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Kyle Shanahan on the 49ers defense: You can tell that they know that they can be good

The 49ers head coach seemed pleased with the defense

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up mandatory minicamp on Wednesday. Today they’ll have a gathering where all the families come and hang out and D.J. Jones’ dad grills for the entire team. Seriously.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke about injuries, the growth of the team, the defenses speed, and much more.

What happened on that first play of the two-minute drill?

“It wasn’t what I envisioned. We were going to go three groups, but we were tiring out. I didn’t want to get anyone hurt. I wanted to make sure [QB] Jimmy [Garoppolo] got his last group. I told the D-Line just stand there and put your hands up, no one’s allowed to rush. And the animals that they are, why we love them, they couldn’t help it. I saw it so I stopped it. I wasn’t going to mess with it.”

Is it just against their nature?

“Yeah, which is good. I liked it, after I got over it.”

Your heart racing a little bit?

“Yeah, I thought there was a huge misunderstanding, but they said they were just putting their hands up. I thought it looked a little different so we ended it pretty quick.”

TE Kaden Smith had a big catch on third down in two-minutes. How do you feel like he can contribute this year?

“That’s what he’s working to do. He was just here for OTAs so he is still learning the offense. I think he’s gotten better as it’s gone and we’ll get him to camp and we’ll see how he competes because we’ve got a number of guys and hopefully we’ll get [TE Garrett] Celek back sooner than later, but we should have some good competition there.”

How do you feel like his progress is early on in the Spring?

“He’s coming along. Everyone struggles at first because they don’t know the offense. A lot of knew stuff’s in and they’re going against a lot of new players. The key is do they get better through it and I think he has. It’s really good for him and a lot of the rookies to get away from it a little bit and then come back and we’ll start over in the month and we’ll see how much they’ve improved and what they learned from OTAs.”

Yesterday WR Marquise Goodwin said he intends to try and make the Olympic team next year. What’s your opinion on that? Is that something you would support?

“Yeah, I would think so. But, in order for me to have an opinion on it I would have to think about it a little bit more and I probably won’t start doing that until 2020.”

TE George Kittle was out today.

“Yes, and yesterday. We took him out because he’s had some tightness in his hip and we wanted to be smart with him.”

This whole offseason program you’ve had to deal with a lot of guys being out. How has that hindered your guys’ preparation and the whole last two months?

“I think a lot of, just talking to a lot of coaches, a lot of teams who go through the same thing, you have these practices and these guys who go down, guys who get surgeries and stuff. You do have injuries in OTAs. I think we were pretty fortunate with OTA injuries. The problem was starting this. I want to stay we started with 14 guys not going. So, if that was right, that number, I mean you are playing with 76 instead of 90. That was different. You know, when you go in with 76, it’s alright, but then if one guy gets a little tight and stuff, you want to take care of him, which is good for that guy. But, then that next guy has to take a lot more reps and it becomes a trickle-down effect. When you get to this week that’s why you decide to cut back a couple periods and take care of the guys.”

Is it tough to find that balance of getting guys the reps they need given that, it seems like schematically there’s gonna be some changes defensively and you might expand the offensive playbook a little bit. Is it hard to find that balance of getting guys the work they need while getting them healthy at the same time?

“Yeah, always, and that’s why you want people who work year round and you want people to know how to take care of themselves and you want people who know how to get in football shape. The only way to get better at football is to get reps at it, which is probably almost anything in life. You need reps to get better at stuff. That’s the hardest thing about football compared to basketball or baseball or anything. It’s very hard to simulate football. You can’t do that. When NBA ends they start summer leagues real soon or you can go play pick-up every day. You can’t do that with football so you lift weights and you run and stuff, which gives you a chance, but what gets you healthy is being able to stand football and that’s why you’ve got to do it over and over again and it’s tough because we don’t do it much.

You know, we have certain rules where you can’t practice as long so it’s very important for these guys to take care of themselves year round. If you think you are just going to come to camp and get in shape in camp you will get hurt in the first couple weeks, you’ll tweak something so we’ll have to take you out, you’ll get two weeks to get that better. Then, you’ll get back to being healthy and now you’re about 14 days from Week 1. So, you’re playing to get in shape in camp and all you did is tweak something and now you are going into Week 1 not really in shape. Not only, you’ve gotten worse because you didn’t get any reps. It’s such a trickle-down effect for everything that the way we condition, the way you guys eat, the way you guys sleep, its 24/7 to be, in my opinion, an NFL athlete. It’s crucial.

There’s no absolute science on how to do it. I look at someone, I have a few close friends on another staff and they doubled our reps and they didn’t have one OTA injury so there are times when we have gotten a lot more and had less. This one is about the same as usual. We took off more of the running plays, some stuff at the end with the two-minute stuff. But, I felt that we were fairly healthier. Hopefully we will be healthier in camp because it hasn’t been that case.”

It’s kind of a broad question, but with a lot of these guys entering their second and third years in your system, how much different is the playbook or expanded is the playbook?

“The playbook, I mean, it’s just how good are you at doing stuff? How consistently can you execute it? You might get one play. You might get a rep at that versus quarters one time at a camp. There’s 90 plays. There’s four quarterbacks. There’s 10 receivers. There’s six different coverages. Each coverage is a totally different play, even though you’re running the same play. Now you’re throwing to a different guy. You can never, you’re never there. Anyone who says I got it, you definitely don’t have it. It’s you’re always learning or you’re getting worse. Yeah, guys have been in our offense, but things always adjust. That adjusts week to week, it depends on who we’re playing against.”

K Jon Brown made several field goals, what was the furthest one back?

“I’m not sure. I didn’t pay attention to the numbers today. I’m not sure.”

What has been your assessment of QB C.J. Beathard’s growth and performance through this offseason?

“I think C.J.’s had a hell of a camp. He’s done real well. C.J., he’s been fortunate to get a lot of playing time. He’s been unfortunate to be put in some tough situations. But C.J., the film we have on him, we’ve got a lot of things that C.J. has been on tape in NFL games that is something to be very excited about. And then to come into camp and just to take that stuff that he’s done over in games and practice, you just practice with a different mentality. You can’t see it all, because guys can’t hit you, they can’t sack you. It is a little bit different for the quarterback and you can’t fully know how much better you’ve got until the game time when you know they can tackle you and stuff like that. C.J. gets more and more comfortable, more automatic. He knew the offense right when he got here and now in his third year, he’s got a lot more reps than he did last year.”

On the same note, what’s your assessment of QB Nick Mullens’ performance and growth this offseason?

“Same thing. Kind of what I said yesterday. Both of those guys are having a very good camp.”

We see RB Jerick McKinnon doing some light running sometimes during practice. Is that where he is? I mean, we’re not here all the time, but is he doing more than that?

“Yeah, I think him and Jimmy are about the same. If Jerick was a quarterback, he can go out there and do stuff on air. They’ve been throwing him routes. He looks good on air, but when you throw a guy in who it’s not a planned route or something like that and someone runs at him or dives at his legs and he’s just got to react and do something, that’s where you want to give it one more month, the time that it needs. We’re real excited about him. It’s a different position, but I think him and Jimmy are about the same pace.”

So, when training camp starts he would be in uniform and you might put him--?

“Yeah, I’m hoping that he’s going to be full-go day one, just like Jimmy. Then we’ll decide how we want to treat them with reps and stuff like that, because you’ve got to be smart with guys coming off an ACL just like [LB] Kwon [Alexander]. We’re hoping that they’re all ready day one, and I think they got a very good chance to be.”

Do you see a change in attitude in CB Ahkello Witherspoon coming back this year as opposed to last year when you said he kind of--?

“Yeah, I think so. I think you see it. The more experience guys have, good or bad, it’s always going to affect them somehow. I think Ahkello, it was tough for him to get on the field his rookie year and then when he did get on there, he finished the year very strong. That’s a very good experience, and that’s really all you know. Then you come back to the second year and think you’re only going to get better and you find out there’s a lot more going on. He went through some lulls last year and took a step back, but fought his way through it. To finish the year, I think he realized, “I played one year, I didn’t have it all figured out, I realized that my second year,” and now he comes in here with a very clear mind, he’s confident because he knows he can do it. But, he also knows he’s got to work at some stuff, too. I’ve seen a guy who came in with the mindset to be a lot better. You can usually tell just on how they handle their time away, just by the shape they’re in and stuff like that and the way he’s been in practice. He’s had some real good days, and when he’s had a bad day, he’s come back and had a better day the next day.”

Is your school’s out for summer speech the same every year? What do you convey to guys before you kind of let them loose for four weeks?

“It’s close to the same every year. I always give my speech, I think my first year here [former NFL QB] Steve Young and [former NFL WR] Jerry Rice gave them their speech. I think last year after I went, [general manager John] Lynch gave them a speech. I’m going to give my same one tomorrow. I think I’ll probably have [wide receivers coach] Wes Welker talk, some guys who have some experience with that stuff. People just don’t, you can’t stress enough how important it is. It’s everything about what these guys do and how their year’s going to go. You have to stack days up in this league. If you think you can just take 30 days off and stuff, you are going to be in such a rude awaking. The hard thing is some guys who have been that way in college and stuff like that, it’s hard to convince them differently, because it’s never not worked for them. The scary thing is, and you tell guys, it’s going to be sad when, if you have to get cut or you don’t make it, for you to learn that what I’m telling you is the truth. Then they usually learn it with their second team or they don’t make it. It’s one or the other. If you aren’t a pro in this offseason, and not only just train but eat the right way, sleep the right way, it will catch up with you in this league. If you’re not in camp, it’s going to hurt you, but it’s going to hurt the rest of our team.”

For the most part, do you feel like guys on your current roster get that?

“I think our guys get it a lot. I think our guys work very hard. I think that’s one of the qualities I’ve seen in our team that’s been different from groups of guys I’ve been around in the past.”

Is the teaching over with the rookies? Can they come in every day and still talk to the coaching staff?

“They’re allowed to be here for one more week, and that’s all strength and conditioning. The coaches are out of here fast tomorrow 1:59. No, we need a little bit of break, and they definitely probably want more of a break from us than we do from them. They get to stay here for a little bit longer than the vets, give them a place to lift and rehab and workout. The film and everything’s here, but they need to get away, too.”

What do you got planned for tomorrow?

“Tomorrow we do all our meetings in the morning. It used to be a surprise, but now everyone knows my deal, so we’ve always canceled the last day and we get everyone’s families up here and get some jumpy castles and stuff for the kids. I think [DL] D.J. Jones’ dad’s going to barbeque for us, so there’s some pressure on him to see how he can do it for 200 people. It’ll be the last day for us before we get away for about a month.”

What’s a head coach do over these next six weeks?

“I messed this up two years ago, so I sit in my house and protect it. I’m always there.”

In the context of what you’ve seen in this offseason program, is there anything specifically that’s jumped out at you in the improvement of the defense from what you’ve seen these guys do so far?

“Yeah, you can tell their confidence is different. You can tell that they know that they can be good. You always believe you can, but you can tell that they look around and they feel confident as individuals, but you can see them kind of feed off each other and know that they’ve got some players to play with. Some of the guys we brought in, some of the rookies we added, some of the guys that have been here and gone through stuff and just how much better they’ve come back this year compared to how they were in January. I can feel a confidence from their whole group, really, and just how they walk and how they talk, that they kind of expect what we expect they’re going to do this year.”

You’ve seen your roster now over several weeks. Do you have a better sense or are you confident that the guys you have who most of them are going to be healthy at the start of camp, give you the kind of depth at every position that you want and you probably can’t improve on at this point? How do you feel about that?

“Yeah, I mean you always want to keep improving, so we’ll never say, ‘alright, we made it.’ This is the first year going into a year that, I want to say this truthfully, but it is, it’s the first year that we can overcome injuries. You have to be in that situation. Everybody’s going to get hurt and you can always get lucky regardless of what happens, but just thinking about it and what should happen. We expect to have injuries. That’s part of football. But, I’m definitely a lot more confident going into this year if that does happen. We have guys who have experience, and we also have guys who have some talent who can step in and help us out.”

I don’t know if you’ve said anything about T Joe Staley’s extension just in terms of the example that he sets, sort of the tone of the locker room and the organization. What does that mean just to get him that deal at this point in his career?

“It means everything. First of all, you’re going to reward people who are good players, who can help you. But, whenever you make a commitment like that to someone and you’re talking a certain type of money and things like that, you want to do it for people who do it the right way. Joe’s a very good player and in terms of doing it the right way he’s been perfect for us. He’s gotten better since we’ve gotten here, which is very exciting, especially at his age and we all know he was real good before that, too. So, the fact that you can see him improving, the way he carries himself, the fact that he really loves football, you can tell he enjoys playing it. That’s why when guys truly enjoy it, they can play later in their career. They’re not just collecting a check and things like that. It’s people you believe in. I know just John and I, it’s been hard coming here, out of 90 people on your roster, only having 10 from the year before we got here. We’ve had to bring in a lot of people and we knew that before we got here. What’s been really hard is bringing in a lot of people. We want to reward our own. We’ve been waiting to do that and we know [DL DeForest Buckner] Buck is right around the corner. Hopefully that could be soon. To get that done with Staley, it’s something that we’ve wanted to do. We want to do a lot more of that.”

You mentioned Buckner and you say soon, does that mean this offseason?

“Ask them. I mean ask everybody (that would be working on a contract from both sides). That’s called negotiations. That’s stuff that goes on, stuff that, I say them, because I stay out of it. I don’t know if that’s anything big with that. I know you guys are going to run with the fact that I brought that up on my own, but I’m just stating the obvious. Those are the guys that we really want to get done, and I think everyone knows that without me saying it. Hopefully we can. It was great to get Joe done. We’ll keep working for the others.”

One of the guys you brought in was WR Jordan Matthews. What has he shown you in the last couple of months and how does he fit in?

“Just bringing in Jordan, the day Jordan got here he had a think twice as many catches as all our receivers combined. That might be a little more, but he definitely had more. We wanted to bring in a veteran guy with some size who had been there before and done it. Jordan has. He’s played for a few different organizations. He’s played in different systems. He’s a tough player, he’s got some size, he’s got speed. He’s extremely smart and he’s a pro. That was important for us to bring in a guy like that to add some depth and add some competition and to get better with his talent and also to push some of the other guys, too.”

You guys shuffled your safety group today. Is that going to be the case until you really hammer home who’s going to start?

“Yeah, definitely, and until we get people out there healthy. It’s been nice to have [DB] Tarvarius Moore, who we moved there last week when [DB] Jimmie [Ward] broke his collarbone. That’s been very encouraging. It’s been fun to watch him there these last, I want to say it’s been about four practices, so that’s been different. No, it’ll change when we get everyone back healthy. Hopefully that’ll be at the start of training camp.”

He had a nice play today. He broke up a corner route against Goodwin, so is he just going to keep going up the depth chart, or is it just going to wait and see?

“He’s got to keep making plays. You wait and see. That’s what we evaluate. I don’t think the quarterback should’ve thrown that one, but it was a good play.”

As far as the schedule, are you guys thinking about a stay over at any point between road games?

“Yeah, we’re thinking, we haven’t decided yet because we’re still thinking of the place to stay and everything, but our first two games being on the east coast for both of them, trying to find a way to stay out there.”

Is that between Tampa and Cincinnati?

“Yeah, it would be nice to just stay in Florida, but I don’t know if we want to practice outside in that when we’re not going to play in it the next week unless someone has a bubble. There’s a lot of semantics going into that. I’m confident they’ll figure it out.


“That’s a possibility, too. We’re looking into all the choices, so I’m sure we’ll decide on that here in the next couple of weeks.”

And then Denver joint practice, that’ll be the two days before and then a day off then the game?

“Yeah, I believe we get there Wednesday night. I think Thursday’s our off day. I think we’re going to practice against them on Friday and Saturday. Sunday is the day before our game. We might do some stuff or some like situational stuff just talking to [Denver Broncos head coach] Vic [Fangio], but not like a hard practice, just situational time, clock management stuff. If not, we’ll walk through separately and we have our game Monday.”

Thursday’s the day off?

“Yes. We fly Wednesday. We’re not allowed to count flying as a day off.”

I thought you had a day off the day before the game?

“We did from practicing, but we have walk throughs and stuff. A technical day off is we’re not allowed to do anything.”