San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke to the media Friday to discuss why Kittle won’t suit up on Sunday, how Nick Mullens has progressed, if there’s a QB controversy, and much more.
“Alright guys, so injuries: [RB Tevin] Coleman out. [DL] Dee Ford out. [QB Jimmy] Garoppolo out. [LB Dre] Greenlaw out. [TE George] Kittle out. [RB Raheem] Mostert out. [CB Ahkello] Witherspoon questionable. Go ahead.”
You had said earlier in the day that Kittle’s availability would hinge on today’s practice. Did he just not look right today? What was your assessment of that?
“It was more prior to practice. Just while he’s getting warmed up, getting loose, just having a conversation with him. Me just talking with Kittle and kind of seeing where he was at and we thought it was a lot safer to leave him out. Didn’t need to wait another day because of how he sounded today.”
When it comes to QB Nick Mullens getting ready for his start, how has he advanced since we last saw him in a start back to 2018? Specifically, I guess, in terms of his arm strength, how has it gotten stronger?
“I think Nick works at it all the time. The more you work at it, the more your feet are under you, it’s not all just about the arm. It’s the rhythm within your drops, your drop back, the rhythm with where you’re going and when you’re eligible, seeing things. Then when you can have your feet under you and your cleats in the ground and you let something go on time, you’re going to get the most out of your arm. So, the more he is decisive, the more he knows exactly where he’s going, the more he gets out of his arm. He’s gotten a lot more reps than he did last time, not live reps, but he played pretty well the last time he played and he usually gets most of his reps in camp. He gets a ton on scout team, but it was really good for him this week to get three days in a row with the ones and looked ready to go.”
When it comes to the quarterback spot, moving forward, is that decision going to be impacted at all by how Mullens plays on Sunday or is that solely based on how Jimmy feels?
“No, it’s totally how Jimmy feels. When Jimmy is ready to go, he’ll be out there.”
What happened with Ahkello and then are you confident CB Jason Verrett can fill in, in that spot if Ahkello is not available or limited?
“Yeah, very confident in Jason. He had a real good week of practice and he had a real good camp before he hurt his hamstring. Ahkello had a tight hamstring yesterday, tweaked it a little bit. So, we held him out or he was limited today. We’ll see how that goes over the next 24 hours.”
Regarding Dee Ford, the fact that he’s had an MRI, you guys haven’t placed him on IR, at least short term. Is there optimism, you mentioned him getting some treatment and medicine, obviously there’s no guarantee that that could resolve itself in a few days. Obviously, not guaranteed, but is that kind of the situation with him?
“Yeah, I think the situation is when you just think of people with back injuries, when you have back issues, sometimes it takes some time, but that stuff will calm down and you’ll feel really good. If it never does, then you have to do bigger things and you always want to wait for those bigger things. So, you don’t know whether it’s a day, a week or a month. I’ve been around a lot of guys who they barely can walk and all of a sudden, their back spasms go away and they’re good in a few days. I’ve also been around guys that it takes a couple of weeks, and some guys they have to fix it before it changes. We’re doing all of that with Dee Ford. I’d be surprised if he’s there next week, but I wouldn’t rule him out. That’s something that, again, we’ll see week to week with that.”
Nick Mullens was saying earlier in the week that you always make it a point to make sure all 53 guys on the roster and I guess probably even the practice squad, especially this year, know that their time is always very close. I’m wondering when that became a focus for you or if it was something you always did as a head coach and what is your message to those guys to make sure they’re always on top of things?
“You don’t have to sell much. It’s just the truth. Growing up a coach’s son, maybe helped me understand that urgency at a young age. I hear that all the time that, talking to my dad on a Friday, ‘How’s this guy going to do, what’s going on?’ And he’s, ‘Oh, he’s a play away from being out there.’ It’s not like college football, you don’t have all of these guys. There’s only a certain amount of guys, so the practice squad is huge and we’ve always wanted more people for it because there’s not a time in the year that you don’t end up using those guys. I feel like the majority of our practice squad players, the majority of them in all three of the years that we’ve had here ended up playing. You just learned that, every coach knows that going through the NFL. That’s why you put a lot of pressure on those guys every week because if they think it’s a redshirt year and they think they just get to develop and work three days a week, those guys get shocked and then when they do get their opportunity, they don’t get another one after that. So, I constantly try to tell those guys, because I’ve seen too many people get surprised when they’re up and then this league passes them by very fast.”
You had an instance there where it looked like you guys didn’t have enough numbers in the nineties, but with DL Ziggy Ansah, he was wearing 98, but is he moving to 94 now? What exactly happened to make that happen?
“No, we just have an issue with retired numbers on our team. That’s why training camp is always very tough for us. So, we’ve just retired, I think, too many numbers. We’ll see how that keeps going, but we had to do that last year. I think when [DL] D.J. Jones got hurt and we brought in [former San Francisco 49ers NT] Earl [Mitchell], Earl had to wear D.J.’s number. So, that stuff does happen. [DL] Ronald Blair [III], we’re expecting to get back and play for us really help us this year. Then [DL] Solly [Thomas], obviously him going an IR for the year, that made that available. Ziggy was real cool about it because that’s his number. He called Solly and asked him if he could do it and Solly was honored to tell him it was no problem and really helped him out with that.”
Is going back on this field where there were so more many injuries, is that a mental hurdle that you need to discuss with your team?
“No. I would have said yes on Monday, maybe on Tuesday. By the time Wednesday came, I think we were good. I think everyone’s a little emotional and stuff after those games and I kind of said it because I’ve heard so much about it this week. It was a big deal to us Sunday and Monday, but turf’s not good in general. I don’t care where it is. Everyone knows that turf, there’s about 30 percent more injuries on turf than there is on grass. So, that’s an issue everywhere you go. We understand it’s new turf, so usually brand-new turf is a little bit worse than all the other bad turfs. It just needs to get broken in. So, our players understand that. The NFL has done everything to check it out. It is what it is. It’s just another turf field and of course we’d rather play on grass because it is safer, but that’s not something that’s on our minds at all anymore. We were a little emotional after the game on it, but I promise it’s gone and we are ready to go. The good thing about that turf is we’ll be a lot faster on it.”
You’ve talked about the depth of the team and just talking about how everybody’s gotten past the turf. Can you talk a little bit about the maturity of this team and the resiliency after a week like this?
“I was real proud of the team on Sunday and I think it’s carried over into the week just by the type of practice we had. It was a very eerie feeling in an empty stadium with no one there and no music. It was silent and when [DL] Nick [Bosa] goes down and it gets even more silent, because they turn off the ambient noise. You’ve got to wait for the cart to come out. It’s just kind of an eerie feeling. Then for it to happen two plays later with Solly and just how long it happened and just how weird the whole place is, it didn’t totally feel like anything anyone’s ever been a part of. What I loved about it was how our players responded the rest of that game. They had huge concerns. It was extremely awkward for everybody, but if you turned on the silent tape and watch how they played, you would have never known how it felt when we were there. That’s also how I felt with practice this week, Wednesday, Thursday, and today, and that’s how I expect to feel on Sunday.”
I think the last time we talked to you about WR Deebo Samuel he was dealing with some soreness in the foot. Has he been out with you guys in West Virginia? How does he look and are you optimistic that he could be back for Week Four?
“I’m optimistic he’ll be back next week. He had a real good week. Last week, hitting the rehab hard with all those guys and just being able to watch him workout here on the side, he looks real good running routes and he’s been able to do it without pain. So, I expect to get him back next week. Whether that means the game on Sunday, I don’t know. That’s stuff that I don’t even think about until I see how he looks on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”
Last year when you had these stayovers, the second game of those trips, the Bengals and the Saints, you had like 700 points and 2,000 yards. You jokingly said were able to focus more and have more time to work on the game plan, maybe half jokingly. You didn’t have as many distractions. Have you had a very productive week this week and can we expect similar results?
“We’ll see what the results are. I know we had some success last year in those two games. I like being in a hotel all week. It’s nice when it’s 11 at night, and you’re thinking about how you’ve got to drive home. That gets on your mind a little bit more knowing you’ve got to come back the next day around five. When you’re sitting in a place like this around 11, and my home is just up an elevator, you kind of are just a little more relaxed and you can wake up earlier, stay up later. You don’t have any of the travel time. It’s just kind of a good atmosphere that I do enjoy. By the end of it, you’re always very ready to get back home. Everyone misses their families and stuff like that, but I do think that there’s an advantage to staying out here. It helped us last year and we’ll see what happens this year. Nothing is absolute. We’ll see what the results are on Sunday, but I know we enjoy it for about a week. We could maybe do it again if we space it out, but it’s not something we could do every week.”
With the Giants reliance on multiple tight end sets, what does the loss of Dre Greenlaw mean to you guys and how do you hope to compensate for that
“Everyone knows how good of a player Dre is. Did a hell of a job for us last year and he’s doing it for us this year. We were hoping he could get up this week. He ended up being hurt a little bit worse than we expected, so it’s unfortunate, but we’ve got a lot of good players on defense. I know [LB] Azeez [Al-Shaair] got a lot of playing time last year also, so he’s been out there. We’ve got a number of other guys you guys haven’t seen yet who can help us too. Next man up like it is at a number of positions and it’s always good when the next man up is a guy that has been out there with our team and we know what we can expect from him.”
What are the characteristics of a New York Giants assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham defense? Do you tap defensive backs/cornerbacks coach Tony Oden at all this week given the familiarity he has with that scheme?
“Yeah, you always ask coaches who have been with people. Then you watch it on tape because stuff changes all the time. This is my first time, I think, going against him and you can tell it comes from the New England tree and how they do things, but you can tell he’s very good at what he does. Extremely smart. It’s impossible to predict. Every front that he has, every coverage that he has. Whatever play works versus that stuff, he has got a front ended coverage that completely counteracts that. He does a hell of a job mixing his personnel. Schematically, it is very sound and it’s why it doesn’t surprise me why the numbers were so good after these first two weeks.”