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Kyle Shanahan talks Eli Harold trade, 3rd TE competition, rookie impersonations

The 49ers head coach chatted with the media after practice on Thursday. We’ve got a full transcript, and you can watch video here.

Can you go over the thinking behind the trade today?

“Oh, with [LB] Eli [Harold]? It was a tough decision, love Eli. It’s been great to get to know him over the last year. But as this week went, just looking into closer to how our final 53 is going to work out, I won’t say it was just about Eli, it has to do a lot with how we think we’re going to use people on game day, who’s going to be up between defensive linemen, outside linebackers, inside linebackers. All three of those positions kind of play together and we’ve got some numbers issues at certain spots. We kind of saw how it was probably going to go and we wanted to do what was best Eli and best for this organization and make that decision now.”

Who would start on Saturday, for example, at that spot?

“On Saturday, [LB Mark] Nzeocha is starting.”

And then you’ve got LB Pita Taumoepenu there and LB Dekoda Watson has been playing more LEO recently?

“You’ve got Pita and Nzeocha listed at SAM. We had [DL Cassius] Marsh has played SAM. We had Dekoda listed at SAM last year. We have I think six inside linebackers on our roster who can play SAM So, there’s so many different ways we can go here in the next 10 days.”

Did you make this move partially because Nzeocha impressed you in the offseason?

“Nzeocha has been having a good camp, but no, it’s about a lot of things. The main stuff was looking ahead on how our 53 is going to be and how our game day roster is going to be and kind of the decisions that go into that that people don’t realize and players don’t realize either. It has to do with how much you’re on the field in base personnel to nickel personnel to special teams to who’s the backup to the D-Linemen and to the SAMs and the inside linebackers. All of those guys are interchangeable in how you use them. It’s pretty complicated.”

Could it be that some of your interior guys end up playing more on the edge than you initially anticipated?

“If we feel they’re the best there. You are going to put the guys where you think they’re the best. If you think someone’s great on the inside and they’re okay on the outside, you don’t want to make them okay. So, you want to try to get your four best rushers out there and not how they rush individually, but how they rush as a group too.”

I know DL DeForest Buckner has been moved out there a little bit. Did you like what you see from him there and was that enough to maybe think about moving him?

“Yeah, I think he’s one of the few big guys in the league who you could put out there. That doesn’t mean that’s where he’s at best. But, when you have some very talented guys like DeFo, that is an option. It’s just not something you move him out there. Now you’re not as good inside and that isn’t where he’s best either.”

What about LB Fred Warner at that SAM spot? He’s got nice height.

“Yeah, I think every guy on our roster who’s listed as an inside linebacker is capable of playing outside linebacker. It just depends how you want to treat that position, how the offense treats it. Do they think it’s a guy the running back can block? If it is, you call him a 4-3 backer. If he’s someone that you don’t think a running back could block, then you call it a 3-4. So, it changes some protection schemes which could be an advantage for both. Sometimes you get a smaller guy out there and it makes protections different but it gives you more speed. So, it’s really just how to make your final 53 the best.”

Did he do any of that in Houston, either in the practices or the game?

“Fred? No, he didn’t. He’s been only at inside.”

There’s a certain heft though that you have to have on the edge as far as setting the edge in the run and things like that. Eli was a 270-pound guy last year. Are these inside linebackers big enough to handle that aspect of it?

“That’s just really, every NFL team in the league that calls themselves a 4-3. They set the edge with 4-3 linebackers that weigh the same or they do it with strong safeties. You can do it with a hardball corner which is very different, but that’s an option. Some people can do it with nine-techniques. So, there’s lots of different ways to set an edge.”

What’s a nine-technique?

“When the defensive lineman is lined up outside the tight end which is where a SAM linebacker lines up, which is where a strong safety lines up in cover three. So, it’s just anybody in the D-gap outside of the tight end.”

I knew that. I was just quizzing you.

“I know, you were just making sure I knew.”

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has really praised Eli Harold’s ability to set the edge in the past. Was it just that he didn’t provide enough in the nickel defense and the special teams or other ways?

“No. It was just exactly what I said without telling you guys every little detail. That is what comes down to it. Yeah, he does set the edge very well, and I would love to keep Eli. I would love to have 90 guys on our roster. But, you’ve got to make some tough decisions. We’re going to have some tougher ones this year. We need more than that, and Eli can do more than that, but it’s how you balance out your roster. It’s hard to have just a SAM linebacker up on game day unless he’s going into D-Line. Now, how many D-Linemen do you have up on game day? When you do that, now you’re going to have four inside linebackers up on game day. Which one of those is playing special teams? What happens when your SAM gets hurt? Does one go over or do one of your D-Linemen go out? I know everyone wants a big, simple, easy answer for everyone to say. But, it’s why it took us until going over the final 53 or having an idea of what the final 53 was to even help us come to this conclusion.”

CB Richard Sherman said yesterday about the helmet tackling rule and how fraught that’s been over the first two weeks of the preseason. The fact that Pita comes from a rugby background, that’s how he tackles, is that a check in his column at all?

“No. We coach all our players like that. People have been doing it for years, so none of that changes. You watch rugby players tackle, they lower their head. You can’t tackle without it. It’s just about not having your head touch the body before anything else does. But, rugby players do the same thing, everybody does. Sometimes there’s some unfortunate things you can’t control.”

Richard Sherman said yesterday that he is expecting to play this week. Is he going to play and what’s the plan for him?

“We’re playing him with the starters and we’d like the starters to play the first half. Like I said earlier in the week, that could be less. It could be a little bit more. But, I’d like to keep Richard on the same plan. He hasn’t been out as much as everyone, so we’ll see how it goes. We’ll monitor his reps. You don’t know if it’s a ton of reps. You never know how long two quarters can go. Hopefully, he gets enough so that he feels comfortable. I’m leaning a lot on Sherm with this. He’s finally got to the point where we feel he can go and not have setbacks. Now it’s what he needs to do to get himself ready for Minnesota. I know a lot of that has to do with getting him some playing time this week. Based off how this goes and how practice goes next week, I’ll talk to him and see how much he thinks he needs versus Los Angeles.”

Five guys were dealing with injuries but were back practicing today; DL Arik Armstead, CB K’Waun Williams, LB Malcolm Smith, DL Solomon Thomas and OL Garry Gilliam. Do you expect to have all of those guys for Saturday?

“I’ve got to talk more with the coaches and K’Waun a little bit about how today went. I do expect all of those guys to play except for Gilliam. Gilliam is still in the concussion protocol. Since he is still now, he is ruled out.”

What’s been the focus with QB Jimmy Garoppolo this week?

“Just detail. Improvement on everything. It’s been the focus on the whole offense, the whole defense. Just trying to tighten things up the closer you get to the games counting. I think we’ve had a really good week of practice. I think we responded well to a lot of the good things and bad things that we went through last week. These last three days I’ve been really excited about.”

TE Cole Wick got the start Saturday in Houston. Is that competition for third tight end closer than maybe it started in camp?

“Yes. Yeah, those guys are competing hard. Both of those guys are trying to get that third spot. Some of the other guys, [TE Ross] Dwelley and [TE Wes] Saxton and stuff, they’ve come on, too, and got themselves in the mix. But yeah, it’s going to go down to the wire.”

Does T Mike McGlinchey still have a job after his impersonation in the rookie show?

“Yeah, he does. Him and [WR Dante] Pettis both impersonated me. They did a good job, so it was funny.”

Was one any closer than the other?

“No. Neither of them were perfect. Both of them had some good lines in there. They could have got me worse than they did. They’re funny guys. They’re talented. They both like to sing. They both can act. They like being in front of a room. They both can do a lot of things. I only care that they can play football, but they have other talents, too.”

You’ve seen a lot of rookie shows in your time. How does this one rank with the others?

“I thought it was pretty good. A few guys got booed off. Definitely would like to make them come up again if we have the time to do it. O-Linemen were definitely the best. They did a real good job.”