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Kyle Shanahan talks Week 6 play-calling, defensive communication, injuries

The 49ers head coach met with the media to kick off Rams week. We’ve got a full transcript, and you can watch video here.

With RB Raheem Mostert playing instead of RB Alfred Morris, was that game plan-specific? If so, was it effective in that where you’d consider that to be a permanent change?

“No, I don’t think it was a permanent change. It was just what we thought was best for that game. Raheem got a ton of reps all week because [RB Matt] Breida didn’t practice, too. So, we knew Raheem was going to play in the game regardless. We didn’t know how long Breida would go. Breida started the game. I think we put Raheem in for his first carry on the fifth play and he ran it good and he ran well. I think it was four yards before contact, then he got about give more after it. So, we just kept him in there. He was running well.”

The timing of that, he’s never had a major workload in a game. He just fumbled again and is an ongoing issue. What gave you the confidence to say, “Yeah, this is the time for you?”

“One, we needed to. We weren’t sure if Breida was going to play all week. We were preparing for him not to play. We really weren’t 100-percent sure about that until Monday earlier, the day of the game. So, we went into that game knowing we were going to need Raheem. He got all those reps in practice. The way he practiced, it was extremely obvious to all the players and the coaches how locked in he was, how up for the challenge he was. I know he was done from the fumble the week before. The best way a guy could respond through a week of practice, he did. Then, that carried over to the game.”

One of the improvements within the running game this year from last year is just the blocking on those outside zone plays. How has that evolved in your eyes?

“Very well. I think the more you do the same stuff, the better you get. [T] Joe [Staley] in his second year has gotten a lot better at it. I thought he did a good job last year, but he’s gotten better. [OL] Laken [Tomlinson] got here I think like six days before our first game last year, ended up starting I think Week 2 for the first time. He gradually got better as the year went. I would expect him to be better this year, and he has been. [OL] Mike Person has done a good job. [T Mike] McGlinchey’s come in and done great. [C/G Weston] Richburg has been as good of a center as I have seen.”

With Mostert now, it seems like you can run a lot of the same plays as with Breida. You could with Morris, too, but it seems like Mostert has that speed that you’re looking for. Is that beneficial, that maybe you have an idea of that now that you don’t have to dramatically change your running game or your game plans if Breida were to suffer an injury or something like that?

“A little bit. Outside zone, speed is great when it goes outside, but it doesn’t always go outside. Outside zone, if they play a certain front, it can end up on the front side of the numbers. If they’re playing wide and running that way, it can end up on the back side of the numbers. Outside zone’s what we do, I’m just saying, 65-percent of the time. But, we mix in tight zone. We mix in gap plays. We block down and toss it to the outside. So, there’s lots of different stuff you can do. Outside zone, you don’t have to be fast. You’ve got to be an efficient, good runner.”

You mentioned Breida’s toughness the other night. He said after the night he needs to be in a wheelchair or something to stay out of a game. Is there something about being a guy who is undrafted or just comes from where he comes from that you think instills in that? Do you see something different in those undrafted guys?

“A lot of the time. Some of those guys, they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They come into the league always ready to get cut every single day. Even after they’ve proven themselves, some of those guys never lose that. Those are some of the best guys to be around. Those guys have some very, very good careers. You get that, too, with some first-round draft choices, also. That doesn’t mean that it’s 100-percent. A lot of times when people go undrafted, they do come in with a bigger chip on their shoulder.”

How much did having WR Marquise Goodwin out there just open up everything else offensively for you guys?

“It was huge. I think you guys saw that for your guys’ selves. We’d been missing Quise a lot. He’s been battling to get back. That was the first game the true Quise was back. He was able to run the same way he usually does. He played very well for us, not just the plays he made, but he blocked very well and did a lot of god things when he wasn’t getting the ball. That loosens up the coverage for everyone. Quise does a good job and he also helps out other people and helps our run game.”

Last year, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, when he got in he played well and seemed to improve and improve and improve. Why has he taken a step back this season?

“I’m not sure. That’s something we’re working through with him. I do think he had his best week of practice last week, which I had a good talk with Ahkello about that before the game. It was the most encouraged we had been with him, last week through practice. I think Ahkello will be there, exactly where he was at last year. I expect him to get better from that. It hasn’t happened right away, but he’s going in the right direction now and I expect it to continue.”

Why didn’t you go to him when DB Jimmie Ward went down?

“Jimmie practiced all week as our starter, and we gave [DB Greg] Mabin the backup role. So, we knew going into the week that Ahkello was going to take the backseat. We had him get a little more scout-team reps and challenged him that way and he was up to the challenge. Very similar to Raheem last week. I’d say those two guys responded the best. I think that’ll help him this week get more opportunities.”

The issues late in the game allowing Green Bay Packers RB Ty Montgomery to get to the outside and out of bounds, Mabin allowing the passes on the sideline, how much of that is just situational football not being fully aware of no timeouts and what the Packers had to do?

“I think it’s a little of both. He gets put in a tough situation. We played soft zone one time and [Green Bay Packers QB] Aaron [Rodgers] buys a bunch of time and scrambles for about 30 yards right up the middle. So, then you try to go to a little more man stuff to get guys on him. They got them once to the left and then to the right. There was a safety over the top, we call it two-man. Then, Aaron threw a very good back shoulder. It was a tough position for Mabin. He’s done a lot of good things for us. I know he was disappointed in that last drive, obviously, but I’ve seen Aaron and [Green Bay Packers WR] Davante [Adams] do that to a number of people, too.”

Similar to Ahkello, DL Solomon Thomas only played 26 snaps. He was the number three pick and people say, “What is going on there?” What does he need to do to get more playing time?

“It’s really all of those guys. It wasn’t just Solomon. It was [DL Arik] Armstead, also. We’re challenging our guys week-in and week-out. We don’t just stick with the status quo. We’re trying to get better each week. We’re trying to create competition. We’re trying to challenge guys. We have a certain rotation on the D-Line and Armstead got the majority of those in our pass situations. They’re all good inside rushers. But, you only have two inside rushers. Armstead got those. [DL DeForest] Buck [Buckner] has gotten them every week. Armstead got those opportunities the first three weeks. Solomon got it the next two weeks. We thought [DL] Sheldon [Day] earned more of it. So, we gave Sheldon more of it versus Green Bay. Sheldon had produced pretty frequently with limited reps, so we thought he deserved an opportunity more in Green Bay and he got more of those reps for that.”

On that bubble screen touchdown, did you think about using a timeout there? It seemed like they were taking advantage of the personnel because I think you guys had four linebackers on the field and then they went out wide. Is that what happened? Why not take a timeout?

“Well, I wasn’t close enough down there. I wasn’t expecting us to come out and line up wrong to it. We had one guy go to the wrong side. 10 guys were lined up right and one guy went to the wrong side, got a little bit confused. When that happens, you’re down one guy to set the edge and that was a walk-in. That was a play that we run a lot on our defense. We just had one guy going to the wrong side. We had four linebackers out there because they were in goal line personnel. So, we were in our goal line personnel, which only has one corner on the field. We didn’t line up right and I am not fast enough to get down there. Might have used to be, but not anymore.”

If you’re not the guy, then is someone on the field supposed to recognize that and call a timeout?

“Yeah, I would have liked them to, obviously. But, they snapped it fast and we didn’t get it done. They caught us off guard and we’ve got to make sure that mistake doesn’t happen again.”

You’ve expressed internal confidence in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. He’s obviously been getting heat because people see miscommunication that just don’t look right. Do you talk with him about this? Why would you say you do have such total confidence in him despite some of the miscommunications?

“I have confidence in him because I’ve been coaching for a long time. I’ve been around a lot of coaches, offensive coaches and defensive coaches. I have confidence in him because I should. He’s very good at what he does. He’s very smart, and he runs a very good system. Any time there’s a mistake, you always look at coaches, you look at players. It’s all of us. We did make too many mistakes, especially in those first 17 plays. That starts with me, it goes to Saleh, it goes to the players. We’re all committed to fixing those. We have to fix those. Those do happen sometimes in games, just like it happened a lot on the other side of the ball us going against Green Bay’s defense. But, it can’t happen too much and you have to clean it up. We had too many freebies at the beginning of the game, especially on I want to say four out of those first five plays. It got a lot better after that. I think they held them to 100 yards on every single drive and six points until the two-minute drive at the end. They did respond the right way, but it was not good how we started out and we’ve got to get that fixed.”

Was it over eagerness? Was it not communicating to the secondary what the coverage is? Like on that first play.

“I know when you sit and you guys ask questions like this, I would love to give you guys one simple big answer. But, it’s 100 little things. You go to each clip and it’s one guy off, one guy not. One guy does communicate, but then he doesn’t see the guy go across. There’s lots of things that happen in a play. There’s not one word. We could all sit and I could go through about 70 clips with you guys and show you exactly what happens. But, that happens in the course of football games all the time. I promise you, there’s not a game that any defense goes through and doesn’t make mistakes, or offense. But, when we do have them, they can’t be magnified. Unfortunately, when we had them we’re giving up a few 60 yarders uncontested. When that happens, it’s very tough to win, especially versus a quarterback like that.”

You mentioned yesterday that when you turn on the Rams you see a lot of similarities, obviously offensively, between you and Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay. How much of your general philosophies offensively were kind of finalized or refined in that Washington room when McVay was there? What were the origins of that?

“I don’t understand your question. What do you mean?”

When you and McVay were together in Washington, obviously you were the coordinator and he was the position coach. What was the interaction? How did you kind of develop a lot of the philosophies that you are both employing now?

“It’s the same way you do now. When you are a coordinator, you don’t just sit in a room and do it all by yourself. You involve everybody, so you get to put together an offense. Went through a lot of different stuff with Sean out there running the offense. We brought in what I had ran in Houston, adjusting it to the different quarterbacks that we had. Going through a number of schemes in those four years and doing a lot of football. Sean was very good at it. Really enjoyed working with him. He’s a good coach and a real good friend. We got to put a lot of that stuff in together. Just like you do everywhere and everyone you work with, you’re always a product of your environment. You carry things over, you change a few things. We’ve both gone some different directions over the last few years, but when you do turn on the tape it’s very similar.”

That sort of loss, the game is there for the taking in the final minutes up to the final seconds. Does your team take confidence out of that or does it hurt their confidence?

“I think you’ve got to look at each individual and ask them that. I know it hurts. I know I think our team fought their asses off, played as hard as they could go and did some really good things. I think we had every opportunity to win that game and we didn’t get it done. Just like I said earlier, I can’t come up with some big answer for that. It’s a bunch of little things. We had our opportunities in the end. I was very happy with our defense and how they stopped Aaron a number of times at the end and gave the offense a chance to put them away. We came up short on offense and didn’t put them away and gave them too many opportunities. So, you can go in to those situations where there’s a couple of situations we can throw a catch better, a couple situations where we can get in a better look. But, it just comes down to plays. Everything is magnified at the end of the game. There are similar plays at the beginning of the game that happens, but it’s going to come down to the end. We got ourselves in a position to win that. I believe we should have and we didn’t get it done. You’ve got to go as a coaching staff, teach your players why it didn’t work, what they could have done better, what did work. You learn from that and know, ‘Hey, we could have won this, but we didn’t. We didn’t play good enough there at the end. How do we make sure that doesn’t happen this week?’”

Initially, where will QB Tom Savage be practicing? What positions out there on the practice field?

“He’ll be doing more scout-team looks. Today is a walk-through day for us. We’re not going to go full speed or anything. Today is normally a players recovery day. This would usually be two days after a game, so we’re a day behind. So, we’ve got to have our normal Wednesday practice, but it’s going to be all walk-through tempo. So, he’ll be walking through the scout team cards, giving looks whether it’s at safety, something like that.”

When he settles in, will he compete for the backup spot?

“No, it’s very hard for someone to compete for the backup spot. The only reps the backup spot gets in the NFL is the scout team cards. So, we’ll give him some scout team cards to let him get some work and stuff. But, in order to have the guys compete to be a backup player, that means I’d have to give both of them reps over our starting quarterback and that’s not something anyone would ever do at this time of year.”

I think people would say QB Nick Mullens has never played in the NFL. Savage has experience. It seems, on the surface, that he might give you a better chance if something happens to C.J.

“I’m sure it does seem on the surface, but one guy knows our offense and knows how to line people up and has played in it and has done a lot of good things, our team has confidence in him. Another guy just got here last night and is just trying to learn what the words mean. He has ability. He’s a guy that I’ve always been impressed with his ability. But, he just got here and by no means are we trying to have a number two quarterback competition battle right now. We’re trying to get our starters ready to play, continue to prepare our backups in case something does happen and if that does ever happen, we’ll deal with it then.”

Back on McVay real quick. Obviously you guys run a lot of the same stuff, but you do it with two running backs and a fullback, they do it with three wide receivers a lot. How much of what you’re doing goes back to what you were talking about before in terms of being able to do anything out of the same look? Is that kind of the genesis of what both you guys do?

“I think so. There’s a lot more to it than that. I think, just talking to Sean, assuming, he really likes his personnel in 11. I would agree. They’ve got some real good players there and you want to keep them on the field a lot. We like our personnel and 21. You try to get your best players on the field. That also gives you an advantage and I think they’ve done a very good job at that offensively and I think we have also.”

Do you have any idea of the significance of Ward’s injury and did he win the competition over the last few weeks to solidify that starting job or was it still going to be week-to-week going forward?

“He had won that last week. He didn’t have competition last week. He was going into that game totally as a starter and we went into that game with Mabin backing him up. So, he did tweak his hamstring. We have walk-through tempo today, but if we were practicing, he would not be practicing. So, we’ll see how it goes this week with him whether he comes back. But, any time you have an injury and stuff, it does open up for other people to have opportunities.”