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Talking points: Shanahan, Saleh and Sherman on 49ers vs. Seahawks

Breaking down comments from Kyle Shanahan, Robert Saleh and Richard Sherman as the 49ers prepare for their Week 15 matchup against the Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off their third win of the season, the San Francisco 49ers are preparing for the team’s Week 15 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. It’s only been 12 days since the two teams first met, the 49ers falling to the Seahawks 43-16 at Century Link Field. They get another shot at their old divisional rival on Sunday, this time at Levi’s Stadium in the second of three-straight home games for San Francisco.

Coach Kyle Shanahan, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and cornerback Richard Sherman spoke with the media this week before the 49ers’ Week 15 matchup against the Seahawks. Here’s some of their notable talking points:

Why the 49ers didn’t draft Nick Mullens

With each passing start, Mullens’ season has become increasingly impressive. In five games, the former third-string quarterback and undrafted free agent has completed nearly 64% of his passes for 1,479 yards, nine touchdowns, six interceptions and a quarterback rating of 93.5. Shanahan was asked why Mullens, who’s steadily proving he has the skills to succeed in the NFL, wasn’t on the 49ers’ draft board in 2018:

“We didn’t think that he was going to get drafted. When you don’t think someone’s going to get drafted, then you don’t think you need to draft him, which makes it nice. We liked him. I didn’t know much about him right away. Our personnel guys brought him to [quarterbacks coach] Rich Scangarello and Rich liked him a lot. He liked him on tape and then going through the process, he got a feel for his mentality and the extra things that you guys are talking about that you can’t really see on tape. That’s why he targeted him early. I loved the tape.”

To close out the 2018 season, Mullens faces three defenses that rank in the top half of the NFL in DVOA, per Football Outsiders, including the top-ranked Chicago Bears. It’s a worthwhile audition for Mullens as he begins a competition that’s sure to last all offseason between he and C.J. Beathard to become Jimmy Garoppolo’s primary backup. For now, Shanahan seems confident in his quarterback’s ability to compete:

“He’s been very consistent in games. He’s played very well, and that’s why he hasn’t lost it. I’m glad that he’s made this hard on us. That’s the goal. C.J. made it a little bit easier throughout the process of competing in practice and making some of the plays that he did. That’s why he got all those opportunities. Now that Nick’s gotten it, he has shown that. He’s gotten better each game. He’s played very consistent and I’m very excited that it’s not an easy decision anymore.”

Kentavius Street takes the field

The 49ers drafted Street with pick No. 28 in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. The former N.C. State defensive lineman started 13 games in 2017, racking up 38 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks, three pass break-ups and two fumble recoveries. Street was known for his brute strength after video surfaced of his 700-pound squat. Unfortunately, an ACL tear during Street’s Pro Day made him a Day 3 pick at best. He’s now practicing for the first time since injury, with Shanahan detailing his level of participation:

“He’s doing everything. Today, we’re only doing two live periods and the rest is walk-thru. So, we’ll see him out there. I’m pumped to get him out there today so he’ll get two live periods and see how that goes and we’ll adjust based off of that.”

Street won’t play in 2018. He was placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list prior to the season, but can still participate in practice with the team. He’ll join a talent-laden defensive front that features three first-round picks in Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas, along with a handful of impact players like Ronald Blair and D.J. Jones. Shanahan expects he’ll move all over the defensive line:

“We’re going to put him inside. He’ll play a little inside probably in pass-rush situations and we can put him at big end, too. He’ll be running the card team so he’s not playing our defense. So, we’re going to put him at all of those D-Line spots.”

Ahkello Witherspoon turning the corner

Witherspoon’s second year as a starter on the 49ers’ defense has been a turbulent experience. He began the season by allowing six touchdowns in six games, along with a slew of missed assignments and poor penalties. Witherspoon seems to be finding his footing though, allowing just eight receptions on 23 targets (35%) during his last four games with no touchdowns, per Pro Football focus and Sacramento Bee’s Chris Biderman. Saleh was asked about his prospective on Witherspoon’s improvement:

“You know, it started before the Bye week, to be honest. I know it doesn’t always show up. He had a couple of PIs against the Giants or whatever, but he’s been gradually getting a lot better and getting refocused and just understanding that in this league the three most dangerous words are I got it. As soon as you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it. So, he’s got great intent and he’s got the same mindset he had a year ago. When he plays with that mindset and builds into it, it’s a good lesson for everybody.”

In similar fashion to 2018, Witherspoon closed out his rookie season with a string of strong performances. His career with the 49ers began with four games on the inactive list before slowly earning a more prominent role and ending the season as the 49ers’ best cornerback. Saleh emphasized a cautious confidence in regards to Witherspoon’s improvements:

“If he ever thinks he’s got it, he’ll lose it. Don’t take it for granted. Always hone in on your craft. Always study yourself more than you do your opponent and understand what you’re putting on tape. Really evolve your game to the third step in our teaching progression, understand what offenses are trying to do to you, not necessarily what they’re running. What you’re putting on tape, that could expose what you’re doing. He’s got to continue to grow. That’s what makes the great ones great.”

This one’s different for Richard Sherman

The allure of facing his former team has worn off for Sherman. The 49ers’ loss by a whopping 27 points in Seattle has understandably diminished any novelty for the former Seahawks cornerback, who now seems focused on making it a competitive matchup at Levi’s Stadium, via ESPN’s Nick Wagoner:

“Just the nostalgia of seeing your friends and seeing the personnel and all the guys that you’ve played with [is gone], And in a couple weeks I’ll see them again. We’ll be out of season, we’ll be doing vacations and stuff. But it was cool being back in the stadium and everything of that sort. This time we’ll be back home, we’ll be grinding it out. We know how it went last time and we’ve got a sour taste in our mouth so we’ll look forward to the challenge.”

In addition to the loss, some barbs were exchanged between Sherman and Seahawks defensive lineman Frank Clark. Clark proclaimed that the Seahawks’ defense now belonged to him, and Sherman’s “Legion of Boom” era was over. Sherman didn’t seem phased by Clark’s proclamation:

“It’s like a mouse in a room, It’s like, ‘Kids say the darnedest things.’ It didn’t bother me at all. It just seemed like a guy who is probably tired of hearing the same questions. Like, I wasn’t even part of that game and they’re still asking him questions after the game about me. I’d probably be pretty annoyed, too, if we won a game and somebody comes and asks me about a guy who either wasn’t involved in this game or on my team. It’s kind of weird but it doesn’t bother me.”