Tell us about where your team is and how different this is heading into the opener, and how it’s like going into the opener without any film on your opponent?
It’s definitely unique. There’s no question. The intensity, the sense of urgency will always be heightened greatly during that first quarter. As a coach, you’re worried about the limited tackling. You’re worried about the limited game-like situation—whether it’s your operation from the sideline, your personnel, things of that nature. We’re hoping it runs as smoothly as possible. We’re playing the best team in the NFC who were ten minutes away from the Super Bowl. It’s a huge challenge. I like how we progressed, but I think there will be some settling in qualities before the game.
Does division opponent factor in when you’re thinking about who to take with that first pick? This comes after asking whether Isaiah Simmons was a “Kittle-stopper”
I don’t know if there is a George Kittle stopper from what I’ve seen. He’s pretty much dominated over the last couple of years, no matter what people have thrown at him. Whether it’s doubling him or putting their best cover guy on him, whether it’s their corner or whoever, he’s such a tremendous talent. We thought Isaiah was the best talent for our team at that time. Overall, for what we needed, whether it was in-conference or not, we needed to get better at defending tight ends in the pass game in general. He’s a guy with length that can do that. He’s a guy that covers ground quickly. He’s a smart player that can play multiple positions. We thought he was the best value for us at that time.
Are you expecting something similar (a Year 2 jump as Jimmy Garoppolo made in ‘19) from Kyler Murray this year?
I hope so. Both times we played Jimmy, he was awesome. He played as good as anyone played against us all year in both games. I’m a big fan of his, and I think he’s a special talent. There’s no question we’re hoping Kyler can take a big jump in Year 2. He was in survival mode last year, trying to keep his head above water as a rookie. I feel like he has a better feel for the position, a better mastery of our offense, and I’m hoping he can continue to progress in Year 2.
How do you go about trying to figure out what the new 49ers skill position guys bring to the table and how Kyle might use them?
That’s the tough part of no preseason. Kyle does such a tremendous job of changing things up, and he’s one of the most creative play-callers I’ve ever seen. The way he gets those guys the ball and the play-action to set up the screen game. That’ll be a unique challenge. We’re going to have to really stick to our fundamentals and know where everyone is at. It’ll be a real challenge.
Is there a comparison for Kittle with the size and speed he brings?
He’s definitely up there. When you watch him, the thing that I love is his intensity. Him and Kelce and Gronk, they play with such an intensity. Whether it’s blocking or running, you can see Kittle’s passion for the game. He’s excited when other players are making plays, and his teammates feed off that. He’s a tremendous talent, and I think he’ll go down as one of the best ever if he stays healthy. I haven’t seen anybody stop him no matter what they try to do to him. He still gets open.
How much does a healthy Nick Bosa and Dee Ford affect your offensive planning?
Those are two of the best rushers in the game. Nick is tremendous. He just got better and better. I’m sure going into Year 2; the game will slow down for him tremendously. Dee, he has the best get-off of anyone we played against last year when you talk about getting off the ball and getting home. We have to account for those guys each and every snap. You can’t stop them, but you just hope to slow them down enough to get some throws off.
You had some success on screens and on the edge last season on offense. Can you talk about the 49ers team speed and why they’re so tough to move the ball on defense?
Yeah, you nailed it. Those linebackers, they can all fly. You think you have open space, and they kinda dare you into it. Then, it’s gone, because they can get there so quickly. The front, if you have to hold the ball at all, it’s over. Then the corners get their hands on you; they’re physical and smart and tough. The safeties are flying upfield. It’s kind of the perfect match the way they built that thing over the last three years. It’s the same scheme in place, and those guys play confidently, they play fast, and it’s impressive to watch.