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Robert Saleh talks Fred Warner, Solomon Thomas, pass rush

The 49ers defensive coordinator met with the media on Thursday. We’ve got a full transcript.

Week 2 Defensive Press Conferences

Robert Saleh and Richard Sherman discuss the home opener vs. the Lions

Posted by San Francisco 49ers on Thursday, September 13, 2018

What was your feeling about Week 1? What did you guys do well? What would you like to see tightened up?

“I’d like to see us come out with a little bit more fire. Start that first quarter just as a defense, missed some tackles and it took us a second to get going and get comfortable within the game. I’d like to see us get comfortable right from the start. We believe in each other. We believe in the players that we have. Trusting each other and becoming one big unit that plays from start to finish is really what we’re looking for.”

Assuming that Week 1 missed tackles aren’t something that you just sluff off.

“No. Missed tackles are unacceptable. We teach it daily. We’ve got a style to it that is very clear. Everyone knows it. So, we’ll have a good tackling session today.”

How did LB Fred Warner do in his debut? What did he do well? What does he need to work on?

“I thought he had good command of the huddle, did a really good job relaying the message of the calls, did a great job getting people lined up. He made plays when they were presented to him. Saw the game very well. He did have mistakes, some that are not seen to the naked eye. So, he’s got a lot of stuff that he does have to clean up. Statistically, obviously, he produced and made a lot of plays. But, he’ll tell you himself that there’s a lot of room to get better.”

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said the other day he thought it’d be hard to take Fred off the field if he keeps playing at this level. I know it’s a week away, but do you like to envision the potential pairing of him and LB Reuben Foster? What do you think they can do together?

“I’ll be honest. I’m so worried about this week. Then, when Reuben gets back we’ll deal with Reuben and Fred or whoever is with him. I never want to put the cart in front of the horse. He’s got to go prove it again, Fred does. If he continues to play at that level, yeah, it would be hard. In the NFL, you could have a great game and the very next week become nothing all over again. He’s got to go out and show that consistency over and over again.”

What was your assessment of the pass rush?

“You know what? We left a couple out there for sure. I thought the mechanics of it all and what we’re trying to get down with regards to assignments, like we’ve talked about all offseason, were clearly there. You saw [DL DeForest Buckner] Buck clean up a sack. He could have cleaned up another one just from a technique standpoint. Thought they did a good job pushing the pocket and making [Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk] Cousins flush either through the B gaps or trying to get him out of the pocket some. He did scramble, which is a good thing, believe it or not. But, yeah, I thought it was pretty good, and it can get even better because I do feel like we left a couple out there.”

What went into the decision to use DL Arik Armstead in the nickel defense in most passing situations and not DL Solomon Thomas?

“Arik’s shown, when he came back with that Indianapolis game, he’s playing with a mindset and if he continues with this in the way he’s going, he’s a very large human being and when he plays like a very large human being and plays with that mindset of power, he is a very, very hard human being to block. Very hard. When you’ve got two six-foot-seven trees in the middle pushing the pocket and playing with that mindset, it is very hard for a quarterback to be able to see down the middle of a field. What he’s showed when he came back from his injury and during OTAs and then the Indianapolis game with the pocket push that he was able to create, felt like it would be great to give him the first opp at that. So, he’s very promising with what he has shown.”

Is the plan with Solomon Thomas for now to use him primarily in the base defense on first and second downs?

“He’ll get run on third down. He’s not dead at all in that regard. In the second half there, we had a run of three-and-outs so there’s just no chance to be able to get him out there. He still managed to get 35 plays. From a snap count-wise, we’re always challenging ourselves to get all our D-Linemen under 50. So, I felt like [DL] Sheldon Day should have played a little bit more, [DL] Ronald Blair [III] should have played a little bit more. I’m trying to make sure that those guys are fresh, not only for the fourth quarter in pass-rush mode, but as the season wears on. It’s the same plan for Solly. He’ll still play base downs outside. Trying to find opportunities for him to rush inside on obvious passing situations. He’ll get some action hopefully this week against Detroit.”

How did you grade CB Richard Sherman in that game?

“I thought Sherm did a really good job. The one ball that he may have given up was like a triple move with the quarterback scrambling, which would be very difficult to defend for even the greatest corners of all time. I thought he did really well, did a great job communicating, was phenomenal on the sideline. He was the Sherm that I’ve grown to love. He was very good.”

You mentioned his communication. How was the communication generally in that secondary?

“Communication from a secondary standpoint, just talking to each other about alerts, awareness, formation indicators, those are all very, very important especially during the course of a game. The communication on the sideline is so important. They’ve got to get to a point where they know what each other’s thinking without ever having to communicate it, because eventually our crowd is going to be rocking and they’re not going to be able to hear each other from five yards away. Just that non-verbal communication, just being able to play with each other and communicate so they all see what each other is seeing. When we get to that point where they’ve been playing together for a while and they continue with that non-stop communication it should get pretty good.”

I know you’re responsible for the entire defense, but as a former linebackers coach, is it hard not to take someone like Fred Warner and his development personally and feel responsible for it like you would as a former linebackers coach?

“I’m always closer to the linebackers. Obviously, you take everything personal form the D-Line and their development, DBs and their development. Do I gravitate to the linebackers by nature? Yeah. But, at the same time, I think [inside linebackers coach] DeMeco Ryans is doing a phenomenal job with that group. He’s earned the trust of everyone on the coaching staff and all the players. So, love that room and the way they operate and the way they communicate. DeMeco has been doing a really good job.”

Warner said he takes it upon himself to be in the film room more than anybody else. Do you notice that from him and when do you think that started when he got here?

“I think that’s just who he is. That’s part of the whole evaluation process. He’s a film junky. That’s what he was coming out of BYU. You see him eating breakfast and watching tape. He’s sitting at a table by himself in the cafeteria and he’s got the tape rolling. He’s always deep in the film. If he continues to progress the way he is, he does have a bright future. But, like I said, consistency is the truest measure of performance. He’s got to consistently do it until he proves that that is who he is.”

What’s LB Elijah Lee’s state of readiness if he needs to play a big role this week?

“He’s ready to go. He’ll be getting some reps and we’ll see how it plays out for Sunday, but we have all the faith in the world in Elijah to go out and perform.”

What did you see from Ronald Blair and what does he bring to your nickel rush at the edge?

“I love Ronnie’s intensity. He can play multiple spots along the defensive line. He’s a tireless worker, he really is. He does it exactly the way you want it to be done and he’s a guy that he’s going to win with tremendous effort and grit. From that regard with Ronnie, you just have great confidence that somehow, someway he’s going to find a way to become unblocked during the down and win. So, with Ronnie, if you look at the tape, it might not always look pretty, but it’s winning and that’s basically what I love about Ronnie. He just knows how to win football.”

With Solomon, obviously he’s the number three pick in his second season. What does he need to do to get to the point where he’s not going to be subject to a rotation, but he’s going to be playing 60 snaps?

“Hopefully none of our D-Line takes 60 snaps. We want to keep them under 50. But, if we’re talking about third down pass rush and all of that stuff, he’s got to be one of the best ones on a consistent basis. And he’s gotten a lot better, he really has, and he’s shown stuff. And it’s no different. If we get into a groove of a game, we envision Solly getting out there just as much as Arik does. The way that whole second half went, like I said, there was no opportunity for him. But, we have all the faith in the world in Solomon. We’re very fortunate. We’ve got a lot of interior guys that are pretty freaking good and the first dibs was to obviously Buck and Arik. The guy that some people aren’t mentioning either is Sheldon. He’s got a little bit of run on the inside pass rush because he can win in there. So, we’re blessed in that regard, but it’s on us as coaches to make sure that he’s also getting those opportunities to continue to get better.”

His offsides, obviously he knows that was a mistake, everyone knows that was a mistake. Did you talk to him about it?

“You know what, he got his ear full on game day. There’s no need to beat a dead horse. Nobody tries to make a mistake in football like that, but it happened. I promise it will probably never happen again for him.”

The Hall of Fame nominees have been released and obviously general manager John Lynch is there again. What stands out to you when you think about his playing career and watching him?

“Back in the day when it was cool to knock people in the head, that was John. He was awesome. There’s one play in particular, if I remember right, he was playing, I was a little kid so forgive me if my memory isn’t right, but he got juked by [former NFL RB] Barry [Sanders] in the hole when he was playing for Tampa, Barry Sanders, and then I think he had another opportunity later on that same year and he stuck him. If I remember right. I’d have to check. I just remember Barry getting light by somebody at Tampa. But, John was a guy who, just from being a little kid and watching him, he was phenomenal with just, he was everywhere. He just showed up everywhere and he brought pain to offensive players and made you love football.”

We asked you a lot about Solomon Thomas’ pass rush. What does he bring to your run defense?

“Solly is very hard to block. He’s very, very explosive. He fires off the ball. He’s got great leverage, good hand usage. From that standpoint, he’s a really good run defender and he’s actually quick. He can disengage quick and get to the ball carrier quick. He doesn’t give up a lot of ground on double teams, so he’s a very good run defender in that regard. Obviously, we fully trust him to defend the run.”