San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator spoke about devloping young talent on defense, Jimmy Garoppolo, injuries, and much more.
With no LB Fred Warner and LB Dre Greenlaw and DL Javon Kinlaw, just wondering if there was any concern on the team’s part from an injury standpoint?
“No, there’s not. Not from my understanding anyway.”
What can you tell us on maybe just how the safeties played today? S Jaquiski Tartt’s had a pretty good camp. He dropped a few picks earlier in camp, he got one today. Then S Jared Mayden’s had one in back-to-back practices.
“Yeah, like I’ve said before, I love that safety group. There are some really good football players there. Obviously, Tartt’s been doing a good job. [S] Marcell [Harris] is getting better and better every day. [DB] Jimmie [Ward] has been great. [DB Tarvarius] T-Moore is coming along. Mayden, we’ve asked him to do some things and he’s doing a good job for his first time out. Then of course, there’s [S Johnathan] Cyprien who looks fantastic. So, it’s a really good safety group.”
This is kind of a big picture question, but I’m just curious, in the last few years you’ve been with head coach Kyle Shanahan, how you’ve maybe seen him evolve as a coach, whether it’s something X’s and O’s related or something or just the way he deals with his players, anything that you might’ve seen in the way he’s kind of changed over the years?
“That’s a good question. To me, I feel like he’s been a relentless football coach from day one and by relentless, I mean just being on top of everything and not from a micromanaging standpoint, but more of a challenging standpoint from special teams to offense, defense, evaluation of players, scouting department. Just his footprint is everywhere in this building, obviously, or his fingerprints and he’s been very, very consistent with us as a coaching staff, with the players, the philosophy and the message, and the way he wants the standard at which he’s created. Now, how he’s evolved from a administrative standpoint and dealing with the media and all that, I guess that’d be more for you guys dealing with him, but as far as a football coach, a person, overall management, all of it, he’s been very, very consistent, very relentless and just his messaging has been very, very consistent since the first day he got here.”
Just kind of a big picture standpoint again, yesterday or two days ago, being in the stadium without any noise, did that feel odd? Did it feel normal? Are you kind of prepared for either case?
“We’re prepared for either case. It was boring. No, obviously when you have open stadium and there’s no noise, it’s not nearly as energetic as a stadium full of people hooting and hollering. I would imagine as the games get closer and that level of competition comes, I’ll be honest, once the games do start, you don’t really feel the fans anyway. I mean, it’s a very, very intense football game and you’re so focused on your job that the crowd noise and all that stuff is just, for lack of a better word, it’s there, but it’s not, if I’m making sense to you.”
Jimmie Ward, you’re talking about the safeties, Jimmie Ward’s been a pretty solid player for you, but I think he wants to be more than just solid. He wants to be a game changer. How do you put him in the position and encourage him maybe to paint outside the lines a little bit to generate more turnovers, takeaways? Do you do that or does that just have to come as part of the defensive scheme?
“No, that’s good. So, for our scheme, as coaches we give our players, call it a three-foot platform. That’s base, that’s home base. If you don’t know what you’re doing, if you just stick to home base, you’ll be okay. As a player, and as a coach, you try to find ways to make that three-foot base or five, six, seven, eight. You just keep trying to make that thing widen. They understand where they can cheat within the defense to go make plays. When you step off that platform, you quickly know exactly where you need to go back to so you can continue on that path to finding ways to make more plays than just what the playbook tells you. If you just play the game by the book and just play the game as the book reads, yeah, you’ll be out there, you will make mistakes, but you’re not going to make any plays either. On the flip side, as a player, that’s where [CB Richard] Sherman’s been, where he’s made a living of just understanding what the playbook is asking of him, but at the same time, understanding where he can cheat within the defense to go make a play. That’s what Jimmie’s learning. He’s going into, really, his second full term now as a free safety and so the challenge for him is, based on what we did last year and the new things that we’re doing this year, how can he widen his world and just make it bigger where he can find ways to cheat within the defense to go make plays without sacrificing the scheme/ I think he’s getting to that point. He’s starting to figure all that stuff out.”
Based on what Kyle said, I guess two days ago, there’s hope that DL Ronald Blair III will be ready for Week One, but that’s not guaranteed. If Blair isn’t ready, how do you feel your edge rushing depth and might you have to bring some interior guys to play out there a little bit more?
“So, for Ronnie, I’m not sure where that’s at. That’s obviously more for the performance staff. I can’t wait for Ronnie to get back. You guys know how much I love the man. Feel really good about where are our D-Line is at with regards to depth and all that stuff. You’ve got [DL Arik] Armstead, [DL Nick] Bosa, [DL] Dee Ford. [DL] Kerry Hyder [Jr.] is doing a great job. You’ve got a really solid group right there. Having Ronnie added to that fold would be awesome, but wherever he’s at right now, obviously with the performance side, you guys are going to have to talk to them. Feel good either way. When Ronnie does make it back, he’s obviously a big piece of the puzzle.”
You guys are two weeks away from playing here at Levi’s Stadium against the Cardinals and without divulging the early game plan, they do have the Arizona Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins now in the fold. At what point do you start turning your full focus onto that Week One matchup?
“Right now, before this 53-man roster’s cutting down out, obviously as coaches, we watch it all, but our focus is on giving every guy an opportunity to make this football team. They’ve got five days, and so our focus right now is on our team as coaches. We’re staying ahead and looking and all that stuff, but for our players, it’s all about present moment and trying to make the 53-man roster.”
As far as deciding on the last two linebacker spots, the reserve linebacker positions, how much of a push and pull is that between you and special teams coordinator Richard Hightower on deciding those last two spots?
“Oh, man. Special teams is 33 percent of the game, so they’re a big, big piece. There’s really no tug of war. There’s discussions, but when you’re talking about those spots, there’s always tremendous value in special teams. I do know if Hightower comes in and he’s very, very, very strong on a player from a special team standpoint, it means something and vice versa. I think that respect of opinion has been good over the last three years and usually when you get down to the, I don’t want to call it the back end of the roster or anything like that, but when you get down to those last two or three spots, special teams is a major, major focus. The better they are in teams, the more respect we have for the opinion of Coach Hightower and the guys that he wants to add to his group.”
I just want to follow up on my question from earlier. You mentioned that Kyle is relentless about challenging everyone in the building. I’m curious, can you give an example of him challenging you or something along the way that you’ve seen?
“Well, he challenges every day, whether it’s something with our scheme, whether it’s the way we communicate, not only with one another, but with other people in the building, with players. Whether or not we’re doing everything we can to give the players everything they need to succeed. Just anything, you pick, I can go on forever. From the individual challenges he gives everybody to maximize their own personal ability, whether it be player, coach, intern, it doesn’t matter. He’s got a standard that he lives by and he expects everybody to uphold that standard, uphold his standards. So, it doesn’t matter, strength coach, equipment room, training staff. He’s always challenging everybody to do their best. With me, it could be scheme, it could be how I handle the defensive staff, how I handle the player. It doesn’t matter. How I communicate with the scouting department and [general manager] John Lynch. He’s always trying to develop individuals and he does so by challenging. He expects perfection and he demands perfection, and it’s just relentless every single day to make sure that you’re on top of your job, doing the best you can.”
With final cuts coming up in inside the week, I know the team has been guarded about information regarding players who might be on the back end of the roster and understandably so. But, is there an effort on your part, I know you’re focused on the guys that you have in the building now, but is there an effort to maybe peruse online reports or have staffers peruse online reports and try to glean any information possible about other teams or guys that may be available given that there’s a lack of film from the lack of preseason?
“Yeah, I think John and his staff are all over that. It’s like I said, we’re so focused on, as coaches, on the people that are here. Feel like we’d be, as individual coaches, we’d be doing them a disservice if we’re not giving them all our attention. So, does John and his staff do that? I’m sure they do, but to be honest with you, it hasn’t been brought up yet and it’s because, like I said, even for those guys upstairs, they’re so focused on evaluating the men that are here and they deserve that. They’ve earned that right. All our focus is on our guys.”
From a defensive coordinator’s perspective, what have you seen from QB Jimmy Garoppolo and how he’s gotten better, progressed since his beginning of last season when he really started as a starter?
“He seems more decisive. A year ago, people forget it was really his second year technically starting, because his first year he got hurt really early. Some could argue that it was his first year starting. His comfort level in the scheme and what Kyle and his staff are asking of him, what each play is asking of him and so he’s much more decisive with the football and he has such an amazing arm talent that the quicker he can be decisive, and when I say decisive, I mean just decisive where that ball is in his hands and out on his back foot. When he hits his back foot in his drop, it’s a thing of beauty. You’re seeing more and more of it throughout camp where there’s less, ‘Where do I go with the ball?’ There’s less holding onto it. He’s a very decisive quarterback and I can only imagine it’s only going to get better and better once they get into game planning and settling things in. He’s talented and everyone in the building has tremendous amount of confidence in him.”
I just wanted to ask you, some players have talked about just the aftermath of the Super Bowl and how they dealt with it. One guy said he saw Stanley Cup highlights and he had to turn it off because he didn’t like seeing anyone celebrating a big win. Just different examples like that. It just was raw. I was just wondering, just from your personal perspective, kind of how you dealt with the Super Bowl loss and at what point were you able to kind of start moving on?
“Haven’t moved on yet. I have, but it’s still, you think about that play. Every time that game goes on, you think about the game. I think I laid in bed for a couple of weeks, but that’s part of the business. You win some, you lose some, but the commitment we have to one another is to find our way back there. We know that we can’t get back there unless we take care of today’s practice and we can’t get back there unless we dominate tonight’s meetings and repeat and do it over and over again and go through each day and win every day. I’ve been blessed to be part of the ’13 championship team in Seattle and they always say, you remember the ones you lost more than the ones you win. So, yeah, that one’s going to stick with us forever, but at the same time, we’re all adults. We know that we have an opportunity to get back there again by dominating the days. So, yeah, it’s tough, but at the same time, you just move on because it’s part of being an adult and moving forward.”
You mentioned depth. As you get into the season, how important is it for you to just continue to develop the young guys like Greenlaw, LB Azeez Al-Shaair, Tarvarius Moore and then some of the young talent you have up front?
“It’s very, very important. The NFL is a war of attrition and by the end of the year, you’re going to have those guys playing out there. They’re going to be playing very, very important minutes and taking some very, very important plays. They’re also the backbone of your football team. You’re always trying to develop your talent. Yeah, the attention goes to your starters. That’s who gets all the attention, game day and all that stuff, but there is a very, very focused effort to make sure that the development of our younger guys are at the front of our minds always. It’s why we have the practice sessions that we have before and after practice to make sure those guys are getting the work they need because they’re one play away. They’re the ones that we’re counting on. With the salary cap and all that, it’s hard to keep everyone. So, you’re always trying to develop your roster, develop the back end and all that stuff. It’s very, very important to make sure that they’re continuing to develop both on and off the field, to be honest with you.”