A somewhat defeated San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan answered a ton of cornerback questions, broke down why some of the issues the offense is having, why he wants to throw the ball less, and much more.
This question comes in light of a couple of the decisions as far as who to start and who not to start yesterday. I realize players often side or err on the side of wanting to play, but once a player is cleared to play, and I’m speaking specifically about QB Jimmy Garoppolo and CB Ahkello Witherspoon, where do you come in and balance with that communication of what’s best for the player and what’s best for the team when the player isn’t all the way back a hundred percent?
“I go into all those things that you say. It always starts with the medical staff, clearing them and saying that they’re good to go. Then it goes to watching the player out at practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. You get a lot more on Wednesday and Thursday than you do Friday, but all three of those days have a big deal. Then if I see something that doesn’t match what I’m hearing, then it’s just me personally talking to the player. So, you go into all those things. Was that it or was there something else?”
And so specifically with yesterday, it looked to the layman like Jimmy should not have been out there and Ahkello should have been out there. So, what was going on there as far as the decision making with all the levels that you have to go through to make those determinations?
“Yeah, I thought Ahkello was going to be good throughout the week. He did not look that way on Wednesday. Again, didn’t look like that on Thursday. Then I talked to him Wednesday night and Saturday and made the decision that it was like it looked in practice and like he said. So, that made us go with the other two guys, but he was willing to dress in case of an emergency. That ended up coming up and emergency happened a little bit, it wasn’t as quick as, I mean, it happened faster than I expected because I thought we’d go to [CB Ken] Webster second because that was the deal that we had to lose two guys for that emergency to happen. At that time, Webster did have a tight hamstring, which wasn’t the main reason for that, but it was also that Ahkello worded that he was ready to go and wanted to get in. So, that was all I needed to hear. When it goes to Jimmy, it was how he looked in practice. It started out Wednesday like they all do coming off a high ankle. Looked a lot better Thursday, had no soreness from it. Looked good on Friday and looked good in pregame warmups. So, there was nothing that you saw in practice that would have kept him out. If the game was going a little bit differently, I would have kept him in that game also. It wasn’t that his ankle was hurt too bad to where he couldn’t function and play, but it was definitely prohibiting him. You could tell how he was throwing, just mechanically doing a little bit different than he normally does. When I do see that with my own eyes and then when I talk to a guy when he comes off the field and ask him and he kind of echoes similar to the same stuff, I know it’s going to be tough for him to throw the way he normally does. Then when, me as a coach, I can see where the game’s going, what the score is, what’s going on in front of me, I know that we’re going to have to be throwing a lot in this game to get back into it. That’s why I make that decision, what’s best for Jimmy at the time and what also was best for our team at the time.”
In an emergency situation like that in the secondary, is there ever a discussion of position flexing? For example, DB Tarvarius Moore maybe moving back to corner when you really need him? Was that discussed yesterday?
“Yeah, it was discussed throughout the week, where to practice Tarvarius Moore. Where to practice [DB] Jimmie Ward, all the emergency situations that we had to come up with. When we lost [CB] K’Waun [Williams] and [CB] Dontae Johnson on Monday, finding that out, you can’t bring someone in at that time. When you do, the first they could be available is Sunday, or allowed in your building with the six days of protocols. So, that wasn’t an option and we were thinking Ahkello would be good to go by the end of the week. So, that’s what we hoped for. That’s the way we were going to rep it. Ended up not working out that way. So, we got less reps for our two practice squad guys, Webster wasn’t on and then [CB Brian] Allen, but it was between those two. That’s the way it ended up working out. So, the guys were good to go and that’s what we ended up riding with.”
How did Jimmy come in to the building today and what’s your thought process with him in terms of deciding your quarterback situation for Sunday?
“Jimmy came in good. I know he’s sore from the first half. I think his ankle’s a little bit sore and his body a little bit from some of the hits that he had, but nothing that made it worse. It was like you expected after a game. Nothing too bad happened. We got him out of there before that did, so we’ll see how he is on Wednesday. I expect him to be at least the same, if not better. So, hopefully he can get a week of that and have no setbacks Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and hopefully we get him out there Sunday night.”
Just to clarify on Kwon Alexander, are you unsure that it’s a high ankle sprain right now or are you unsure of the severity of a high ankle sprain?
“No, we could be wrong, but right now they told me that they believe it’s a high ankle sprain. They’re not sure of the severity of it. It could be a minor one for whatever that means. So, that’s why, usually if it was automatic high ankle sprain, I’d be talking about IR and stuff right now, but they told me to hold on that because they think it possibly could be a minor one. Don’t know. They’ve got to do more work today on it and we’ll have an answer on that for Wednesday.”
One more regarding Ahkello. Against the Eagles, you noted just through the cornerback situation, the fact that K’Waun tried to come back from his injury and Dontae came back when he clearly had a groin injury, was appreciated and notable. Former San Francisco 49ers S Donte Whitner, former safety, really ripped Ahkello for not trying to play at least in the beginning of that game. A lot of players play through injuries, kind of no matter what. Is that type of criticism of Ahkello warranted?
“Every guy’s situation is different. Every injury is different and every person you deal with is different. I know I was expecting him to go that week and I think he was too, but it didn’t look that way at all in practice, the way he was moving. When I talked to him, the way he described it, how tight it felt, that’s what he said. I never question guys what they tell me when you ask them and they speak what is in their heart. So, that’s what he told me and that’s what I can go off of. That’s why we had to make the tough decision to pick between Allen and Webster and we ended up having to do that Thursday night. So, that was a situation we were in. What I was happy with on Saturday, that him knowing our situation, at least he told me that he could dress and be used in case of an emergency, which I thought would only be after two injuries. After we were struggling though, I was glad he felt good enough to where we didn’t have to wait for that emergency and he told us he was good to go there in the second quarter.”
QB C.J. Beathard spoke about it after the game, but it seemed like you guys were having issues communicating the protection and maybe identifying it from the quarterback position. What did you see on tape and how do you correct that going forward?
“Yeah, we had five sacks. I think three of them, we had busts on protections. That’s guys communicating at the line, playing faster, going through all the looks and not making a mistake. Those guys switch up fronts and their numbers all the time. When they do that, it puts a lot of pressure on an offense and you’ve got to be on it. When you end up throwing the ball a lot more than you anticipate and a lot more than you ever want to, those things are what come up. So, I thought we ran the ball very well, but when you only have 19 carries to show for it, you’re going to be in some of those situations. So, always when I do get in those situations, I start to worry about turnovers. I worry about the pressure that you’re putting on the O-Line, the pressure you’re putting on the quarterback. It doesn’t mean that it will always happen, but that was a situation that we got into and that is what happened. We started making some mistakes in protection, made a few mistakes with the ball. I think we had six drops also, two of 10 on third down, zero for two on fourth down, added with six drops, added with five sacks. I think we were throwing the ball too much. That’s a situation that I’ve got to try to control better and hopefully we can play better as a team to where we make it easier for me to control that.”
A lot of your players were in there talking about a lack of execution on the offense. Can you put your finger on what exactly is going on? Is it a lack of effort? Is it a lack of focus? Not enough practice, reps together? What is the reason for this lack of execution?
“It’s definitely not a lack of effort, but it takes 11 guys to make a play work and we haven’t been clean enough. Any answer to your questions would be an excuse, so I just try to keep it real, but we’ve got to get out there and practice a lot more. We haven’t had a practice yet with [WR Brandon] Aiyuk, [WR] Deebo [Samuel], [RB] Raheem [Mostert], [TE George] Kittle and Jimmy Garoppolo, including training camp, including every practice for the four weeks of this year. So, that does make it a little more inconsistent. I was excited to get Deebo back for a second week, but then he had the symptoms of a fever. So, he wasn’t allowed in on Thursday or Friday. So, we missed two more practices with him, which is very tough for Deebo. It was very tough for our quarterback coming back. It’s tough on a rookie in Aiyuk and we’re just getting Kittle back here. So, I know we have some inconsistencies in that way, which to me get magnified when we’re not playing good altogether. The pressure we put on the O-Line in these last couple of weeks with this game getting behind and me getting away from the run game and the week before and just a few guys being off in the run game. It’s really magnified everything to everyone, which I understand it hasn’t looked good and we’ve got to get a lot better, but there’s no secret to it. There’s one way to get better. It’s practicing. If there was an ever an issue that I thought of that people aren’t trying their hardest, it’d be a completely different situation. I see guys working, I see guys doing what they can, but I can’t get on guys too hard when they’ve only had three practices in there or they’ve only been here for two weeks. I’ve got to keep trying to get them healthier and get them out more days and put them through the reps that I expect them to execute a lot more consistently. When we don’t, which does happen in games, then someone’s got to make a play to overcome that and we’ve been off in that on both ways for the last two weeks.”
You’ve alluded to the run game. You dominated running the football last season and your offense this season is averaging five yards a carry, but you rank 19th in attempts. What has changed in your mind that has driven you away from running the ball as much as you did last year?
“I think last year that, look at every game up to 8-0. I don’t think we were in a close game until we were 8-0. We had to come back from some stuff, but we never got down a bunch of scores. Things have been a little bit different in the situations we’ve had. I think the games that we have ran it well, thought we had a very good chance versus Arizona of running it well. I thought we got behind it there at the end and had to throw to come back. I thought versus the Jets, we got out and really got after them in the first half running the game and then we kind of just shut down the entire second half to just get us out of there. Giants was a throwing game. I thought Philly, we did run the ball well until I threw it for the last 24 plays of the game down two scores. That’s what happened this game, too. Even though we did get 19 runs in, we averaged seven yards a run. Good luck getting more of those in when you go two for 10 on third down, zero for two on fourth down, have six drops, have five sacks and have three turnovers. So, I like what I see on tape, the way we’re blocking. Not every time, but if you don’t move the chains on third down, you don’t stay out there, you’re not going to see that many more run plays. So, I don’t see a big difference in how we’re blocking, I just think we needed some better situations.”
Is the plan still to have CB Richard Sherman come back to practice this week? That’s my first cornerback question. Anything more on CB Emmanuel Moseley today, coming back? Also, CB Tim Harris Jr., how close is he possibly to being elevated up if you needed him on Saturday?
“We would have loved for Tim to last week, but he pulled his calf and last week was his first week back. So, he was on a pitch count, just trying to get back into practice, very similar to how [WR] Richie [James] was. Sherm, we were hoping to get him back this week. Some setbacks last week. The healing hasn’t gone the way we were hoping for. So, I know we’re going to try a few different procedures this week, but I know I’m not counting on him this week. We’ll see how that goes with the new stuff we’re going to try. Was there a third part of the question?”
Yeah, Emmanuel Moseley?
“Moseley, the same as last night. He’s still in the protocol, but I’m getting a lot more optimistic.”
You mentioned considering Tarvarius Moore. He was somebody that you guys drafted initially to play cornerback. What’s the thinking with him potentially switching to cornerback going forward and why didn’t he get more consideration on Sunday?
“Gotcha. I didn’t answer that one fully earlier. Yeah, Tarvarius, we haven’t put out at corner for two years, so he’s gotten two straight years of reps at strong safety. Putting him out to corner would be very similar right now to putting the people out at corner that we did go with. They haven’t been in enough. It wouldn’t be fair to him. If I knew that a week in advance, two weeks in advance, we’d get him ready to do that. He could always go there just in case of an emergency, if all those guys went out, Ahkello wasn’t dressing or anything like that, but when you go into a Wednesday and you’re planning on it going a different way, for you to stop and give him all those reps on a Wednesday, when you don’t think that’s the way it’s going, and it doesn’t go out that way, you’re going to hurt the team in many other ways with the chain reaction of it. So, there’s lots of stuff that goes into it, who we’re bringing up from practice squad. We were bringing up some practice squad receivers to help us on special teams. That ended up getting changed a little bit of that with all the stuff that goes down. They’re all connected to each other and there’s a lot more that goes into it than just that position.”
When you say, I think you said, procedures with Richard Sherman, I assume you don’t mean surgical procedures or perhaps you do? I don’t know. Can you just maybe detail a little bit more about—?
“Yeah, he’s getting some shots that he thinks can help in his leg. I’m not sure the names of the shots, but yeah, no surgeries or anything, just different types of shots to see if they can take the inflammation out and stuff like that.”
You are in a situation now where you’re riding Deebo hard, Brandon Aiyuk hard and WR Kendrick Bourne hard. How much of a concern is it for you or just how much of a priority, I should say, to get a fourth receiver who can play enough snaps to give those guys rest when they need it through the course of a game?
“Yeah, that’s what we did the week before. That’s kind of how we have been trying to do it. We were hoping to give, Deebo had 25 good plays the week before. We thought a good week of practice. That’s why we changed the receivers. That’s why I got [WR] Kevin White up, because I thought we’d really need some help on special teams versus the returner that they had. I wanted him up for some gunner purposes. And then later in the week, when Deebo got sick, it took away his practice time. Kevin’s taken all of the stuff on special teams, what we’ve been planning and then I’ve got to make a decision. Do I want to change that or not? I kept with Deebo, thought he could play a little bit more, just how he went the week before, but it is a little bit unfair with how little practice he’s had and I also didn’t plan on the game going the way it did. I didn’t think we were going to be throwing the ball that much. So, that’s some of the risks you take into the game. You never know exactly whether it’s right until you see what type of game it’s in, but very quickly the type of game it turned into with our turnovers and all the explosives at the beginning we gave up on defense that got the game a little bit out of hand. Hell yeah, I would have done some stuff differently, but I’m never really making my decisions based off of, ‘Hey, what’s going to be the best for our team if we’re down 30 to seven at halftime.’ I’m making the decisions based off of what their special teams is, what their defense is, what our offense is and what I think gives us the best chance to win. Then when the game starts, you’ve got to live with that and go with what you’ve got.”
To go back to the draft, you guys pointed to Tim Harris as kind of a reason you didn’t look at the corner position, or maybe you did. Can you just explain why that was a position you felt confident in going into the season?
“It wasn’t necessarily that. It was that, I can’t remember exactly, but we only had like three draft picks. So, where do you want to do that stuff? We lost a number of good players. We lost a really a good player in [Indianapolis Colts DL DeForest] Buckner. We lost a very good player in [former San Francisco 49ers T Joe Staley]. We lost a very good player in [New Orleans Saints WR] Emmanuel Sanders. So, we created what we could with our few amount of draft picks to at least bring in some people who could help us with those holes that were just vacated. I think we did that extremely well with those three. Then what we had left was a fourth-round pick and I believe a seventh-round pick. If you think that there’s a corner there in the fourth round that we really would have liked, and we liked him more than [OL Colton] McKivitz, who we took, hell yeah, we would’ve done that, but in the fourth round, we took the best player that we thought, and that was McKivitz.”
A few of the guys said yesterday that it was time for a sense of urgency and somewhat alluded to maybe that there hasn’t been a sense of urgency top to bottom among the team. Have you felt that at all? Is that a concern at all?
“No. People, when they get up to a mic and answer a ton of questions after a loss, people are going to say whatever they can. You always want to work harder, do more, but my biggest thing is we’ve got to do better. Whenever there’s people on our team that, and I know and they know people that I’m not okay with their sense of urgency and those are the people I address. Those are the people that have to deal with that, but as far as our team, I couldn’t feel any farther from that. Our team works extremely hard, I see it every day and that’s why I believe our guys will respond. It just comes down to playing good and we didn’t play very well this week.”