San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spoke to the media to discuss the Bills, his confidence in Emmanuel Moseley, why he loves Jimmie Ward, and the type of person Richard Sherman is. Saleh went in depth on a few other topics, including a comparison for Bills QB Josh Allen.
I’m sure you saw today, there’s some legislators in your home state that think very highly of you and think you should be hired by the Lions. Did you see that? What did you think of it?
“To be completely honest, I didn’t see anything or hear anything until coming off the practice field. So, I don’t know what to make of it or anything like that. So, it’s just whatever, I guess, you know.”
My follow-up question would be why Houston and Atlanta’s legislators haven’t drawn up a similar letter, but let’s move on to the Bills. What can you tell me about Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs and what makes him a unique wide receiver compared to guys that you’ve faced some really good ones this year with Arizona Cardinals DeAndre Hopkins and Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams and on and on?
“This Buffalo Bills team is, they’re very talented. When you look at Stefon Diggs and [Buffalo Bills WR Cole] Beasley and their backs are very talented and then the quarterback, he is a problem. He is much more than I was expecting when I flipped on the tape and it is a tremendous challenge leading up to Monday night. And I think [Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator] Brian [Daboll] has done a phenomenal job with what they’ve done to their scheme and the way he’s evolved it and made it work for the quarterback. So, we’ve got our hands full. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge, probably one of the better challenges we’ve had all year.”
Just wanted to get your thoughts on CB Richard Sherman. Did he look the same, better than you expected him to be on Sunday?
“I always expect Sherm to have, you know, he had a big pep in his step. He was excited to get back out there, but Sherm, for his whole entire career, has always won with mind over athleticism. Not to say that he’s not an athlete or anything, but he has always played the mental part of the game and that’s why he’s able to have that longevity. He is so far ahead of everybody with regards to scheme, technique, how to play certain things and the great ones always find the ball, whether they’re in man coverage, zone coverage, it doesn’t matter. They just find the ball and there’s a reason why he has 40 interceptions in his career. You can try throwing his way, you just never know when he’s going to be somewhere where he’s not supposed to and that’s from his film study and all the different work he puts into it.”
I can’t remember exactly when your name started to be connected with head coaching jobs last year, but it didn’t seem like it was this early. Certainly, no letter from legislators on December four. How do you sort of reconcile that? How do you compartmentalize perhaps say a head coaching opportunity with five weeks left in an NFL season?
“You don’t. This league is so week to week and the most important week right now is Monday Night Football against Buffalo and we’ve got a team that’s in the middle of the playoff hunt, so it’s really a non-issue for me. I don’t talk about it. I don’t really even see it. I don’t have social media, I don’t look into the news. So, it’s probably more for family and friends to enjoy and get a kick out of than it is for me. We’re completely locked into Buffalo.”
General manager John Lynch was on the radio kind of joking that maybe DT Javon Kinlaw’s pick was a result of his fatigue, not having played or practiced for a little while. Can you talk about that a little bit and also walk us through how a player goes from following what your instructions are versus that play in particular where he kind of goes on his own to make a play, but it could have resulted in obviously another ending?
“No, for sure. There is a fine line where you never want players to be robots. The one example I’ll give was Sherm. Richard Sherman was in man coverage on his interception, but he has the wherewithal and he felt he was in such good position and he knew what route he was getting, that he was able to play with vision, which is a very, very hard thing to do in man coverage, to be able to play with vision back to the quarterback. So, he knew the route, he knew the play, so he was able to stay disciplined. Now, at that point, you did your job and it’s time to not be a robot and to do more than what the coach is asking you to do or what the play is asking you to do. So, he had, the quarterback overthrew the seven cut and he intercepts it.
To Javon, right now, I’m a little hesitant to trust the instincts part, but he’s proving over and over and over again that he’s right. So, New Orleans, disrupting the screen. He’s getting his hands on balls at the D-Line level. He bounced off and we do have to press him. We don’t want him being in the low plugger in a pass rush situation ever, but there’s just certain things the kid feels and he doesn’t know why he’s feeling it, he just ends up in a spot and more often than not, he’s right. I’m not going to say that we’re encouraging it from him. We’re trying to figure out exactly what he’s seeing and he’s building trust, but we always challenge those guys to do more than what the play is asking you to do.
If they feel something, they feel something, and it’ll be hard for them to articulate, but great ones have a different type of feel to the game and understanding. He’s got to continue proving it to us, but right now we want him to go vertical and go get the quarterback.”
During the broadcast on Sunday, they said that in speaking to you, you told them that you thought DB Jimmie Ward was one of the best cover guys in the entire league. What makes you say that? What is it about his skillset that makes him so good? And if he did have to play the slot, would you feel comfortable just given that it’s been so long since he has done that on a consistent basis?
“From a man coverage ability, so playing the slot, there’s so much more involved in playing the slot than just man coverage. There’s zone instincts and feel. Jimmie’s got all those instincts and feels, but to just throw him in there without having exhausted or spent a lot of reps or used up a lot of reps for him to get more feel would be irresponsible to him. Just it’d be a waste of his athleticism and all the things that he can do. But, from a man coverage standpoint and it’s why he doesn’t get a lot of plays. That’s why he doesn’t get a lot of stats.
The guy absolutely eliminates whoever he has in man coverage. If you just go back through the history of him playing all his man coverage reps, he doesn’t get action because it’s done. His press coverage skills are unbelievable. His off-catch technique is unbelievable. His foot speed is unbelievable. So, it doesn’t matter. Tight ends, jitterbugs, big receivers, he handles all of them. He’s been a victim of his dominance because people see splash plays, people see stats, people who are really in tune to the game or who are casual fans don’t see the dominance he displays in man coverage when he gets those ops. So, for us, it’s like having dime on the football field without ever having to go dime. Now that he’s in the box more often, it just disguises that dime a little bit more.
So, being able to shift in and out of man coverage or having him on the field, because he does have zone coverage skills and he can play a half and he can play quarters and he can play a bus technique and he can play a hook. I mean, he does everything. He is the ultimate utility knife, and he’s not one of those guys who just does a couple of things good, a jack of all trades. He dominates at everything he does. And because of that, he’s unique. He’s rewritten the book for us on what we want out of a safety moving forward.”
You talk a lot about eliminating gray area. LB Fred Warner said the other day that basically you guys aren’t going to do a lot, but you do it fast and you do it physical. How do you go about keeping it simple for players, eliminating gray area, especially against a team like Buffalo, that as you mentioned, is really explosive in a number of ways?
“There’s a balance of trying to do enough to make sure that offensive coordinators just can’t tee off on you. You still have to mix it up, but there’s also a line that’s drawn with players in terms of allowing them to play as fast as humanly possible, where everybody on the football field knows exactly what everyone is responsible for. When we get to the sideline, they know exactly what happened. They know exactly what needs to be done, and they know exactly who was responsible for whatever would have happened on that play.
We spend so much time talking about offense because our scheme is not simple, but because our scheme is so honed in and those players are so locked in to what we’re asking of them. Fred, Sherm, [DL] Arik [Armstead] at all three levels, Jimmie Ward, they’re so tuned in and they spend so much time watching the offense and putting themselves in the calls that they know we’re calling. They already know the game plan before we ever give it to them. Now, there’s little nuances that we do to try to change things up to make sure that offenses are always off tilt, but for those guys, they’re watching offense and that’s when you become your most dominant is when you can break a huddle, you set the close call, you put your feet in the ground and you survey the offense.
When players know what’s happening to them, it just makes them more explosive. It makes them, you unlock all their God-given ability and these guys, credit to the players, they’re completely bought in and they just study their tails off. By the time Wednesday comes, you can throw anything. They surprise me every week. We throw whatever we want at them and they catch it in a hurry and they’re talking about indicators, offensive formations and the communication that happens on our side of the ball. From a defensive standpoint, it’s remarkable with the group that we have.”
Can you describe the challenge for CB Emmanuel Moseley moving into the slot, especially against a guy like Beasley? Maybe from a physical perspective, how is that difficult for him to make that move?
“It’s a difficult move in the sense of, he’s been training in there, we’ve been giving him some reps. Obviously, a majority of his reps have been corner, but there’s a different sense of urgency that happens in the slot. He is very aware and he knows exactly what he needs to get done and so we’ve been able to work him. We’re very comfortable with Moseley in there. It’s just getting a little bit of reps, re-kind of acquainting yourself with the position and understanding exactly what’s being asked of you. It’s drill work.
The ballout break stuff, the little things that he can clean up that are completely controllable from his spot. Now, when it gets to man coverage and zone coverage, Moseley has proven time and time again that he’s a reliable player who can win more often than not. So, we’re very comfortable with Moseley in there against whoever happens to be the slot. Beasley, obviously he is an extremely talented receiver, has been for a while and so it is a challenge, but Moseley is awesome. So, he’s been putting in the work and there’s no doubt he’s going to pick up where [CB] Jamar [Taylor] left off.”
I heard you said that you’re on to Monday Night Football, but on Sunday, Richard Sherman said you don’t get enough credit for everything this defense has overcome, basically saying you should be a head coach next year. What does that mean to you when a player of that caliber and someone who has that much respect is singing your praises?
“Obviously, it means a lot. I love Sherm. We’ve had a long history together, but I’m always going to deflect. It still comes back to them and the stuff they do. Sherm, he’s one of the greatest teammates this league has had and I’m talking league. Wherever he’s been, he’s one of the better teammates. He’s one of the better communicators. He is a tremendous supporter of everybody, of the organization, communities, you name it.
He’s one of the greater individuals I’ve ever been around and it’s not just on the field, it’s off the field. So, it means a ton. It means a ton, but it just goes to the character of the men that are in this locker room and the leadership that he provides and the support he gives everybody in the organization. He is definitely a servant leader in that regard, which is the ultimate form of leadership.”
How did DL Kevin Givens perform in his first career start and what kind of potential does he have?
“Just like everyone, I thought Kevin did a great job. He is explosive off the line of scrimmage. When he’s attacking and getting vertical and using and penetrating and on the move, we had him on the move a little bit, he’s hard to deal with. His pass rush ability is improving, his feel for run-pass diagnosis on first and second down is improving, his strain, that’s always the biggest part with D-Line. How much can you strain? How much can you finish? How much can you run? All of that is coming into fruition for him.
So, there is a growth process for him, but he’s got something to him. He’s got tremendous lower body strength. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. It’s important to him and he is starting to understand all the things that truly make a D-Line and it starts with strain and fight. He’s got a chance. He’s got a chance to be special. It’s just a matter of how much more work he’s willing to put in.”
In what ways has this sort of abrupt relocation altered your day to day as a coach and what’s been your impression of the new setup down there?
“So, set up wise, I’ve got to give credit to our ops guys. They really have done everything they could to make this as comfortable as it possibly can be. I can’t imagine it being a better setup. Then when you get to the schedule, [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan], [general manager] John [Lynch], and their guys [administrative assistant to the head coach Nick] Kray and [assistant to the coaching staff Patrick Hagedorn] P-Diddy, they’ve done a phenomenal job in terms of scheduling to make it as seamless as possible so it still feels like a Wednesday, it still feels like a Thursday.
The travel over to and from the field is seamless. I can’t imagine it, from a logistics standpoint, being any better than what’s been set up here. So, the guys are upbeat. We had two unbelievable days of practice and so people are in a good spot. We’ve just got to go out and continue to compete and find a way to get better every day.”
You probably saw that QB Nick Mullens paid tribute to Jamar Taylor yesterday. I’m just wondering what you guys thought of the hit on which Jamar Taylor got hurt. It seemed like it may have been late, may have come from behind. Any discussion of that among you guys, your staff, your players?
“No. Anytime you’re standing around a pile and the play’s still moving, anything happens. I don’t know if we ever thought it was late from a coaching standpoint, but it is one thing, you always want to keep your feet hot in a pile. It’s so unfortunate. It’s so unfortunate what happened to him because Jamar, there isn’t a day that went by where Jamar didn’t surprise all of us, not surprise, but prove that he was capable of doing anything we’ve asked of him.
He took every rep in training camp when [CB K’Waun Williams] KK was hurt. He came back, I’m not going to lie to you, I was scared to play him in man to man coverage versus [Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper] Kupp the first week that he played and he did an unbelievable job on him. So, he proved that wrong, proved he could do that. He is a special young man and it really, really hurts. It hurts what happened to him, but no, to answer your question, didn’t take any issue from what happened, just dirty pile, it usually happens.”
When you said that Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen is a problem and he jumped off the film and it surprised you, did he surprise you in a way, I guess, that he’s more of a passer and more of an accurate passer than just kind of a guy that’s going to tuck it and run?
“Yeah, he’s like a young [New England Patriots QB] Cam Newton. Obviously, Cam can still throw and still do all that stuff, but he’s a load to tackle. They run him, I mean, it’s basically like Wildcat offense. They’re doing a lot of you just snap the ball, run power with him which is surprising. More guts than I would with a franchise quarterback, but he makes it work. He drops back to pass.
He has tremendous pocket presence and he’ll sit in the pocket. It’s not like he’s looking to run out of there. He will go through his progressions. When it’s time to scramble he’s not scrambling to run, he’s scrambling to throw, but if it all breaks down, he’ll still run. He gains ground in a hurry. He’s extremely fast, very agile, very mobile. He is hard to bring down because he’s such a bigger body, but he is talented. He can throw the ball on his back foot just as far as [Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick] Mahomes, I bet, and he’s got the receivers to throw to. So, an extremely talented group and like I said, Brian’s doing a phenomenal job putting them in position to be successful.”