SANTA CLARA – This is the transcript of Greg Roman’s Thursday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. Good afternoon. Obviously we’re very excited to be back in the Championship Game against a great Atlanta team. They’ve won a lot of games this year, won a lot of games really the past several years, and the great thing about our guys is they’ve been dialed in, high energy, great focus. So, really looking forward to having a great practice today. Any questions?”
They seem to be a bend-but-don’t-break kind of defense. How do you break that kind of team?
“They’re very well coached. I think they’re a very good situational team on defense. I think the numbers show that, in the red zone and third down. But, they’re just a very good team, very good defense. I think they do a great job of utilizing their players. And, the first thing that jumps out is the leverage their defensive line plays with. They do a great job of using leverage to their advantage. I think they’ve got a good feel for what’s going to add up to a win and they’ve certainly got a lot of them.”
The players, and as normal, say it’s just another game. But in the Bay Area where the 49ers have five Super Bowl’s and last year got one step away, is there a feeling among the coaches, this is not just another game, it’s like a must-win because we’ve got to get over the hump?
“I don’t think there’s any hump that we feel we have to get over. I think it is a must-win game. It’s win-or-go-home and that’s it. I think everybody has a real true sense of that, but you have maintain your focus on the task at hand, every coach and player. And, getting caught up in emotions, what-ifs, what-if coulda, woulda, this, that, the other. All that tends to do is distract you from doing what you do best, and that’s play the game.”
[QB] Colin [Kaepernick] seems to do a really good job as far as the read option with the faking stuff, fake handoffs and that, and the defense doesn’t know whether the running back has the ball or not. Do you guys work on that? Are there quarterbacks that you’ve shown him over the years that have done a good job of disguising that play?
“I think it’s definitely something that’s worked on and emphasized and everybody understands how critical that is to the play. It is a key component to the play. I felt like Colin, because of his extensive use of that type of offense in college, came in here to the NFL with a real good understanding of that.”
How does the quarterback who doesn’t know whether he’s going to hand it off or not when the snap is taken and a running back who doesn’t know if he’s going to get the ball or not to keep from fumbling?
What are the keys?
“The keys are, it’s like anything else, I think there’s a chemistry that is built. It’s not something that you can easily write on paper to describe. But it’s a matter of pressure. The quarterback has the ball, controls the ball, and when he pulls it, he’s yanking that thing out. There is no indecision. He is ripping that thing out with conviction, or he lays it in there gently. So, there’s definitely a stark contrast with between the two.”
Have you, whether in the offseason program or in training camp, were there a lot of times when the ball was on the ground or is that whole transition gone pretty smooth?
“That’s a very good question because just like everything else, yes, there are invariably going to be some balls on the ground as you work your way through it. It’s just something that you work through. You understand, like anything else, there’s a process involved. It’s something we worked on in the spring and training camp and really last year as well. So, we do have some time invested in it, but it still comes down to the players executing that play on the field.”
Was that an instance where [RB] LaMichael [James] was more advanced than [RB] Frank [Gore], just because of college backgrounds?
“That’s an interesting question, but Frank is such an adaptable player that it doesn’t take him long to pick something up. He’s one of the most gifted, knowledgeable and intelligent football players that I’ve been around, really at any position. He just has a feel and an understanding for the game. It’s funny, when you install something or put something new in, he can just see it. It’s pretty impressive.”
A lot of guys talk about Frank’s football I.Q. a lot. You just mentioned an example there where Frank’s smarts really showed through a lot.
“I’ll tell you what, really in everything. I think in mentoring the other players. He has a good way of explaining things from his perspective. In protection, in pass protection, he’s got a great feel for understanding a concept and understanding, because there’s a lot of different pass protections. You can’t just go in with one protection. Good defensive coordinators probably are going to violate that. So, he has a way of understanding pass protection and executing it physically as good as anybody.”
Does Frank every talk to you about being a coach one day? Has he ever talked to you about that?
“Oh yeah, without question. I always tell Frank, ‘Man, when you’re done playing, come find me or I’ll find you,’ because he is a guy that I love working with as a player and I’m sure I would love working with as a coach.”
How has he helped the coaching staff in times where you guys like feedback? How has Frank helped the coaching staff, drawing up game plans and stuff like that?
“I’ll always talk to Frank, ‘Hey, what do you like this week?’ He said, ‘Just call it, I’ll run whatever.’ It’s a little bit more than that, but we’ll definitely talk through things and communication. We’ve got great communication, all the coaches do with Frank. Frank’s the ultimate team guy.”
How much more can you rely on LaMichael now for pass blocking and maybe run blocking protection than maybe when he first started playing?
“He’s coming along nicely in all phases, just very happy with the progression LaMichael has made in his developments since he’s gotten here and he’s doing a great job. Again, he’s a football player. He loves contact. He’s a tough inside runner, good outside runner and what is
happening in games he’s graded out extremely well on.”
You were talking about Frank being adaptable. With that said, you mentioned with the read-option here, he couldn’t hit the hole quite as hard as he’s used to. Then how has he adjusted to the idea of the rest of the runs?
“It was definitely an adjustment for him, but again, he’s one that will adapt quickly. I thought he had some just incredible runs in our last game on those types of plays. It’s of no surprise to us here. But that’s something you probably need to ask him.”
Your unit’s enthusiasm level seems to be higher this year than it was last year. How much of that is touchdowns as opposed to field goals. What do you attribute that to, is it Colin’s personality?
“I don’t know. I would just say it’s a love of the game and love of having success. But, it’s really a reflection of the men themselves and how much they love the game. And they’ve come together as a team. So, I don’t know that you can titrate that down to one thing, but I just think it’s a reflection of the men on our team.”
How much stronger is your offense going into this NFC Championship Game in terms of the players you have, the schemes you’ve installed that you were at this point last year?
“That’s a hard one to quantify. Every game is different, I will say this. No matter how you look at it, you have to pay homage to the football gods every week in practice, in meetings, in your preparation, then you have to go out and perform on game day. So, Atlanta’s a great football team. We know that. It’s all about our preparation. So, how that stacks up or looks on paper is of little consequence. It’s all about the players on the field getting it done.”
After that Seattle game, a couple of your players said, just because of the crowd noise, you have some of the pre-snap stuff stuffed and had to go out the window. Do you go into a game like this knowing some of that and you can’t use just because of the potential for crowd noise?
“It’s going to be loud there and we fully anticipate that. We’ve played in loud environments such as New Orleans, just the first one off the top of my head. That Superdome can get extremely loud. So, I think our players are well equipped and we’ll always try to factor that in into the game plan.”
Do you remember the first time you saw the pistol offense and what your first impression of it was?
“I do. I do. I do remember. I was sitting at my office over at Stanford, I believe and I was watching a tape and I heard about the offense so I got a copy or somehow got it, and I wanted to see it. I loved the downhill element of it and the neutrality of it, with the back in the home position. I loved the concept, a couple different things about it and I just thought it was a great idea, but I do, I do.”
Do you remember what the game was?
“Yeah, it was Nevada tape.”
Did you ever, while watching it, think this could work in the NFL?
“I think elements of it are very basic to football, but at that time I really didn’t think about that.”
Just to clarify, the neutrality of it means like the versatility?
“The back is in the neutral position, meaning he’s not offset here, coming across the formation. He’s directly behind the quarterback, so it’s easier to go this way, go that way, throw a pass, throw a play action. It’s not as predicable.”
With the success here and Chip Kelly coming into Philly [Philadelphia Eagles head coach], and of course that’s a different type but saying, ‘This is the future of the NFL.’ We’ve always said quarterbacks can’t run, all of a sudden you’ve got running quarterbacks.
“That remains to be seen. That remains to be seen. Chip’s a fine football coach and I’m sure he’ll do great, but can’t predict that, just focused on Atlanta this week and the task at hand. Our focus is on getting our guys that NFC Championship, Frank Gore, [WR] Randy Moss, [TE] Vernon Davis, [T] Joe Staley, [head coach] Jim Harbaugh, that’s where our focus lies on watching those guys hoist up that trophy. There’ a lot of work that goes into that and everybody’s dialed in. Energy levels are high, looking forward to having a great practice.”