What was your day off like yesterday?
“It was productive. You get a lot of things done away from football, getting my living situation figured out. You get a little extra time to go back and look at the film and check out the earlier stuff in camp and kind of tie everything together.”
You still came here and did some work?
“Oh yeah, you have to. We’re in camp mode right now.”
TE George Kittle was just talking about, and some other guys have talked about, how, the word he used was ‘special,’ watching head coach Kyle Shanahan break down film. Now that you’ve had a chance to be around for a while and see him do that, how would you describe it from your perspective?
“Very in depth. He knows what everyone is doing on every play and he has a reason for why everyone is doing it, on offense especially, just how it all ties together. You know, if they do this then we’ll do that. It’s kind of that cat and mouse game that you get in to. But, he just does a great job of keeping us one play ahead of the defense and putting us in good situations. It’s incredible.”
Having a coach with that kind of acumen Xs and Os, but balancing that with Lil’ Wayne sending him care packages and stuff like that, does it make him more relatable and how much easier is it to deal with him when the Xs and Os is there? Is it important to have that?
“Yeah, from the first day I got here Kyle was, me and him had a real good relationship.
He was really cool right off the bat. He’s very honest. As a player, you love to see your coach like that. He’s not giving you any BS or anything. He’s going to tell you exactly. If you mess something up, he’s going to tell you you messed something up. You’ve got to appreciate that part of it. There’s no real BS about it.”
Coach talked about the chemistry between you and the wide receivers. Can you talk about how you built it up with George in particular? Just a couple of practices ago you guys were definitely feeling it.
“Yeah, I think George is one of those guys that puts in a lot of extra work. Whether it’s staying after practice, talking in film sessions, he always asks me questions about his routes and stuff like that. That whole tight end group as a whole, we stayed today after practice just going over some finer, little details that will make a difference on Sunday.”
Is that something that you do regularly, keep guys a little bit longer, do a little extra work?
“Yeah, I like to. It’s kind of what separates you, I guess. Everyone’s putting in the same amount of practice time, but whoever stays after, you’re getting a little extra work in. So, there’s a fine line during camp. You don’t want to kill guys and they run a lot more than I do so we’ve got to take care of their legs a little bit.”
How similar are the use of tight ends in this offense compared to what you did in New England?
“There are similarities, but every offense has its own little quirks and things like that. But, in the run game, it’s similar. Pass game is a little different. They’re more, in New England, favored around [New England Patriots TE] Rob [Gronkowski] and everything, but here, we have a couple of different weapons at tight end. It’s nice to have that at your luxury.”
George was saying he has to know three or four different positions just based on different alignments. Is that different than what you guys did in New England?
“Yeah, like I said, there’s similarities. New England does some two, three tight end sets, but we mix that stuff in all the time. It’s very regular in our offense. It’s tough for those guys to learn three different positions and they could be at any one of the positions on the same play. It keeps them thinking.”
George was saying how coach Shanahan could spend 45 minutes on a single route. What’s the longest he’s spent on a single play with you?
“If we go back to last season, we were there for a while sometimes. That Bye week, we put in some good time. But, I can’t think of one in particular off the top of my head, but it’s just he gets on a roll sometimes and one thing will lead to the next and you ask him about play A and next thing you know, you’re on play M and N. It’s crazy. His mind just works so fast, it’s incredible.”
TE Garrett Celek was talking about he was struck last year that you were just not surviving as far as being in there, but you were telling guys, ‘Hey, if you get this coverage you’re going to have to change your route,’ which Shanahan’s phrase is overcoming coaching. Did you bring that with you here as far as talking to receivers, saying, ‘You can’t be a robot, you might have to change your route?’
“I mean, I don’t want to say it’s overcoming coaching. It’s just when you’re in the route, all of a sudden you might feel a different coverage and now you have to run an outbreaking route when a guy is outside of you. That’s a tough thing to do, but if you just run the route in the paper, yeah you’ll get a good checkmark on the grade sheet but you didn’t win the route. It’s just being a football player at the end of the day. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get open at receiver, tight end, running back. It’s just, we have a younger group so helping them out and them learning that stuff. They learn quickly so it makes my job easier.”
Is there a part of you that has been reluctant to use that term, overcoming coaching, just because of how it’s interpreted?
“I don’t really see it as that. It’s just, you’re going against one of 15, 20 coverages that you could go against. So, one route could look 15 different ways. Overcoming coaching sounds bad just in itself, I’m not trying to get yelled at or anything. It’s just being a football player, really, is how I look at it.”
When they mic’d you up in the Titans game you told WR Marquise Goodwin on the sidelines before that last drive, ‘Go be a football player.’ He ran a slant or a shallow cross. If you remember that play specifically, can you just take us through what you were conveying to him?
“I don’t remember exactly what I said to him, but the whole being a football player part, you have to be careful with who you say that to because certain guys might take it the wrong way and go haywire on a route and run something completely different and you’re like, ‘Alright man, I didn’t mean that.’ But, certain guys you can tell that to and you kind of learn your receivers as you go. You say that to a guy and they’ll find the open window. It might not look the right way on paper, but they’ll get the job done and get to the open spot. That’s what ‘Quise did on that play. He slipped the guy, got inside and it was a huge window that got us in field goal range. So, not thinking so much, kind of reacting to the defense.”
Is this the point in camp where the defense kind of knows what you’re doing? We saw a few picks out there today. Does that play into it? Do they kind of know what’s coming?
“It goes both ways, offense and defense. They know our cadence, we know some of their calls on defense just because you hear them every single day and you talk to guys in the locker room. It’s the way camp goes, though. It will be good to get Dallas in here on Thursday for sure.”
How are you with C/G Weston Richburg in terms of thinking along the same lines when you see certain things and developing the chemistry that you two need to have?
“The communication has been real good. Obviously, we can always improve. There’s little things here and there, but the communication has been good from me to him and him to me. If we see something, we’ll go on the sideline and talk about it, how we want to change it for the next time. I think that center-quarterback conversation is a good thing to have.”
So many talented route runners and guys that can get open. Has that affected your mental processing on the field about where to go with the ball?
“No. You have your reads on the play. Versus certain coverages you might change it. But, Kyle and [quarterbacks coach] Rich [Scangarello] both do a good job of explaining to me what they want me to do on each play versus which coverage. You just have to go through your same reads consistently. Man-to-man might change a couple of things, but for the most part, you know what you’re doing.”
What are your impressions of what you’ve seen from RB Jerick McKinnon on the field? Also, coming from New England where you guys oftentimes ran out several running backs, do you see a similar type situation here or do you view this running back room differently?
“Jerick is a true pro. He is. He comes to work every day. He’s in here early. You see him get in, one of the last guys to leave. It’s nice to have that, especially the guy right next to you who you’re communicating with a lot, working with a lot. It sets the tone for the offense. As far as who’s going to play, that’s up to the coaches. I think we’ve got a great group of backs and they’re all very talented.”
WR Trent Taylor is finally getting healthy. I talked to him a little bit before this. What do you think he brings to the table as far as making your life easier out there and how does he make this offense even more dynamic than it already is?
“It will be nice to get him out there. Trent’s a smart player. He’s a smaller guy, but he likes to go in between the linebackers and things like that. He finds the soft spot in the defense and gives you an easy throw on third down. It’s just one more thing for the defense to think about. But, we’ve got a good group right now. Guys have been playing well. We mix and match so much with guys with the first and second team that you’re running with a bunch of different guys. So, it’ll be nice to have him out there though.”
Is it kind of comforting to know that you guys are in the same boat of being very new to this offense and whatnot? He said he’s only learned about 85-percent of the playbook so far.
“Yeah, I mean he’s one of the younger guys. But, you’ve got to go as fast as you can and learn as quickly as possible. That’s what this time of year is. How quickly can you learn the whole offense and be ready to use it at the coach’s disposal.”
As far as the Chicago game to that Tennessee game, were you more apt, by the time you got to the Tennessee game, to tell guys, to be specific about having to adjust their routes? I guess what I’m saying is in the Chicago game were you basically like, let’s just get the play called and run it?
“We were trying to avoid the delay of game in Chicago. Yeah, that was a big part of it. I think every week last year I progressively got more and more comfortable with winning obviously and learning new things every week. Every week I was hearing new things for the first time that I had never heard before. So, it was that comfort level that just keeps growing as you get more along with the offense and learn more. So yeah, I guess so.”
Kind of following up on that, you mentioned it could be different with specific receivers. Has that been a part of this specific offseason for you to learn that this guy might be a little quicker cutting off a route and this guy might need, is that a part of this whole process?
“For sure and just the mental side of it. You meet guys in the locker room, you talk to them, you interact so much. We spend more time with each other than we do with our own families. So, you know a guy inside and out. You know how his body works on the field from watching him on tape and everything. You kind of get on the same page and you learn what guys can and can’t do and play to their strengths.”
What did you see on that last throw of practice to WR Kendrick Bourne, the touchdown?
“The keeper? KB got physical with the guy, broke free and he did the rest, man. It was a pretty easy throw and he’s as athletic as they come. He ran for a long time.”
Kittle said, I might butcher this, I think he said there was a play for him called z-ghost. I think he thought it was like an end-around or something like that. Do you think that will ever be run?
“What did George say?”
He’s eager to have it run.
“He’s eager to run it? If his 40 time drops by a couple tenths of a second, maybe we’ll see.”