SANTA CLARA — This is the transcript of Chip Kelly’s Week-12 Wednesday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
What are the challenges the Dolphins defense offers? What’s kind of their calling card on that side of the ball?
“Well, it starts with their front with [Miami Dolphins DT Ndamukong] Suh and [Miami Dolphins DE Cameron] Wake and then [Miami Dolphins DT] Jordan Phillips is playing really well and so is [Miami Dolphins DE Andre] Branch on the other end. So, they can create a lot of pressure with just a four-man rush. I think they are one of the top teams in the National Football League if you look at the pressure stat of creating pressure. They don’t blitz all that much because that front four can get home. You’ve got a premiere pass rusher on the edge in Wake and probably one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league in Suh and then the other two players Phillips and Branch as I said are playing well to complement those guys. So, their four down guys are really the focus of what that defense is all about.”
How do you think you guys have done in handling pressure when teams have brought extra guys?
“I think we’ve been OK. Part of it, it takes everybody. It’s obviously the line and the running backs and the pass pickups and making sure we have a hat on someone. We missed one early on a corner blitz against the Patriots on Sunday. But, by and large we’ve been really good in our assignments and on people. And then we’ve got to get the ball out on time. Part of getting the ball out on time is the receivers have to be open on time also. It’s not just the quarterback throw it now. Well, if they receiver hasn’t gotten to where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there and created separation then sometimes the quarterback doesn’t have an outlet for the ball. It really takes all 11 to be able to handle pressure, but I think we’ve been OK. I don’t think we’ve been great, but I think we’ve been OK.”
Miami Dolphins CB Tony Lippett has made the move from wide receiver to corner and is starting for them. In your experience, how difficult is that transition or maybe those positions an easier transition than going from defensive line to offensive line?
“I think it’s really difficult. I don’t think many players have done that, making that transition to go from receiver to DB. The experience that Lippett does have is he did it in college. So, when he was at Michigan State he actually played both ways. So, when you were scouting him people looked at him at as a corner or receiver, depending on what you were looking at him as. But, there was film of him as a receiver and as a corner. Sometimes people draft a guy and he played one position in college and then tried to flip him over. We did it with [OL] Alex Balducci. He was a defensive lineman his entire college career and brought him in here as an offensive lineman. That’s happened a few times in the NFL, but at least in Tony’s situation he’s played corner and at a really good school, at Michigan State where they’re really well coached. He played corner and receiver there, so he had experience on both sides of the ball coming into the league.”
How’s LB Eli Harold looking this week? He seems to be limping a little bit.
“Yeah, he’s limping a little bit. But, I think we’ll see how it goes as the week progresses. He’s told me he feels like he’ll be able to go but we’ll see how that transpires. He’s got a toe injury.”
If he and LB Aaron Lynch were slowed, I would assume that would mean more snaps for LB Tank Carradine. How has Tank been, since his first year at outside linebacker? How has he kind of progressed week-to-week?
“I think he’s learning at the position. Obviously he hadn’t played it before, was a defensive end in the other three-four scheme that they were playing here. So, to be up on his feet the entire time, to drop into coverage and do things like that, I think he’s gotten better as the season’s gone along. You’ve seen progress out of Tank as the season’s gone along. Obviously his forte is going forward and rushing the quarterback and setting edges and defending the run, but I think he’s really picked up on the pass-game stuff.”
What are the challenges that Miami Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi presents to you guys?
“Well, he’s a unique combination where he’s a big guy that is very difficult to get down with the first guy but he also has some long speed. I think he’s got nine runs over 20 yards. He’s got one run over 60 yards, so he can separate. He averages 5.6 yards a carry, which is one of the highest averages in the league, which is saying a lot about him. So, I think he can do everything. He’s physical enough to run between the tackles, but he also has enough long speed that if he does break it he can separate and get away from people. Another bigger back in the mold of [New England Patriots RB LeGarrette] Blount where you’re going to have to get multiple guys to take him down. He’s really good at making either the first guy miss or running through arm tackles.”
How similar are the main principles of the offense in terms of tempo to what you guys like to do and how comfortable do you think the defense is going to be going against that given the way you guys did training camp?
“Principles I have no idea. So, I don’t know what their system or how [Miami Dolphins head coach] Adam [Gase] runs his system so I couldn’t tell you that we’re similar or dissimilar in that fashion. They do run some plays at tempo and at speed and I think hopefully our guys practicing against us should be ready for that.”
How has LB NaVorro Bowman progressed from his surgery? Have you seen him recently and–?
“Yeah. He’s here every day for rehab. So, he’s doing a good job. He’s in a boot still. I think he’s off of the crutches, but beyond that, he’s still in the boot. So, until he gets out of the boot and starts doing some things, he’s still in that rehabilitation stage with the boot on his foot.”
What’s his interaction with the team? Is he able to use his leadership skills still despite the injury?
“Yeah. He’s in the locker room every day, comes in and rehabs. So, he’s with the players on a daily basis.”
After the team picked up the fifth-year option on S Eric Reid, a lot of people thought of this as kind of the prove it season for him. He’s not obviously going to play the whole season, but do you think he solidified his spot here for the future with how he played or what do you feel about the season he had?
“I think Eric’s had a really good year. I don’t weigh in on contracts or what he’s been offered or options or all that other stuff. That’s above me. But, I think for what we’re doing defensively he fits really well in the scheme that we run and I think he’s had a good year and it’s a big blow to us to not have him for these last couple of games this season.”
Why does he fit so well?
“I think just his versatility. He has the ability to play down on slot receivers. He can play the middle of the field because he’s got great range and vision. He’s big enough and physical enough to match up with tight ends because of his size. We’ve used him as a dime linebacker. I think his versatility and his football smarts are really what, and that whole package, being tall, long, can run, he’s done a really nice job in what we’re trying to do defensively.”
When you use a guy in a lot of different ways, do you run into the danger of diluting what he does best? How do you balance that and how do you think he balanced that?
“Well, I think part of it first was injury. We lost [LB] Ray-Ray Armstrong, we lost NaVorro Bowman at inside linebacker. So, we had to have more of a coverage-type linebacker in there and that’s where Eric really kind of bailed us out in that situation. So, it wasn’t about diluting skill or whatever. It was just a necessity of making sure that our linebackers aren’t always matched up on really good running backs.”
Did you guys move S Vinnie Sunseri up because of his special teams ability?
“We feel like he was the next best player and it’s a safety spot that we lost, it’s a safety spot that he plays. So, it was kind of a natural move up. He’s going to have to play safety and special teams. But, as some guys’ roles increase, you may take them a little bit more off of teams. So, [S Jaquiski] Tartt playing a lot more snaps, had been giving us a lot of good play on special teams, but we can’t have Tartt playing all the snaps on defense and playing all the snaps on special teams. So, it was just really a natural move for us.”
He’s been playing well, practicing well for you guys since you added him?
“Vinnie? Yeah. He’s done a really nice job for us.”
ME: Why is Jaquiski Tartt the best option to replace Eric at free safety? What does Jaquiski do well in that spot?
“He’s the next guy up and I think we’ve always felt that we had three safeties here between Eric and [S Antoine Bethea] ‘Toine and Jaquiski. Kind of in a similar skill set as Eric in terms of he’s tall, he’s long, he matches up well. I thought he did a really good job on Sunday in the matchup against [New England Patriots TE Martellus] Bennett as a tight end. To have two bigger, more physical safeties like Eric and Tartt, you can get guys that can match up with tight ends. Sometimes that’s a little bit of a mismatch in this league because of the size and the speed that you’re going to get with some of the tight ends in this league. So, he’s done a really nice job with that. He’s does a good job when he’s in the middle of the field, playing centerfield and reading the quarterback’s eyes and breaking on the football. So, it’s just, we had kind of a three-man rotation going there. Now, with Eric out, [CB] Dontae Johnson’s going to have to play a little bit more for us as the third safety. But, that’s just a natural progression for us in terms of who’s the next guy.”
ME: Why is DB Jimmie Ward not a safety in your system considering he played that in college?
“We think Jimmie’s our best corner. So, I think that matchup, that he’s out best corner and our best nickel. So, the ability to cover man to man in this league is first and foremost. So, if you ask anybody, ‘What do you want when you’re looking at the secondary?’ Everybody wants a corner before they want a safety and we felt that that’s Jimmie’s best position. So, we could move him to safety, but we think we’d really be shortchanged out at the corner spot.”
Do you think he’s the best corner on the team?
When did he make that leap over CB Tramaine Brock? How long did it take him to do that?
“I just think because of his versatility. I’m not, don’t diminish anything that Brock’s done, but I think Jimmie is the one guy that plays all over the place. So, he plays in the slot. He can play nickel. He blitzes from that position. Can match up with the top receivers on the outside. He’s a rare combination. Sometimes when you look at the secondary you have guys that are just outside corners and guys that are just slot corners. The guy that can play both, that versatility I think is what puts him at the top for us.”
How’s Dontae done handling different roles and playing different positions this year?
“He’s done a really good job. I think he’s a guy that understands, and I’ve talked about it earlier in the season, if you are not the starter the key really then is your versatility because you just can’t say, ‘Hey, when a guy goes down here, well, I’m not ready, that’s not my position.’ You’ve got to be able to play multiple positions. So, if you’re in the secondary and you don’t start, you should be able to play safety and play corner. If you’re not the starting offensive lineman, you need to be a guard-tackle or a center-guard. That whole deal that we’ve talked about earlier in the year and I think D.J.’s done a great job with that. He’s played in all of our packages. He’s played in our sub-packages. So, he’s gotten a lot of valuable reps for us. It’s just those numbers will increase now.”