’s just the way the ball bounces and the way it goes for you. For us to continue to preach it, but as long we keep working with the intent that we have with regards to attacking the ball every opportunity we get, again, you trust the result. I know it’s a result-oriented business, but the result is a product of the process that you go through within every play, within every day. If we keep attacking the ball the way we have and the D-Line keeps pressing the pocket and getting after the quarterback, I’m very confident that eventually they’ll come.”

Last year, one of the big themes was you were happy with the press in the pocket, but there was something left to be desired about containing. How do you evaluate the progress if there has been any in that regard this season?

“It’s got to get better, for sure. We do a good job pushing the pocket, getting the quarterback to move. We’ve got to get him down. I don’t want to say we’re wasting effort, but we do a very good job up front of being responsible in our rush lanes, pushing the pocket. Guys are winning one-on-ones. Now, it’s about finishing. It is stressed every day. [Defensive line coach Jeff] Zgonina and [pass rush specialist Chris] Kiffin do a very good job with the entire pass rush scheme and all that stuff. The guys up front are doing a very good job taking all that coaching and applying it to the best they can. Again, it’s something that I trust will eventually happen so long as we stick to the process and the deliberateness at which we’re working.”

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was talking about your defense yesterday on the conference call. He said that the base defense is a lot like what Seattle does, but your third-down package is totally different. He didn’t get into specifics. I’m not asking you specifics. But, are you making adjustments to better suit your personnel and put them in better positions to succeed? What’s the thinking there?

“We’re always challenging ourselves to find ways to make the quarterback uncomfortable. You’d love to sit there and play a normal coverage every single down and just rush four and whatever it is. As coaches, we challenge ourselves every day to find a way to confuse a quarterback just a little bit. Third down is a time where we feel like we can, but at the same time, we don’t want to trick our players. So, there’s a fine balance. I’m not sure what Seattle is doing. I haven’t watched those guys in a while. But, without getting into too much scheme, every down really is a challenge for us to try to find one-on-ones, create one-on-ones, create opportunities for guys to go make plays. If it comes off different, it comes off different. I haven’t watched them to be able to tell you one way or the other.”

What is your evaluation of DL Solomon Thomas at this point? What goes into balancing exactly where he plays on the line, just given the fact that it seems like dating back to college he was better on the inside and I think the numbers reflect that he was better on the inside last year, too? Where are you at with him and finding that balance?

“Again, it’s about getting opportunities to rush the passer. That’s the whole thing. When it’s a run down, not that he can’t do it, but to put him in there to take on double teams, to take on 600 pounds of people, it’s very, very bruising in there. To subject him to that for the sake of trying to get a pass rush that’s probably a play fake anyway, I don’t know if that would be the smartest thing in the world. So, he’s still on run downs, to us, a very good edge rush defender. But, when it comes to pass opportunities, we had a great plan going into that Cardinals game to try to get more opportunities for them to rush inside, but it came down to third down again. So, when he does get those third down opportunities, that’s where they show up. Or two-minute where it’s an obvious passing situation where he can get inside and you’re talking about 15 to 20 reps a game if the situation presents itself. But again, it all comes back to us, too. Where can we get those guys into obvious passing situations in a normal down so it’s first-and-10 or second-and-11 after a negative play where you just feel like the offense is about to throw and you can go take as hot with smaller guys on the football field. But, all of that goes with the flow of the game and just having opportunities to do it.”

Is CB Richard Sherman so embedded on the left side where you wouldn’t want to move him and have him shadow Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams all game?

“So, there’s different philosophies. When you start trying to mirror, there’s philosophies for that and there’s philosophies for what we do with left and right. We believe in doing the same thing technique-wise. They say it takes 10,000 reps to master a technique or a sport or a skill, 10,000 hours. It applies to the whole philosophy of left and right. They do the same thing. Your crack-replace angles come from the left side and so how many reps can he get from crack replace on the left side? How many reps can he get with his man-to-man technique where he’s opening up and running the exact same way, turning and looking for the ball the exact same way? All of those reps count. And when you start splitting left and right and you start splitting reps, now you’re just becoming a jack of all trades, master of none, in our scheme. So, it’s great in theory, but the reality is that a player will be better if they can just get as many reps as they can doing the same thing over and over again.”

Speaking of Sherman, his numbers on some of the public scouting services are off the charts this year. Is he playing that well?

“He’s doing very well, he is. Sherm has always won because he is just so much smarter than the man in front of him and it’s not even close. His football IQ when he’s on the football field and things are happening is above any player I’ve ever coached. Because of that, he’s able to put himself in position to succeed. He is getting his legs back and that’s the best part about it is that when his legs are there and his mind is there, he is one of the best in the league like he’s been his entire career. He’s getting to that point and we’re glad we have him.”

Can you trust him to tell you how healthy he is and if he’s not at 100-percent, maybe not where he should be for a game or is he a guy that he’s going to tell you he’s fine and you kind of have to read between the lines?

“Yeah, I don’t trust him when he tells me he’s hurt. He’s going to go. If Sherm says he can go, he can go. He’ll go out there with one leg if he has to. When it comes to injuries, I defer to him and the training staff and all of that stuff. But, if he can go, if he can walk, he’s going.”

How is DB Tarvarius Moore developing and would you like to get him some playing time soon?

“Eventually. He’s doing a very good job. He’s got to show it in practice every day. You’ve got great timing on your questions because we just talked to him yesterday and had him in there. The whole thing with him is showing the entire organization that he can do it by what he puts out on tape on scout team. It starts there. He could be a robot and do what the card says or he could be a football player and be deliberate in his technique and do everything that we do technically while giving the offense the look that they need. So, as soon as he starts doing that, then we can transfer over to some of our reps on defense and then from there if he can show that, then he can get up to playing time.”

What about DL Jullian Taylor? How is he developing?

“Same thing. It’s the same thing. Jullian has been doing a good job. He’s getting his legs back underneath him and he’s inching closer.”

Both head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have spoken openly about how aggressive the team was trying to get Chicago Bears DE Khalil Mack. Obviously, a lot of teams would like to get Khalil Mack. But, it sounded like it was a very competitive offer, an offer that was for quite a bit. Would it just speak to the need for that type of dynamic player? Is that a missing ingredient right now?

“John and Kyle, [senior personnel executive] Martin [Mayhew] and [vice president of player personnel] Adam [Peters], they work tirelessly and relentlessly to give every position every opportunity to be as successful as they can. No stone goes left unturned. They do an unbelievable job in that regard. Sometimes you swing, sometimes you miss. Sometimes you swing and the ball goes out of the park. Obviously, everyone would love to have a Khalil Mack. That’s without saying. But, the guys we have have been getting better every day and they’ve got to continue to get better. The bottom line is that it’s a production league. So, we can be a bunch of try hard guys if we want, but we still have to find a way to produce. And the men that we have in our building, we’re very confident in. It is a young group, but at the same time, it’s a young group that continues to get better. They’ve taken every challenge that they’ve had so far with the first five weeks of the season and they’ve responded pretty good. They’ve been punched in the mouth and they responded. The Detroit game, they got punched in the mouth and we still had to line up in that last drive of the game and get off of the field. So, it’s a young group, they’re learning every day and we’re very confident in the group that we have, for sure.”

With DL DeForest Buckner, how are you seeing teams game plan against him and has he improved at all in overcoming some of those double teams in some of those different ways?

“DeFo, he plays his butt off, man. He gets one-on-ones and he does a good job. Obviously, teams pay a lot of attention to him and that’s where, as a group, we all have to step up. If someone becomes a problem, other than to an offense, it’s just going to open up one-on-ones for a lot more people. So, Buck is doing well. Obviously, he wants production, but he knows that he’s producing in other ways and he’s doing a lot of different things that help out this defense. So, he’s definitely something that teams have to deal with.”