San Francisco 49ers head coach Robert Saleh spoke to the media after Thursday’s practice, where he answered a lot of questions about Jason Verrett.
Two questions on CB Jason Verrett, first just a general one about what you thought of how he played on Sunday and then a more specific one. He said that as far as his comeback, that press coverage is the last aspect he felt to come back for him. How has he done in that regard? How did he look in press coverage against the Giants?
“No, I thought he did a really nice job. He competed his tail off. I love everything that Jason stands for, his mindset, his work ethic, his want to, his grind, all of it is off the charts. To see him go out there and have the success he had was awesome. Now it’s just a matter of stacking together good days for him, but I thought his performance overall was pretty darn good. I’m really excited to see him get better as the year goes on and continue to stay healthy and contribute and really more for him than anything else. As far as the press coverage question part of it, there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for him to get up there in press last week, there were a few. He’s come along really good in that regard. He’s got great patience at the line of scrimmage. He’s got very, very strong hands and his foot speed is off the charts. He is right in that usually the feel of all that stuff is the last thing to come, but he’s been, all the way through training camp and all, he’s been getting better every day. So, we’re so excited for him.”
It’s only been one game, but did Verrett show you enough in one game that he is a candidate to be out there, even when CB Richard Sherman comes back from the Injured Reserve, that he could be a starter?
“To be honest, I’ll take it one game at a time. For him, I don’t want to put pressure on him to think he’s got to do anything to prove anything. The whole thing for Jason is just to find a way to get better every single day and continue to stack up good days and everything will take care of itself. For Jason, I love where he’s at mentally. He’s having fun out there. He’s competing his tail off, so I don’t want to put the cart in front of the horse quite yet, but just give him the opportunity to just go play and compete.”
I have one more Jason Verrett question for you. Just going back to last year, I’m sure he was obviously disappointed that he wasn’t able to stay on the field last year. How did he handle all of that? And what was his mentality like just through that process to get back to where he is now?
“I don’t know if there’s a guy in his building, there are, I don’t want to take away from other people, but what he’s been through both mentally and physically and what he’s had to go through, the roller coasters, the ups and downs of trying to get back to the football field. I don’t know if there’s a lot of empathy in the world, aside from the people that are in the locker room with him, and to see his grind and what he does and what he stands for, you have an entire organization cheering him on and we love what he’s doing. It’s not, beyond just the playing ability, it’s just what he’s been through and how hard he stuck to it and all the things that he’s had to go through and the trials and tribulations that he’s had to endure. So, couldn’t be happier enough for him and I just pray for him, the individual, that he continues to have good health and continues to get better.”
What did you see out of DL Dion Jordan, DL Ziggy Ansah that you liked, that first reaction for you?
“I was pumped for them. Those guys, man, especially Dion, he’s had a, I don’t want to say he’s had a rough go of it, but he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He’s a lot better than people think he is and I love the way he plays, his mindset every day at practice and I love that he’s getting this opportunity and he’s taking advantage of it. Then as far as Ziggy is concerned, he hasn’t had training camp. He really hasn’t played much over the last year, year and a half and for him to get his legs underneath him, he showed some really good stuff in the game. I know it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but really excited about where Ziggy looks in practice. He feels healthy. He looks good. He’s in the right place mentally and he feels at home with our defensive front and the way our system teaches defensive linemen. So, I’m excited for those two guys to continue to take advantage of the opportunity and continue to get better every single day.”
I have another one on Jason Verrett, and not to sound flippant, but just given that he does have the injury history and everything that he’s gone through, how do you weigh that when you make the decision to have faith in somebody to potentially be somebody who is going to have to start games, just given what’s happened to him the last few years?
“So, there’s two types of people in the world. There are those who have a belief where they need to see things happen before they actually think it can happen. And then there’s those who have faith and they’re the ones who can see it happen before it ever does happen. For Jason, you already hit it. How do you have faith? You have faith in that he’s going to string together games now. Does that mean not having people ready, continue coaching people and everyone in the building? There’s nobody who’s immune to an injury. He’s just gotten bad luck over the last couple of years with the injury bug and no different, knock on wood, then [DB] Jimmie [Ward]. He had a string of bad luck and then the organization put a lot of faith in him because we knew what type of player Jimmie would be if he could just string together a year. Same thing with [S Jaquiski] Tartt, same thing with [CB] K’Waun Williams. You can go down the list for guys that this organization has put a lot of faith in and it’s no different for Jason. And when his string of bad luck ends with these injuries, you’re going to see a phenomenal football player, but that doesn’t stop us from coaching everybody equally and understand it’s part of the game. So, there’s preparation always, but hopefully I answered your question.”
I have a question about a cornerback, but it’s CB Dontae Johnson. What is it about him, he’s on maybe his fourth or fifth stint with the 49ers, what is it about him that’s kind of you keep his name in your Rolodex and continue to call on him? What gives you, I guess, that confidence or comfort?
“He’s the ultimate pro. He’s got great veteran leadership. At practice, he executes all the techniques. He knows exactly what we need done in the defense. He knows how to play corner. He can play multiple spots, even though we haven’t asked him to. He’s very intelligent and so there’s a trust factor that he’s going to be exactly where he needs to be, and he’s going to put himself in position to be successful. He’s not a liability on the defense and so for Donate, there’s a trust factor that he’s going to do things the right way. He’s going to compete his tail off. He’s going to provide great veteran leadership and he’ll always be prepared to step on the football field and excel at a high level. When you have guys like that, and not to take away from his special teams ability, too, because he’s a pretty darn good special teams player too. So, Dontae has made himself darn near irreplaceable in the sense that he is just a very reliable individual. That’s why you see guys like him able to stick and contribute and provide good depth.”
Two quick questions. One, do you have any update on DL Dee Ford or DL Nick Bosa in terms of their recoveries or surgeries or anything like that?
Then the other one was when LB Fred Warner had that interception against the Giants, we see his athletic traits and his ability in coverage. Is that more important in today’s NFL than having a linebacker that’s just known as a hellacious hitter?
“That’s a good question. We talked about it four years ago. Our whole system was built around the fact that the evolution of the tight end and the running back started taking place long before the evolution of a linebacker started taking place. So, they were outpacing the evolution of a linebacker. When you look at our scheme and the [former Jacksonville Jaguars LB] Telvin Smith’s, the [Jacksonville Jaguars LB] Myles Jack, [Seattle Seahawks LB] Bobby Wagner, now you look at our guys here with Fred Warner and [LB] Kwon Alexander and even [LB] Azeez [Al-Shaair] and [LB] Dre Greenlaw, people look at them and think ‘Well, they’re kind of small,’ but they pack a punch. They run like gazelles and they’re incredibly intelligent. So that’s, in my opinion, today’s linebacker. They’ve got to be versatile. They’ve got to be able to play the run, they’ve got to be able to play the pass. A guy like Fred, who in college basically played nickel, if you go back and watch his tape. For him, the transition behind the ball and to be able to play with the feel he has in the run pass recognition, and feel for run game and all that stuff, he is a special talent. We’re glad we have him.”
Yesterday Jimmie Ward said that he feels for the defense defensive backs, that every game is pressure because the media, he said, tends to talk trash about the defensive backs. Do you see that fuel them and kind of manifest their success on the field?
“You know what? It’s never bad to have an external motivator give you a little nudge, but we always talk about ignoring the noise. Really don’t care what people say. We’re an internally driven team, and we focus on what we’ve got full control over, but if that external motivator gives them the nudge he needs to continue to be the player he is, then so be it. Grab hold of it, but it still comes down to being internally driven and wanting to show the world how great you are every day, instead of prove the ones who doubt you or prove the ones who believe in you right and focus on those things. But, I love Jimmie. Jimmie’s the ultimate competitor, the ultimate internally driven individual and I love him. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and he’s a dog, so I could appreciate it.”
One thing that really stood out to me was Fred Warner said that Jaquiski Tartt helped tip him off, almost, to that route on the interception to New York Giants TE Evan Engram. That’s not the first time that I’ve heard that Jaquiski has been just a great communicator for you guys. I was hoping that you might be able to help enlighten me on what exactly Jaquiski brings to the table that we don’t see, and maybe how much you guys missed him when he was out in those games last year in the communication regard?
“So Tartt, from a backend standpoint, he studies tape, he watches tape. He sees the indicators. He really, really, really understands football and he’s got a very nonchalant way of delivering information. So, it’s not the clapping. If you’re just watching the silent tape, you would think he’s never talking, but he’s constantly, constantly talking. If you hang around him, you’re like, man, this guy never talks, but he is constantly talking on the football field and alerting people and communicating. When his mind is triggering and his body is moving, he’s at the top of his game. He’s one of the better safeties in football. What you don’t see with regards to him talking to his teammates, getting people lined up, directing traffic in the backend, getting the corners where they need to be, getting Jimmie Ward where he needs to be, the disguises that he’s able to create while still being able to do his job, those are things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. And you really don’t have an appreciation for it when you’re watching the game, but he’s a problem with regards to the way he plays the game and the way he presents the defense with regard to disguise. He is a very, very valuable piece of the defense. Obviously, they all are, but his communication skills can be unnoticed, but it’s not unnoticed here for sure.”