San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spoke to the media after Friday’s practice to discuss the secondary, the depth of the defensive line, and much more.
Have you gotten any word on DL D.J. Jones and kind of what’s your thoughts on if he were out for an extended period, the players you have to step in there in the interior line and pick up the slack?
“I haven’t heard anything yet. I know they’re running more tests. We’re just waiting to hear back this afternoon. As far as the depth of the defensive line, I feel really good about it. [DL Kentavius] Street’s been having a good start to camp. [DL Solomon Thomas] Solly’s been having a good start to camp. Obviously, we’ve got the rookie, who’s getting his legs underneath him. There’s plenty more, but we feel good about the depth and everything that’s going on on the inside part of the defensive line. Hopefully D.J.’s fine, but I will find out more this afternoon.”
Noticed that DL Nick Bosa wasn’t in at the end of practice. Is that just a maintenance issue, snaps issue or what was going on there?
“Yeah, the performance staff has a plan for all these guys. So, whether they pull them just because his snap count got high is on them, but from all indications, he’s fine.”
On the radio today, general manager John Lynch said that the current plan is there’s not going to be any full tackling live to the ground, but he said that you guys wouldn’t fully rule it out just in case you might need it with no preseason games. How do you feel as a defensive coordinator with this specific group of players about not having any full to the ground tackling? Do you think that you guys will be ready for Week One in that regard?
“I believe so. There’s always that worry that they haven’t been through it, but that’s where, as coaches, we’ve got to do a great job of putting them through as close to a full tackling simulation as possible. Whether all the teach tapes, we’re constantly hammering about their tracking, their thudding up form tackling and just thinking about tackling and putting them through circuits of keeping them conscientious of how we tackle, the way we want to tackle, the way we want to track players. So that way, as we get closer to Week One, we are as close to tackle ready as we possibly can without actually ever having to bring our own players to the ground. Now, if coach decides otherwise, we’ll be ready for that, too, but as of now, we’re approaching it as if we’re not.”
You mentioned Kentavius Street and Solomon Thomas, obviously, if D.J. Jones misses some time, those guys could potentially fill in there. How do you think those guys fit in potentially at nose tackle, given that maybe it isn’t their natural position and they are a little bit smaller for that spot?
“You know, our nose, over the last couple of years, has evolved a little bit where it’s not necessarily like the nose everybody remembers of the [former New England Patriot NT] Vince Wilforks. Not that he wasn’t an athletic individual, but he was a massive human being where our guys are a little bit smaller. They’re almost three techniques playing in that two-wide spot. We value a lot of speed, get off and explosiveness over just gargantuan size. We feel really good about their ability to play in there as long as they can hold up on double teams and they’re not just getting displaced, which Solly and Street – Solly, he’s been in game situations where he’s proven that he won’t get displaced in there. Obviously, Street and all the other individuals that we have there, but we feel good about the group. We feel good about them being able to go do it. Solly did it last year and if Street continues to progress the way he’s showing, then there’s no doubt that he can do that, too. But, it’s early in camp and there’s still a lot of things that have to sort out.”
Just any problems today with having to switch practice, going early with the unhealthy air and all that? I’m just curious how that maybe affects logistics for you guys.
“Give that to me one more time, I’m sorry.”
The unhealthy air quality and moving practice up early, I’m just curious if the logistics threw anything off for you guys and what kind of concerns you have when you go into a practice when you’re dealing with that?
“No, the early concern was whether or not practice will get off, but I thought [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] was unbelievable. Him and his crew, [administrative assistant to the head coach] Nick Kray, the performance staff and all of them. They did an unbelievable job, just resetting the schedule, moving things up, adjusting on the fly. When you’ve got a group of guys that work together, and we’re going on year four now, I bet it went unnoticed to the rest of the people in the organization. So, it’s a testament to those guys. They’ve always got plan B in their back pocket and players probably didn’t notice anything other than a 30-minute change in time.”
I’m going to sneak in two questions here. One was about, I guess DL Javon Kinlaw’s maybe a little closer to Wilfork as the nose tackle. What are your thoughts on him playing in there? Also, I know this time of the year undrafted rookies with potential, you may not want to say too much about, but it looks like DL Darrion Daniels has a little power to him. I just wonder your initial impressions of him in camp.
“I like Darrion. Daniels is doing a very, very good job. Like I said, it’s early. We’ve got only a few days in the camp and he’s showing some good qualities. He’s got a lot to learn with technique, consistency and all that stuff, but it’s a grind. It’s a different technique than most of those guys are used to when they get here and they’re under working with [defensive line coach Kris] Kocurek and how he teaches. He’s got a little bit of ways to go, but we are pleased with him so far.”
Bosa yesterday said that it’s been great for him to go against OL Trent Williams in practice and in one-on-ones. How valuable is it to have someone like that on the offensive line for the guys to practice against? What have you seen from him, and what does he do to create such a problem for the defensive line?
“What a treat for Bosa and all of us, really. If you think about his rookie year, he had [former San Francisco 49ers T] Joe Staley, who’s an All-Pro and now you’ve got Trent William, who’s also an All-Pro. They’re two completely different styles, but both incredibly gifted at their positions. Then on the other side, you’ve got [T Mike] McGlinchey to work with. It’s the old cliché of iron sharpening iron. It’s a really, really talented group on the outsides, both defensively and offensively. Those guys are grinding every day. Trent gives them a look that they’re not going to see all year because he is a freak athletically. Some of the things that he can do, it’s just going to make it easy on game day. The same thing with Mike and the way he’s shown up on the other side. He’s leaner, he’s stronger, he’s faster, he’s more stable. Our guys are getting all the work that they can handle with those two tackles and it’s good for both sides because I’m sure that they’re thinking the same thing.”
What did you see from S Johnathan Cyprian in your three years with him in Jacksonville that made you want to bring him here to this situation? Exactly what is his situation here with, you’ve got some young safeties who are on the rise? What do you expect out of him?
“Cyp at Jacksonville, sometimes I feel like you can be under appreciated because of your draft status. They expect a little bit more out of you. We always felt Cyp was a very good football player. I think our last year there, his last year in Jacksonville, he was well over a hundred tackles. I think it was inching towards 130. So, he’s been a productive player. He knows our system, he’s in great shape, he moves very well. The expectation for him is to just come on in and compete. You’re never going to restrict roster spots and all that stuff with numbers, but he’s a talented football player and his ability to come in and compete and push guys and do things. You can never have too many good football players and he’s a good football player. It doesn’t say anything about the men in the room in terms of what they’ve been doing, because they’ve all been doing a great job. It’s a very, very talented safety group. It’s just another piece of the puzzle to see how we can get a little bit better.”
I just want to get your thoughts on Kinlaw as a possible nose tackle. I know that’s not a huge leap just because he’s already in there, in the interior, but is that a spot he can play?
“Yeah, the way we teach our D-Line, with the exception of a couple of guys, they’ve got to know all four spots. They’ve got to be able to, Kocurek says it’s like four quarters on the dollar. You throw them all out there and they’ve got to be able to play whatever position that they’re thrown out there to do. Kinlaw’s getting two-I work, he’s getting some three-technique work. Solly’s been at the three and the two. Street’s been at the three and the two. Daniel’s, three. So, they’re getting a lot of versatile work. When the time comes, you continue to train them appropriately and it’s no different than a linebacker. They’ve all got to know the MIKE. They’ve all got to know the WILL. They’ve all got to know the SAM. Because, you never know when the situation might come up where you need them in those positions. It’s the same thing with the way we teach our D-Line and train them. To answer your question, absolutely. He can go down there and play two-I also.”
You mentioned Street a couple of times. To us, he looks totally different than he did a year ago. What are you seeing from your eye in terms of his progress, his difference from 2019?
“Playing with a little bit of confidence. When you’re coming off the major injury he had and going through all the different things that he had going on from a physical standpoint, the confidence of just letting loose and trusting that you’ll be okay is different. You can tell that in his play, he’s not thinking about it. So, he’s playing a lot faster. He’s playing with a lot of confidence and he’s able to use his power and his strength and all that. The weight room stuff that we’ve seen and the stuff that we saw in college was kind of coming to fruition. He’s just got to maintain it now. It’s continuing to stack day after day, continue to build confidence and hopefully things keep going in the direction they are. He’s worked his tail off to get to this point and so whether it’s here or somewhere else, I just want him to succeed because the work that he’s put in is unbelievable.”
Last time we spoke to you, you mentioned that the competition at cornerback opposite CB Richard Sherman was wide open. What have your impressions been of that competition so far? How much do you rely on what you already know about some guys just given the fact that they’ve played pretty extensively in this system?
“Yeah, that’s a good question. They’re really competing. They’re doing a great job helping one another out. It’s a selfless competition over there. [CB Emmanuel] Moseley has picked up where he’s left off. He looks fantastic. [CB Ahkello Witherspoon] Spoon’s looking like he did during OTAs and training camp a year ago and the first four games of the year, so he’s competing his tail off. [CB Jason] Verrett has a new confidence to him. [CB] Dontae Johnson’s in there competing his tail off. [CB] Tim Harris [Jr.], people forget about him. He’s getting his first true training camp. God, I’m sure I’m forgetting someone, but they’re really doing a great job competing and trying to take advantage of every single rep and just owning their personal moments. When their time comes to get those one-on-one situations or be on the football field, you can tell there’s a deliberate attempt, which for all of them it’s always that way, but they’re locked in. They’re focused. I really think that they’re enjoying the heck out of it. It’s fun to watch and just fun to watch them pull each other along and root each other on while at the same time competing.”