What have your observations been of inside linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans in his new role this season?
“DeMeco’s been great. He’s got a good demeanor. Players love him. Just how he carries himself, especially having the respect of what he did in his career. He’s a very humble guy who is still trying to learn and he’s ready to be in the role that he’s in, but he’s not satisfied with that. He’s always trying to ask questions and do stuff each day. I think he’ll get better as he goes.”
He has some younger guys in his room. I know you probably don’t spend a lot of time in the linebacker room, but do you see that developing with the LB Reuben Fosters, the LB Fred Warners on this team?
“Yeah, I do. It’s not always just a coach, but it’s that whole room. They all kind of feed off of each other and they all work. They all challenge each other. We’ve got a good group. Every guy, I think there’s seven of them, inside linebackers, we’ve got right now. All seven of them are NFL players. They all work, they all challenge each other. But, they all know there is some real competition there, too. You can’t have seven inside linebackers on our roster. It’s a good room and I think it starts with the leader in the room which is the coach in DeMeco. They grind every day and I think they all like each other, too.”
It appeared that LB Fred Warner is seeing some reps, especially yesterday split with LB Malcolm Smith and the first team. Can you talk a little bit about that competition there between those two?
“Yeah, I don’t even know some of those things because we don’t look into first team, second team, third team too much now. I know you’re not going to see many ones going with the threes and stuff so that’s not 100-percent accurate. But, we’re just getting guys in their reps. Malcolm came back from an injury that he had last week, his first day back, so you want to limit guys and not keep guys out there too long. We’ve been down at the position with guys like [LB] Brock [Coyle] not being able to practice. I wouldn’t look into too much of that stuff. The competition is real, not just with them two, but with all seven of them.”
Wide receivers coach/passing game specialist Mike LaFleur alluded to that WR Dante Pettis can handle all three wide receiver spots. Is that accurate?
“Yes. We started out that way. I think Dante can handle it, but we’ve also slowed it down a little bit because you don’t want to be okay at a bunch of things. You’d like to get really good at one thing and then get good at the next thing. I think that’s the neat thing with Dante, is he’s got the ability to help us out in a number of different areas. We have three different receiver positions and he has the skill set to where he’s not the fastest guy on our team but he can run. He’s not the quickest guy on our team but he is very quick and he’s got good hands. He’s not big but he’s not small either. You can use him in a bunch of different spots. We’ve got to throw him at that because it can get very confusing, but he’s a very smart guy and he’s taking the challenge well.”
In that regard, I don’t know if this comparison is completely accurate, but is he almost your offensive version of DB Jimmie Ward, given that he can be your number two guy at all those different spots?
“Yeah, kind of. Everyone uses receivers differently. We try to use guys’ skill sets all over the spot for how different we can use those guys. But, injuries happen, rotations happen. You leave a receiver out there all game, guys get tired and their routes aren’t as well. They stop blocking. They don’t become part of the run game. You only get five, sometimes six up on game day. You get one injury down, who’s up? Well, if that fifth guy was up just for special teams and now he’s got to come in and now he’s got to play. Let’s say [WR] Marquise [Goodwin] went out, what was he, fast? Alright, we can’t run any of the plays that we practiced, he’s not. So, you lose a whole game plan. It’s just nice when you have guys who can do different things that you aren’t handcuffed in a game. Similar to how [WR] Aldrick Robinson has been for us. He’s fast enough to do some of that stuff, but he also can do the things that other guys do which just allows you to overcome. If we could dress 15 receivers every game, none of that stuff would matter. But, it’s what you get up on game day and how to get through a game.”
How much has your offensive playbook evolved now that you’re in your second year and how steep is the learning curve with the install period right now?
“Not much. It evolves based off of what you’re going against and how people defend it. There’s a foundation to everyone’s scheme and how you teach people and the verbiage and how you try to move all of the chess pieces together and attack things. You adjust when you make defenses adjust. We feel we’ve had an offense that has been through, we’ve done it through a lot of years and we’ve been through a lot of different situations to where we feel within the foundation you can run the ball, you can drop back and throw, you can do screens, you can do bootlegs, you can do play action, you could do zone read if we wanted to. We have the ability to do everything verbiage-wise and how you move those guys. It’s just about getting good at it, knowing why you do stuff and making teams stop stuff and when you see defenses start to adjust it opens up other stuff and that’s where ideas come in and that usually comes through game plans throughout the year and things like that.”
Were you happy with yesterday’s practice? I know early in the session it seemed like there was some pre-snap issues.
“If I was just the offensive coordinator, I would have been very upset. But fortunately, I’m the head coach so I was happy with the defense yesterday so I was halfway happy. I thought the defense had a real good day. I thought the offense, we came out just sluggish. We couldn’t get the cadence right and we started practice that way. I think it was like four of the first plays we just messed up the cadence. Then it’s kind of a trickle-down effect from there. That was disappointing. It’s not fun, but it’s how you look at it. I think that stuff kind of can help, too. I thought it was our worst practice offensively that we’ve had this year and I thought it was just from a mental lapse of just not paying attention to the snap count. Guys can see how that trickles down and kind of ruins an entire practice. The defense took advantage of it and we’ll see how they respond today.”
Is that why you guys kind of did some work after practice?
“That’s what they did, which was cool to see. It’s always nice when you don’t demand anything. You hope it’s their standard, not ours. Like I say, that’s really what makes it real and I think those guys worked as hard as they could yesterday. It wasn’t a lack of effort. But, we weren’t good on the cadence so you want to ask why. Maybe it’s because there’s two more days of school left and we had four days off right before the last two days of school and they came out and worked hard, but they weren’t totally locked in and it showed. What I like is we have guys that it bothers. You don’t have to sit out there and ‘MF’ them and stuff. It bothers them, just like it bothers us. When things bother people, you usually fix it and that’s what I think our guys stayed out and tried to do yesterday.”
I thought it was interesting that you said as a head coach, if the offense does something wrong at least you can take solace in the fact that maybe it was because the defense did something right. How hard has it been to adjust to that kind of way of thinking over your first year plus to where you’re not just caring about the offense? You kind of have to balance it.
“It hasn’t been that hard, just because that’s just the reality of the situation. It’s been funny, people I’ve worked with before stuff that I complained about my whole life like, ‘Ugh, why won’t this head coach give us more reps. He’s scared people are going to get hurt. We need this practice on offense.’ I was the guy fighting for everything and now, I’m cancelling reps. I don’t want to get someone hurt. I’m thinking about the big picture. I’m not thinking about the scheme or something all the time. Some of my offensive coaches will get annoyed with me that I’ve changed. No, you think differently in different roles. You can’t win without a defense and the defense can’t win without an offense, and neither of them can do good without special teams. It really doesn’t matter. It’s just football nonstop.”
When you talk about the cadence issues, what were you doing different?
“Just the, ‘on one, on two. You go on the quick count.’ We have 100 different cadences and we’ve got a lot of different calls and a lot of other stuff that are extremely confusing. When you’re thinking about everything else and not thinking about the cadence, you just jump offsides.”
You’ve made a big commitment to QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Do you want to see him dominate a June practice? Does that matter to you personality-wise or playing-wise? Is there a difference when he’s “the guy?”
“Kind of. I don’t really go out there and, ‘Man, we dominated today. We’re good.’ Sometimes it looks like you dominated but it was because three rookies out there didn’t know their coverage and they busted and you were just running wide open and it just seems cool, but it’s not. You really didn’t do that good. I don’t ever really get too involved into that stuff. It’s just about each play individually, and, ‘Did we execute it? Why didn’t we? Did we get better from it?’ It’s just trying to prepare yourself for real football. You don’t get too caught up in that stuff because that’s just fun and it’s competition, which we all have and we’re all extremely competitive, but it’s not Sunday. So, what I like to see in Jimmy is just go through situations. I like seeing him make mistakes. I like seeing him come in and work on it. I like seeing him when we get them in that same situation, the same coverage and the same looks, and I like seeing him correct what he messed up two days ago. He felt the mistake. He understood why it was wrong and then he wants to correct it himself, not ‘Hey, that’s wrong, do it this way.’ I want him to understand it. Sometimes when things don’t work out, you learn. You’ve got to know the whys and that’s what allows you to have continued success over time.”
On the cadences, how much is it just assume that, “Okay Jimmy, get this right with your guys?”
“A little bit. I think it starts with the coaches. I don’t think we emphasized it enough. The players aren’t worried that much about it. I think it starts with us scaring them. We’re going to get what we emphasize. We didn’t emphasize the snap count for a few days and players forgot about it. They got a little sloppy with it. It fell apart. We have a responsibility for that, too. We emphasized it hard yesterday after practice. We have this morning. I bet it’ll be better today. So, whose fault is it? It’s all of ours. We’re doing it together, but it’s a reminder for everyone. Football never stops. You’re always working.”
You and Jimmy both have talked this spring about understanding the hows and the whys behind the offense. How did that process go, kind of re-learning the playbook from scratch?
“I think it’s been real good. You can see it sometimes click with him. We’ve been asking him to do something for a while and he’s been doing it. ‘Oh, I get it. That’s pretty important. I thought it was just coach talk for the 100 clips that we’ve done, but I just had the 101 and I would’ve gotten killed if I didn’t.’ It’s stuff like that, it’s why you like when guys mess up and they get to feel why they did without getting injured like they would on Sunday if it happened. You like to see it in practice and be like, ‘Oh man, I don’t want that to happen on Sunday.’ Then they understand and they get it corrected in practice and it’s something you don’t have to talk about again.”
In 2012, when you made the zone-read your main offense. Obviously they did that here and it was wildly successful. Do you think that as a base offense can ever have that type of success again or have defensive coordinators figured it out?
“No, there isn’t anything to figure out. It’s a very sound scheme. It’s ‘How do you want to attack it, what do you want to do off of it when they 100-percent commit to stop it?’ Which you can, but that opens up everything else. So, what do you do to scare them out of everything else? Is your quarterback good enough at running with the football to make them commit to stopping it? Once they do, is he good enough to make the passes that he has to that they just opened up? If he is, that’s a huge issue. It’s tough to find always that guy. If you don’t protect him right and you don’t do the right stuff, it is tough to stay healthy. People talk about that 2012 year, but our running game was 70-percent outside zone. It was one-third zone read. But everyone was scared for it, so they played for it every play, which is why [free agent RB] Alfred Morris led the league in rushing or I think he was second or third. But, it was because of the threat of zone read, which allows you to do a ton of other stuff. It’s not your base offense, but if you’re in pistol or shotgun, you can run it at any time. Defenses have been playing 11 against 10 for so long. Now all of a sudden, you have to play 11 on 11 and if you’re not that changes everything you do. It’s not that they’ve caught up, you just need the right people, the right commitment, you have to stay healthy and you’ve got to have the whole package together. We’re just running zone read, well they’ll stop that. It’s what are you doing off of it?”
Where do you envision OL Mike Person to be? I’ve noticed he’s been at guard and center. Is he a legitimate candidate to be in that guard competition or he is kind of a utility?
“We’ll see how camp plays out. We brought him in here because we want to add to our depth and our competition. We have lots of guys in and out. They’re not all healthy right now. Again, I don’t even know who went with the ones and twos yesterday. I’m sure it was mixed in both. If you play in our inside and you’re not a starting player, you’ve got to work all three of those spots. You only get so many up on game day. So, if you’re not a starting player, you need to play both positions at guard. You’ve got to be able to snap. We work a lot of different people for those situations because you have 16 O-Linemen, but usually you keep eight. How’s that going to play out? It’s not always, ‘Who are the eight best blockers?’ It’s ‘Who are the eight guys that can build a team to where you can use those five guys and get through a season no matter what injuries happen?’”
Why didn’t WR Marquise Goodwin practice yesterday?
“His back was sore form last week and it was still stiff over the weekend when he came in. I’m sure ‘Quise easily would’ve pushed through it and been out there to me if it was regular season or anything, but just at this time, it’s not worth it and we’re not going to have him go today either.”
How do you deal with the expectations for your team? At this point for you, are your expectations different in terms of how you view what would be a successful offseason program as you sit here right now compared to last year?
“You know, I don’t get too caught up in expectations. As coaches and players, you work and when it comes down to it you expect to win every game and we all know we’re not going to for the most part. Someday someone will. That’s how you think. We’ve put a lot of work in in a year. We’ve gone through a lot of things. We’ve changed the roster over a ton. We’ve been together as a coaching staff more. We go through this every single day and what I’m happy with when I go out on the field at our players, when I look at our coaches, we’re better. We’re deeper, we’re faster, we move together, our 11 guys better together. And that should happen. We’ve done it longer. We’ve had more time to build the personnel. But, it’s been a year and a half. We plan to do this every single year. Does that mean that your record changes? Football games are hard. You’ve got to win those at the end. You’ve got to protect the ball. You can’t turn it over. You can’t have penalties. Injuries change everything. We’ll deal with that when it comes, but I know we’re better and that’s what I’m excited about. That’s what I always want to make sure we’re doing. I always say it so it can be annoying, but you’re getting better or worse. You never stay the same.”
Is the possibility of an S Eric Reid return still a possibility? Have you had any contact at all with his representatives? Where do things stand on that?
“Our door is always open to add good football players. I think that was hard with us when we decided. We had to make a tough decision on where we wanted to go with our safety position. We went with [S Jaquiski] Tartt, just with age, with where we were at, that we knew we had him. And the fact that we were able to renegotiate and get him a new contract, too, helped. I mean, 90 people in camp. Yeah, if he wanted to come and compete and do that stuff that would be great. There’s other stuff that play into it with trying to get a contract done and things like that. I’m sure Eric has higher expectations than that, too.”
“I mean, those five games were pretty good. I don’t know. He didn’t know as much then, so maybe we’re going to mess him up by teaching him more. I’m just joking with that, but those five games, things went very well. There was a number of times that maybe it should have been a pick, but Marquise stepped back to the ball and made a play so we never worried about that one. There’s a couple times our defense made some plays. In Chicago, we moved the ball very well. We didn’t get in the end zone once. There’s things that as everyone knows what they’re doing, of course we’re going to be better. We’ve got to go out and do it. I think that’s the question. ‘Oh man, how are we going to look now that Jimmy has an offseason and knows it?’ Well he did look pretty good last year and he’s going to be much more comfortable in there and know a lot more what he’s doing and guys are going to be able to play together and understand situations better. Does that mean, who was the number one those last five weeks? I don’t know how much of a jump you guys are going to see, but you are better. When you talk about expectations and stuff, I don’t know how you live up to that. He did very good last year, the offense did. So if he had 400 yards a game does that mean we have to have 600 for these first five games to improve? I don’t know what the numbers will be. I think we’ll be a better offense. I feel pretty confident in that.”
What did you see from Malcolm Smith and Reuben Foster together yesterday?
“It’s just good to have them both out there together. Those were two guys I really wanted to see play together last year. We lost Malcolm early in training camp. Malcolm’s great. He knows the scheme very well. He’s very smart. He’s an extremely hard player to go against, especially in the pass game, and they both feed off of each other very well. Malcolm is very controlled and has a lot of experience and Reuben, I always tell him that he’s like ‘The Waterboy’ out there. He’s just flying around ready to hit someone. They balance each other out very well so I think it’s a good tandem.”
Going off of that, a player that I kept my eye on these last couple of practices has been your rookie Fred Warner. Back at BYU he had a position where he was asked to cover slot receivers. Has that translated at all to the practice field here with the Niners?
“They used him basically as a nickelback because there’s very few two-back offenses in college. It’s always one-back and he was the outside linebacker, which ends up playing very similar to the position [CB] K’Waun [Williams] plays. That’s where you could see his athletic ability. He was very quick, good in space, instinctive. We saw a few reps of him inside when they played Georgia Tech and stuff. The scheme is different so you get to see him in some different spots, but it’s tough when you don’t get to see a lot of that and that’s how a lot of positions are around the league. You’ve got to go with the skill set. You’ve got to see the guy, see what he can handle from a mental standpoint. Fred was very detailed and didn’t bust, instinctive. We’ve moved him inside, or, he’s gotten more reps inside here and you see the same thing. He’s very smart. He doesn’t make the same mistake twice and he’s a guy I’m excited to see once we get these pads on.”
Going off that, you mentioned the other day that he may be a little too loud at practice. How has he been able to digest defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s defensive playbook? Have you seen any hiccups from him on the field?
“No. That’s what’s been so impressive. He was so loud because he was so confident. He just knew it very well. For a guy that wasn’t in charge of calling it in college and that’s his first time to do it, for him to come out there and be that confident with it, it means he understands it. That means he gets it, and that’s shown in how he has played.”
Is there any particular message that you have for your team in the next five weeks? I know you don’t want guys to get out of shape or anything, but just to make sure that everybody leaves and then comes back for training camp.
“Just how big of a deal it is. I went through it last year. The more you’re in the NFL, the more you see it. It always happens to a bunch of guys. We had 90 guys work as hard as they could for these past two months or whatever it is and now they’re going to still work, but we’re not going to be around them for a month. Most guys are fine, but there’s always that small percent that hasn’t been scarred, that thinks they can just, A, relax and rest and be ready for training camp. What those people don’t realize is that you come to training camp thinking you’re going to get into shape in training camp and you usually pull a hamstring on the first couple days, then you’re out for three weeks, then you come in for the last preseason game and you don’t totally feel right and then you either don’t make the team, you don’t make practice squad or you make it because of your history but you don’t look the same in Week 1 because you haven’t gone through it all. It’s a trickle-down effect throughout the whole year. I can’t express it any more than I will tomorrow when I talk to the guys like we do all the time, that you can’t recover if you take a month off. If you don’t come to training camp right, it will affect how you play in Week 16.”
Will you have the quarterbacks come when rookies and first-year come back a week before formal camp opens?
So, they’ll come, what’s it July 25, is that the opening day?
“I think we start on a Thursday. So, I know we’ll all be back in there Monday. I’m not sure exactly what the dates are. I don’t have them come back a week early. I haven’t been with a team that I can remember that’s done that. I know that was always the case when I was younger because I would always be pissed I had to go up as a ball boy to Rockland a week early just for the rookies and be up there five weeks or whatever it was. But, I think we get enough time in. Rookie year is different for rookies. It’s long. They hit a rookie wall. They’re not used to it no matter what you tell them. I’m not trying to get them to make that even longer for them.”
Were you tempted to call off family day tomorrow?
“I was a little tempted. Still considering. Maybe you guys should show up tomorrow.”
Any update on LB Dekoda Watson?
“Yeah, he hurt his calf. We’re not going to play him today. MRI and everything, he came back alright. But, it’s I think a calf strain would be the right word and it doesn’t sound like we have any concern for training camp.”