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Kyle Shanahan talks dress rehearsal, fullbacks, new tackling rule

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The 49ers head coach met with the media to open preseason Week 3. We’ve got a full transcript, and you can watch video here.

Do you subscribe to the dress rehearsal mantra of the third preseason game?

“Yeah, I do. To a degree. I think it’s very important that players, coaches, everyone, we are creatures of habit, and preseason we’re all over the place. But, you want them to get into that routine to where all seven days are all kind of Groundhog Day over and over. So, you want them to know what they’re going to expect Week 1. So, we try to go through that routine. Today is I believe our 16th practice. We want more. We can’t just sit here and totally focus on Indy and everything. We’ve got to worry about ourselves a lot more than you normally would in a regular week. So, we’ve got to do things that help us, not just worry about the rehearsal.”

Is keeping four running backs a possibility?

“Yeah. Definitely it’s a possibility. Going extra at a number of positions is a possibility. We definitely think there’s four running backs on our roster that we like. We have that at a lot of positions and stuff, and that’s why it’s going to be tough to get to this 53.”

As they weed things out, are you sure what a legal tackle is right now?

“That’s the hard thing. I know what I think is a legal tackle. Then, I know what the new rule articulates with the words so then it makes it hard to figure out how much we’re following that exactly and how much we’re not. I think that’s what everyone is in between, trying to figure out. I don’t think people know that exactly yet.”

Are you still kind of feeling it out during this exhibition season right now? The evaluation of the officials and what gets called and what doesn’t get called?

“Yeah, I think we all know the language and how to read it and what it says. Then, we’re all seeing how it’s being called. We’re all still figuring out what it’s going to be.”

Do you have any personal thoughts on the pros and cons of rule and how it gets enforced and what it means to the big picture of the game?

“I think I will eventually. I think everyone knows it’s an issue right now. I’m hoping that people get it figured it out.”

What’s QB C.J. Beathard’s update?

“C.J.’s not practicing today. He definitely is trying to, but he does have a foot sprain. So, we’re resting him. We think it will help him for tomorrow. We’ll see how he comes in tomorrow. He’s day-to-day as of now.”

Is DL Solomon Thomas still in the concussion protocol?

“Yes. Him and [T Garry] Gilliam are both in the same stage. They’ve been cleared to have no contact, but they can go out there and do individual and stuff as long as they’re out of contact. If they pass that stuff today, hopefully they can take the next step tomorrow.”

What’s been your impression of the team’s pass blocking through the first two preseason games?

“Up and down. I think we did a fairly good job with the ones in there. I don’t remember too many hits [QB] Jimmy [Garoppolo] has had. I think the twos and threes, it’s been both. We haven’t been perfect by any means, but in terms of the preseason, I’ve been happy with it, relatively speaking.”

Would you be hesitant to play C.J. Saturday then if he’s not practicing this week?

“No. I would never be hesitant to play him if he didn’t practice. But, I would be if he couldn’t protect himself or it could threaten him after. I want C.J. to get as many reps as we think is smart because you’re hoping he doesn’t get many in the season.”

Is your plan then to have Jimmy just go kind of into the second quarter and then turn it over to C.J. or QB Nick Mullens?

“Yeah. Usually in the third preseason game, you try to keep your ones out there for a whole half. That’s usually our standard philosophy. We’ll see how our guys are. We’ll see how the game goes. It could be less than a half. It could be into the third quarter. We’ll see.”

What have you seen out of Nick in these two exhibitions and how well he has performed?

“I think he’s done what everyone has expected him to do. I think he’s been very similar in the games as he’s been in practice. Nick’s a good football player. When he’s had his opportunities, he’s shown the game is not too big for him. It’s similar to how he looks in practice each day, also.”

What was the transition like for him, college to NFL, just the difference in systems seemed like it was pretty steep?

“Yes. He learned a lot more in terms of that he had to. They were a more spread system. He was doing a lot of spread-out stuff. He was running the zone-read and things and throwing bubbles a lot. That’s not a huge part of your offense. There’s just a lot more stuff to learn to go into it. Nick is a very smart person who works at everything. I think he enjoyed it all because it’s fun when you get to learn stuff. The more he learns, the better he gets. He is a very A-type personality who is going to learn everything inside and out and that’s what’s given him a chance to succeed in this league.”

How would you evaluate the pass rush so far in camp and what are you looking for here in the last few weeks before the season starts?

“I always want it to get better. I wish the quarterback got hit every single play, on the other team. It makes everyone’s job a lot easier. So, we’re going to always challenge that. We’re never going to be satisfied with it. I hope it can get improved this week and next week. But, the main thing is I hope it’s getting better in the season.”

Why is the fullback so important in your offense?

“Just because I feel like when a fullback is in there, if you want to run the ball you can and the defense knows that, even if they want to do certain things. You have the right type of blockers and the numbers to where you can dictate how the game goes. I think defenses know that, so it limits a lot of stuff they do. The negative can be you can have a fullback in all the time and they know you’re in two-back all the time there’s only a couple of eligibles they have to worry about so it’s a lot easier to cover people. But, that’s the advantage with someone like ours that just because our fullback is in, you don’t know whether we’re in two-back or one-back, which I think puts pressure on defenses.”

How has FB Kyle Juszczyk progressed since he’s been here? Has there been a feeling out for you two in ways that you are more comfortable using him than you were initially?

“I think Kyle’s been better than I hoped for. Kyle was someone we were going to get. We thought he was the best fullback in the league and we were going to go get whatever that market dictated. I know we had to compete with a few other teams, but we thought he was going to be very important. That doesn’t mean that you just go do that always. There’s not many fullbacks like that. But, you adjust to what you think you can get, what your personnel is. Getting Kyle here, it’s been everything we hoped for. I think some people thought maybe he was going to lead the team in stats and things like that. If he was, he wouldn’t be a fullback. He would be treated like a second halfback or a second tight end. He is a fullback because he’s a very good blocker, which makes defenses honor that. But, the versatility, how smart he is that he can go out and catch passes and he can line up anywhere without a ton of reps, that allows us to do anything we want out of two backs.”

A lot of teams run outside zone without a fullback. What does the fullback add to that play in particular?

“If you run outside zone without a fullback, you can’t stop a pressure. You can’t stop a strong safety blitz. You can’t stop it when they bring more than you can block. Now, you’ve got to bring the receivers all into it and put them on certain people. When the fullback is in the game, the receivers can stay out wide and stay on the corners and a fullback can take care of the safeties.”

TE Garrett Celek has survived a lot of turnover around here. What qualities does he have that makes coaches say, ‘I want you?’

“First, he’s a good player. I remember studying him a few years ago when we thought he was going to be a free agent. He was someone I wanted to target when we were in Atlanta. I think he ended up signing here before he became a free agent. So, I mean his tape’s always been good. He’s got a skill set. He’s got size. He can block. He can do most of the routes. Then, the type of guy he is. He’s smart enough to learn any scheme. He’s reliable, doesn’t mess up very much. It always starts with the talent, but then it goes to the person and he’s a guy you know what you’re going to get every single day.”

Are there nuances that makes WR Trent Taylor’s game different from WR Richie James Jr.’s game, other than being slot receivers that are small and quick?

“You can go to like weight and strength or 40 times and things like that to go over the slight differences and stuff. They’re used in very similar ways. I think you look at them both as slot receivers. But, I do think both of them have the ability to do other stuff, which makes them versatile. We’ve got other guys to do some other stuff, too, so it all just depends on how it plays out for our whole group and who makes the team, who is up. There’s lots of different skill sets that we can use. That’s why I’ve been happy with our group that we’ve got a lot of guys that we can do different things with. But, that’s what makes it a real hard decision.”

Coming back to the helmet rule, it’s a very controversial topic right now. Do you feel it’s taking away focus from the actual sport in any way?

“I don’t know. That depends what everyone’s focused on outside of here. I don’t think I’m the right person to answer that question. I know it’s an issue. Everyone does.”

There was a report that when free agency began from the NFL Network about you guys possibly wanting S Eric Reid on a one-year, minimum deal. Is that true? Is that offer still on the table? Is that something you’re still thinking about at this point as we get ready for the regular season?

“Yeah, I think I said what I said then and I’ll say it forever. If any really good player wants to come in here on a minimum deal and have a good player to be a backup, that’d be unbelievable. I don’t think that’s what Eric wants. I told you the reason we decided to go that direction is because we made a tough decision, but we had to do it. We went with [S Jaquiski] Tartt. We thought that was the right way to go. You can’t give a lot of money to backups, and that’s what he would be if he came here. But, I like Eric. Eric is a good player, he’s a good person. That’d be great if we could add him to that role. I don’t think he would be that interested in it.”

Going back to Atlanta from a few questions ago, how much of the success that you had there has sort of created a baseline for what you’re trying to build here now that we’re a little bit further down the tracks of this?

“Not much. I mean, I’ve been enough places and had to do a bunch of different things to where I don’t look at it that way. There’s so many different ways you can do things. You look at your team when you get somewhere. You look at what’s available in free agency, draft and trades. Then, you figure out what your final 53 is. You think of how people separate, how you run the ball, what your quarterback is good at. You just do the best you can to help those guys out. There’s no, ‘Alright, we’ve got to get this guy to look like that guy.’ There’s always preferences. One day, we’re going to have 10 [Atlanta Falcons WR] Julio Jones’ out there and one great quarterback throwing it to him. That’s never going to happen. You balance it out and you try to make the best of what you’ve got. You try to get the best skill sets that are available.”

On Saturday, was that the best that DL D.J. Jones has looked to you out of practice or a game in his year-plus?

“I know he made a lot of plays out there. I think D.J,’s had times like that. I think he had times like that last year. I think he’s had times like that this year. I think it’s been mainly in practice. I think guys go up and down throughout camp as they come out fresh and in shape. Then, they get worn down a little bit. I think everyone goes through that, that fluctuation throughout camp. I thought D.J. started to get his legs back a lot more, had a good week of practice, did well in the game. I’m excited to see if he’s going to be better or worse this week.”

He’s lighter. I know he’s really strong. Has he been able to maintain that strength on film?

“Yeah. When you’re lighter, if you see a guy getting pushed around more and stuff then obviously it’s a disadvantage. But, usually when guys just focus on eating right, lifting and working as hard as they can and being in shape, usually yeah you get lighter. But, that’s the way you’re supposed to be. Now you’re more athletic, you’re actually stronger, you’re more powerful, you can move your feet better. Not always that number going down means you really got smaller, if that makes sense. That means you’re the healthiest, most powerful you can be. As that number goes down, now you don’t have the same strength, now to me, you’ve gone too light. I haven’t seen that with D.J. It’s improved him.”

A lot of people talk about fullback being a dying position. There’s a long history of it here. Does it mean something to you to add to that history, to uphold that history?

“No. That stuff never means anything to me. I respect history a lot and I respect football a ton, but I’m just trying to do whatever we think gives us the best chance to win. I think a fullback helps. I always would like to have a fullback on the roster. If you can’t find one that you think is great, then we’ll do something else. It’s not like, ‘No, we have to do this.’ You do stuff because you think it helps. People always want to say our offense is running bootlegs and stuff. We run bootlegs if the defense we’re playing is run a certain way. There will be games that we don’t do it. There’re no absolutes. We just try to understand the best way to help people be successful and you just try to do it.”

As far as last week, was that too quick a turnaround for RB Alfred Morris?

“Yeah, he wanted to go and we could have thrown him in, but there’s only so many handoffs you can give people. He had two practices this year and if it would have played out differently, we would have put him in. But, we wanted to take a look at the other guys. I thought we gave [RB] Jeremy [McNichols] a really good look. I think Alf is a little more ready this week, which is fair to him, and I plan on him getting more looks this week than he did last week.”