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Kyle Shanahan talks Nick Mullens, the bye week, expectations for rest of the season

The 49ers head coach was available Tuesday to wrap up the loss against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football. We have a full transcript.

Opening comments:

“Injury stuff from yesterday. [CB] K’Waun [Williams], stinger, checked out good today. [S Jaquiski] Tartt, [LB] Reuben [Foster] and [WR] Pierre [Garçon] all didn’t play. We anticipate getting them back to practice next week when we start. [WR Marquise] Goodwin, no symptoms yesterday, was rechecked in the morning, had no symptoms.”

So, everybody on your 53-man should practice when you guys resume next week?

“We’re anticipating to, yes.”

Do you have any projects planned for this week to kind of take a deep dive on what’s gone wrong?

“Well, yeah, we look at everything. What’s been good, what’s been bad. You look at all personnel, you look at scheme stuff. Stuff you do in the week, too. So, it just gives you a little bit more time to do it.”

In terms of the pass rush, I have two questions. One, why not blitz a fifth defender more? And then two, why did DL Arik Armstead and DL Solomon Thomas not play the last drive?

“I would have liked to see them in there more on the last drive. They didn’t get in there enough. We did do a number of five-man rushes in the game. Why don’t you do more when you need to do more? Just you’re more susceptible in coverage. When you do four-man rushes, then you’ve got seven guys in cover. So, it just changes what you do, whether you’re playing man or zone. You can call it a zone dog when you bring five. But, you’re still manning people in your zone. So, you can drop a D-End and call it zone, but if that tight end runs a corner, he still has a man to man, so that’s the reason for that.”

With Armstead and Thomas, when you said you would have liked to see them in more, is that something that you didn’t realize during the game or is that something that they couldn’t play?

“When it’s all said and done, you want certain guys to get a certain amount of rushes. That has to do with situations and personnel groupings and what down and distance they’re in. And when it was all said and done, they didn’t have enough opportunities, I thought, in nickel, and I’d like to see them have more.”

It certainly implies that the four guys out there when there is no threat of run are considered the four best pass-rushers. Is that the case?

“Yes, but ours has changed week to week, because we don’t think we’ve had a set number one best four guys. I think [DL DeForest Buckner] Buck’s the guy we’ve kept the most consistent. Our edge rushers have been the same, but they’ve been rotating throughout the year, but our inside guys, we’ve rotated pretty much between three guys after Buck.”

On the penalty on T Mike McGlinchey, where they called a false start I believe, it seemed like there was a lot of confusion, the ref moved the ball a little bit. What was your view of that play? Did you get any sort of explanation?

“No, they spotted the ball and our guys lined up, and they were about to go. Then the guy moved the ball back two yards. Most of our guys saw it had moved back. McGlinchey was still looking at the D-End getting ready for the snap count and didn’t see it.”

Were you guys double teaming New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley when he was being used as a receiver?

“You do sometimes. It depends on what the coverage is. You’ve got to have the call. You can’t just double team him every time he goes out on a route. You also don’t know when he’s going to go on a route. Sometimes they’re in protection, sometimes they’re in scat, which means it’s a five-man protection, so the back can get out. But, there are times that you do, yes.”

How does this game rate as far as number of plays you’ve submitted to the league for clarification?

“I’m not sure. Someone else does that. It’s up there. There’s a bunch of them. But, all you do is get clarification, and they say they’re sorry or they weren’t sorry. So, doesn’t really change anything.”

Is the official supposed to notify? Is there supposed to be something said when he moves the ball that way in that situation?

“I don’t know. Usually they spot the ball in the right spot and don’t change their mind right before the ball is snapped. I don’t know if there’s supposed to be a rule. I think you’ve just got to do it right the first time. But, yeah, if that’s going to happen, I think there should be something. But, you try to yell and get an answer in the heat of the battle while the time clock’s going, eventually you’ve got to call a play and move on with your life.”

Have you had a discussion with CB Ahkello Witherspoon since speaking with us last night?

“No, I had a discussion in the team meeting today, brought up a number of stuff with the whole team, but haven’t seen Ahkello one-on-one yet.”

What did you say to the team?

“A lot of stuff. Stuff that I don’t want to go over with everyone. It was between me and the team.”

Was there a general message that you sent them into the bye week with?

“Yeah, just to sit there and I want them to really reflect on the season so far and what they want coming back in these six games. We’ve got six games coming back. Lot of football to play, and a lot of important football to play. I want them to sit there and really think of what their goals are for the rest of the half. Do they want to solidify themselves as a starter, a backup? Do they want to be a part of it here? Do they want to be one of the answers or a solution to what we’re going through? And really when they think about all that and they understand it all and what they want, which I’m sure they all have high aspirations, I want their actions to come back and show that.”

You want them to play kind of in pressure situations in six games for you guys won’t mean a whole lot in the standings, but is that kind of your goal to put pressure on them and see how these guys perform?

“Yeah, that’s your goal. In these six games it’s your goal always. My goal is to get our guys to play the best they possibly can. Whoever is in our building, to get them to play the best they can. I believe that we can get more out of our guys. I believe that’s up to myself, I believe that’s up to coaches and I believe it’s up to the players. I think there are guys that are doing some good things. But, even the guys who are doing the best, I still think there’s even more. I think [TE] George Kittle has had a hell of a year. I think he could improve a lot more. I think [RB Matt] Breida has done some good things. He can get better. I think Buck can get better. [CB Richard Sherman] Sherm can get better, from all the top guys I’m mentioning to the bottom guys, we all can get better, coaches included.”

Before last night, WR Dante Pettis hadn’t played many snaps since coming back from his injury. He seemed a little up-and-down last night. Where is he in his development?

“That was the first time we’ve really put him back in there and thought he was good, ready or had enough healthy practice to give him those reps. So, that was his first full week of healthy practice. The week before he got two straight practices in, but it was all the walk-through stuff for the Thursday night game. He got three good days in, really four last week because we had the bonus practice on Monday, and he earned himself a number of reps with it. Did a decent job. By no means was it perfect. Expect him to get a lot better as this goes. He’s another guy I’m putting a lot of pressure on here in the last six weeks, and I want him to take some huge steps forward. But, at least playing some, getting out of the game healthy, I think he finally has the opportunity to do that.”

When you guys come back for practice next week, what are your plans for the quarterback situation? Is it going to be more of an open competition between QB C.J. Beathard and QB Nick Mullens, or is one or the other going to be the guy right out the gate?

“No, Nick Mullens is our starter until I say differently, you know. It’s going about it that way. That’s how it will continue to be.”

How would you assess Richard Sherman’s performance to this point, and also what has his value been to your team, not just what he’s doing on the field but for some of your younger guys?

“I thought Richard had one of his best games last night. I thought it was probably his best game of the year. I don’t think it was a coincidence that it followed his best week of practice of the year. I think Richard went through a big offseason of some big injuries he was overcoming, and he battled hard to get through those. Had a number of setbacks and in training camp when he did have that, that made it hard to practice a bunch. He got himself ready for Week 1 and played. I know he had to miss a few weeks as those injuries crept back. And he played through a bunch of stuff these last few weeks. The thing that’s been great about Richard, just showing other guys how you can play through things when you’re not 100-percent and when you do, you’ve got to still play at a high level that helps you win, and he’s done that in a number of situations. I’m watching him get the longer week after the Thursday night game, it didn’t show up quite as much on Monday, but in Wednesday’s practice, he moved differently. He seemed a lot healthier and continued Thursday and Friday and I thought it looked that way on Monday also. So, hopefully this week will help him even more to continue to heal his body up. But, he’s played at a very good level for us, and I expect him to continue to get better.”

There was some speculation when you guys signed him that he had this kind of skill set, and the type of game that would defy age or injuries better than another type of corner. Is that something that you’ve seen through his play?

“To a degree. I think people say that because Richard is very talented and things like that. But, that’s not what separates him from other people. Richard’s game has a lot to do with what’s upstairs. He’s thinking a lot. He understands route combinations. It’s hard to beat him on the same thing twice. You can get him once, but usually the second time it’s a pick. That allows him to, I think he’s in his eighth year. He’s played seven years. By no means do I think he’s at that stage yet where we’re talking about him being old. But, as he does get there and you start to lose a couple steps, which happens to everybody, the guys that have been successful because of more than just their ability are guys that usually can still play at a high quality even though their skills diminish. But, I don’t think he’s there yet.”

Do you view Mullens’ performance last night as a step back or a positive experience for him?

“I think it’s a positive experience. The guy’s played one game in his career. I know statistically that was the best start in NFL history. I mean, I think Nick did some real good things yesterday, too. It was a little bit more of a challenge in some circumstances. Had to play for four quarters. The Oakland game got out of hand pretty fast. Halfway through the third, it was a lot more relaxed. So, here he had to do it beginning to end. Did some good things at the beginning, did some good things at the end, and had some plays in the beginning he missed and some plays at the end he missed. What I liked about Nick is he never seemed rattled throughout the whole game, continued playing. He was great after the game. He was great watching film with him. I say it’s a good experience or step forward because I think he’ll get better from each experience he has.”

Were there little things he did that the average football viewer wouldn’t have seen or appreciated?

“Yes, yeah. There were a number of plays where he got to different guys in his progression, avoided a number of sacks. There was one that I thought live that he should have got to a deeper guy from my view on the sidelines. And I got on him for it because I wanted a bigger pass. I thought it was there, he was open. He just sits there and listens and takes it. Then I watched the film, and if he would have gone for what I wanted, I think it would have been a sack and it would have been second-and-15. That’s stuff I like. He’s got a feel for that in the pocket, and I always want to be aggressive and go down the field and have bigger plays. But, not at the expense of risking a sack, and I think he’s done a good job with that.”

The touchdown pass with Breida, it seemed that he went through a nice progression very quickly, at least to naked eye for me. Can you kind of take me back through that play, and where was Breida on his list?

“He was last. That was a hell of a job. We had everyone going to one side. We snapped the ball really fast, trying to confuse them. Everyone went one way, and that was the way he was looking. Fortunately, Breida flashed across his face and he just felt it. It’s not something you’re thinking about much, it’s just a feel, and he saw him flash and he made the right decision because he was open, and made a good throw and Breida made a hell of a catch.”

What did Breida do this offseason to become such a better receiver? I think he had a lot of drops last year, and I don’t remember a single one this year.

“He’s worked on it a lot. Breida’s worked on everything. Breida, I just told our team the other day, and we have lots of guys that work hard, I think all of our guys work hard. But, in terms of taking it to a whole ‘nother level, Breida and Kittle showed that the first day of OTAs. They were just pretty obsessive in everything they were doing. Every little detail of their game, and it’s improved in a lot of areas. And Breida in the pass game, he wasn’t our number one target last year. We used [Jacksonville Jaguars RB] Carlos [Hyde] a lot out of the backfield. He got most of those reps. And with [RB Jerick McKinnon] Jet going down this year, it’s given Breida more opportunities. He worked a lot in this offseason so he could be ready for those opportunities.”

It may be too early to ask this, but could you envision having both Jet and Breida on the field at the same time?

“I envisioned it this year, so that won’t change next year.”

You mentioned the message to the team over these last six games. What is your level of frustration given that at this point that is the message you have to give compared to maybe the mindset you had going into the season?

“I mean, it is what it is now. It’s not, I mean, it’s just what our circumstance is. So, I’m not sitting here just frustrated with it. That’s what’s been presented and that’s what we’re dealing with. We’re going to make the best out of it. My whole thing is that whether, I don’t think we’re eliminated from the playoffs or not, but regardless, it doesn’t matter. You’re always playing for something. This league does not have patience. I don’t have patience. No one in this league has patience. You shouldn’t have to say that to players. Most players who have been around, more veterans understand that. But, a lot of people don’t understand that. So, sometimes you do have to educate people on that. You tell them stories and stuff. Whether it’s a free agent, whether it’s draft picks, I told our rookies, we had a lot of rookies finish the year last year on a really high note and it gave us a lot of confidence in some of those guys coming into this year. And some of those guys got better or worse in Week 1 and through this year. Some have gone the right direction, some haven’t. Very well aware of that. And that’s stuff I’ll look into for these six games. Who is going to help lead us into next year? Who is going to help finish us this year? There are lots of things that are very important to us, and we want to know, as I always say, who are we dealing with? We’ve been here for over a year now. It’ll be two years when it’s said and done at the end of the season. We’ll have a much better idea of people. And nothing is more true than when you watch us in the final weeks of the season, and lots of guys stepped up at this time last year. I want to see the guys who do it again, and the guys who don’t, and see the guys who truly want to be a part of this. I see better than I hear. And I’ll always say that. A lot of the guys say the right things. I see our guys work and their actions show it, but we’ve got a stretch ahead of us that there is a lot of football left and I feel we’re just getting started in finding out what our team is.”

What strides would you like to see Mullens make down the stretch?

“Continue to get better. He’s played in two games. I thought he did some decent things last night. He’s a good pocket passer, so I want him to be perfect at it. He was pretty good on a number of his reads. He had a touchdown get into the last guy in his progression. Had a couple big plays, getting into number two and three. But, I want him to be automatic. I know that’s what he wants to do, too. And we’ll keep working at it until he is.”

His arm strength has been scrutinized. On the first pick, was that an arm-strength issue or just he was late in getting rid of it?

“Well, I mean, it’s different with everyone. If [former NFL QB] John Elway’s late, he’s got the arm strength to be late, you know. If you’re not, you’ve got to be a little bit on time. And Nick went to the right read on that, we tried to hit Kittle over the ball, backer got under it, he took a second hitch, threw it to the comeback outside because [FB Kyle Juszczyk] Juice was taken away in the flat. It was the right read, maybe just a hair late. When you’re a hair late, you’ve got to put a little bit more on it, which I think he could have, he didn’t. When that happens, you’re late. So, you’ve got to make a better throw or you’ve got to decide to throw it away so we don’t take a sack. And also, a receiver can help him out with that. It starts with Nick, because the ball wasn’t in the perfect spot. But, [WR Kendrick] Bourne’s got the hand-eye, and the ball skills to where he doesn’t have to sit and wait on it either. He’s got to put his foot back in the ground and go step through it and drive through it so you stop that pick-six angle. The quarterback wasn’t perfect and Bourne needed to have a hell of a play to save him.”

What is the balance you’re trying to strike there in that situation, after you take the holding penalty and you’re backed up? Some would say maybe run the ball, punt and avoid a scenario like that. What is the balance you’re trying to strike?

“Just attack the defense and what they’re doing. I’d love to give you guys our game plan, but, I promise you, you would have saw a nice run if you saw two really high safeties. They had a hard eight-man front, it was a premier play action, throw to Kittle over the middle, linebacker got under it, so you adjust. But, you try to be inconsistent is what you want to do, just like defenses. Anybody who is consistent and does the same thing every time, I don’t care whether it’s good or bad, just tell us what they’re doing and we’ll have the right answer.”

The Packers, Arizona and last night, to varying degrees this was true, you had a defensive back get injured and the guy who replaced him got picked on and you lost the game. Do you believe some of those guys in the secondary can be part of this or is it just depth issues?

“I think that’s part of the whole NFL. Usually when someone gets hurt and someone comes in, it usually is a little bit of a falloff. It doesn’t matter what team you’re with, that’s everyone. If it’s not, then you’re in a pretty fortunate situation. But no, I do believe we have guys who can play. Also, I don’t like when guys have to do it alone. You’ve got to step up at other situations. If you’re down to your second or third quarterback, yeah I want those guys to come in and carry us and play well. I also want other positions to step it up. If your corners go down in a game, yeah I want them to come in and be able to cover very well in man coverage. I also want us to mix in some zones and have them cover in zone and get there with the pass rush. It will always be the focal point will be on that new guy who comes in the game. But, if you ever have a guy come off the bench who hasn’t truly earned a starting role to whether he hasn’t been good enough to do that or if he’s just not quite ready because of his lack of experience, you want other people around him to step up and take the pressure off that guy, and I don’t think we’ve done that in every facet either.”