SANTA CLARA — This is the transcript of special teams coach Thomas McGaughey Jr.’s Thursday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
What was your assessment of how the special teams played in the last game?
“Typical first game. You know, a couple of kinks to work out. I was pretty satisfied, no substitution errors which is normally a big deal in the preseason. You have 90 guys that you’re trying to keep organized on the sidelines. Guys are pretty excited. Exciting gets kind of chaotic at times, but I was happy with that. The effort was really good. Guys played hard. They were trying and execution wasn’t always the best, but they gave great effort and for the most part I think we played pretty physical and did some decent things.”
It seemed like that you had some pretty good blocking from those tight ends that were out on the return team?
“That group is a really, really nice group. It’s probably the deepest group that I’ve ever coached in my whole career. They’re very, very talented. They work extremely hard and they’re fun to coach. They really are.”
As a special teams coach, do you want as many tight ends, linebackers, safeties and running backs as you can possibly get just for the coverage units?
“Honestly, you want more defensive guys. The more defensive guys in the coverage units, the better. But, our tight end group is really, really good. They do a great job and they’re a unique group. They have some defensive skillsets, so to speak, as far as being able to tackle and do those things, be productive and being physical. Obviously, blocking is something that they do that’s real natural for them so we try and put them in a position where they can be as comfortable and as natural as they can possibly be.”
RB Jarryd Hayne had a nice, I guess, 33-yard kick return, but he caught it seven yards deep in the end zone. Were you thinking that he might kneel it down there or were you happy that he took it back?
“We’ve got to find out what we have and if we take a knee we’ll never find out. Most balls that you get in the preseason are going to be kicked seven, eight, nine, ten deep. So, we’re going to bring it out and that’s just kind of how we operate in the preseason.”
Did you see, you know, he’s running up the sideline on that play. When you were doing research on him, did you see him make that type of play in Australia for what he did in Rugby League as a fullback?
“I saw his tape just like everybody else. You see the open-field run skills and you have a tendency, you know, those guys when they get in the open field they like to break things back. And in this league, you break things back or back across the field, if you don’t run 4.3 or 4.2, you’re going to get run down. But, the key is to get vertical, and that’s what I’m trying to impress upon him now. Just his skills of running in the open field, it’s a little bit different than rugby football.”
How much of what he accomplished as a returner was instinctual and how much of that was just getting coached up in the offseason and through training camp?
“Being a returner, there’s a lot of instincts involved. What he did the other night was more instinctual than it was anything that I did as a coach or [assistant special teams coach] coach [Richard] Hightower. It was more just a reaction to what happened during the course of the game. It was actually a kick that was kicked opposite of what we called and he just, he brought the wedge up the sideline and he just made a cut and kind of did his thing. So, he has a lot of natural ability, but let’s, you know, you’ve to be realistic too here. I mean, that was the first preseason game, so it’s like we’re playing in Week 8, going down the stretch. He’s got a long way to go. He’s doing some good things and hopefully he’ll continue down that path.”
I have at least one more Jarryd Hayne question, but it seems like he’s a guy that may not be that interested in calling for a fair catch.
“That’s a good assessment.”
Do you like that as a coach?
“Well, you know, you obviously want to make smart decisions, but Jarryd is fearless. That’s one of the characteristics that it takes to be a great punt returner. He is fearless. It’s fun when you see a guy that can make that first guy miss and he’s not scared because he’s very, very comfortable fielding the ball and when you have that fearlessness it definitely gives you an edge on your opponent.”
Did you feel like this could open the way for more Rugby League players from our country to possibly come over and have a go?
“If they can play like Jarryd, they might have a shot. But, I don’t know how many Jarryd Hayne’s are over there in that rugby league but if there are, they might want to think about coming over.”
Could he or has he played on coverage at all?
“He’s played a little bit. That’s still a work in progress for him. It’s a little different. I think he’s used to having that ball in his hands and that’s real natural for him, being able to make people miss and run by people and being physical with people. The tackling part of it, it’s different when it’s one-on-one like it is over there. Most of the tackles you have are just one-on-one, open-field tackles as opposed to a group of guys dropping back in an area and all of a sudden they’re coming from all kinds of different angles and you got to know what you’re looking at and you got to know to how to key and diagnose certain situations. So, right now he’s just trying to learn that part of it as far as covering kickoffs. But like I said, it’s just a work in progress. He has the talent to do it, it’s just he’s got to learn how to do it.”
How do you see a guy, he seems to run relatively upright but yet in the limited times we’ve seen it he always makes the first person miss. How is he able to do that?
“Well, he has great lateral quickness and that’s another characteristic of a great open-field runner. If you look at all of the great open field runners, they all have that characteristic. You look at [former NFL WR/KR] Dante Hall, [Atlanta Falcons WR/KR] Devin Hester, those types of runners, guys that can make people miss, [Philadelphia Eagles RB] Darren Sproles, they’ve got great lateral quickness and Jarryd possesses great lateral quickness.”
How do you feel about the rugby traits he’s brought across like the stiff arm and the side step and that sort of stuff?
“Well, it’s kind of, it’s a carryover to our game. I mean, the stiff arm, the side step, that’s kind of the same skillset. It’s kind of why he’s here, there’s a lot of carryover. It’s like him in the open field out there playing rugby. I mean, it’s the same thing. Your guy’s coming, you’ve got the stiff arm, he can stick his foot in the ground, make a guy miss, it’s no different than our game.”
If he continues to excel as a returner, but still developing other parts of his game, could there be a roster spot just for that position?
“I couldn’t answer that question for you. All that stuff goes through [general manager] Trent [Baalke] and [head coach] Jim [Tomsula], but he’s a talented guy. Obviously, you want to have talented guys on your roster so we’ll see how it all shakes out. He’s a joy to coach. He’s just a hard-working guy. The natural skillset is definitely there.”
How have you been able to evaluate WR Bruce Ellington even though he hasn’t been on the field? I know there is some film on him from last year, but what’s your assessment of him and what do you have to see from him?
“That’s kind of my assessment of him, last year, because I haven’t seen much of him this year. Bruce, the couple times he’s out there he looked really good, but I just got to get him healthy, you know, that’s the most important thing. Love the kid, just want to see him healthy so he can go out there and compete with the rest of the guys, just kind of see exactly how much he’s progressed during the offseason.”
What makes S L.J. McCray so good on those coverage units?
“L.J. plays with great passion. He’s very, very, very powerful. He’s explosive. He plays with great leverage and he loves playing on teams. He loves covering kicks and he’s a dang good young football player.”
He was good at it last year and in your evaluation, I’m sure you looked at all that tape, is he building off that? Is he getting better?
“Absolutely. Absolutely. He’s, you know, you saw him the other day, he made a wrong release on the punt and then all of a sudden he sticks his foot in the ground and works back the other way and makes a play in the open field. Not very many guys can do that at 215 pounds, playing a gunner position as a safety. He has a unique skillset that way, but he’s a heck-of-a talent, can’t wait for him to keep seeing and progressing and mature.”