SANTA CLARA — Here’s a transcript of defensive coordinator Eric Mangini’s Sunday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
“I thought that was great this afternoon. We were able to go through a bunch of different situations, had substitutions, had the NFL officials there. Really good work collectively at that period there at the goal line. Thought that was good to see some things off that as well. Hope you guys liked it as well.”
How is that for a coach? Is it a little bit anxious with bodies flying around?
“Yeah. I’ve been involved in that pretty much every year of my career and you always go through those plays as much as you love because of what you get out of them, you also hold your breath a little bit. You want to make sure everybody gets through.”
You’ve lost a couple of prominent inside linebackers in the offseason, but it seems as if your inside linebackers were making a lot of plays today. What do you think about that group and who stood out to you in today’s practice?
“Well, it’s been a good group and we haven’t had [LB Michael] Mike [Wilhoite] working there throughout this early part of camp and [LB Philip] Phil’s [Wheeler] been down a little bit here recently. I think [LB] Des Bishop has done a really nice job. [LB] Shayne Skov has done a really nice job. Both those guys are excellent communicators, have leadership ability, do a really good job of getting the group lined up and adjusted out. So, both those guys have really done positive things. And that’s outside of [LB] NaVorro [Bowman]. I was assuming you were saying in addition to NaVorro.”
You mention you were kind of holding your breath during the live contact going on during the goal line stuff. Why is that necessary?
“It’s like anything else. On the goal line, and [head coach] Jim’s [Tomsula] philosophy is, we’re either going to walk through it or we’re going to do it live and sometime if you try to go thud or try to go half speed, it could be counterproductive because guys are in difficult positions but they’re not going at the tempo they’d normally go to, so their bodies get twisted or someone runs into somebody’s back. That philosophy, I think, has real merit where you either walk through it, get your fits that way or you go full speed so guys aren’t half and half in a short area where the contact is so great and the runs typically are jammed up in there with a lot of bodies.”
How big of a loss is former 49ers LB Aldon Smith? And also, how big of an opportunity is it for other guys to step in there?
“We talked about [former 49ers LB] Patrick [Willis] last time I was here, and a guy like Aldon is not a guy that you just can replace. He’s got a unique skillset. One of the things that we focused on defensively is building flexibility, in terms of what we can play and then building flexibility with who’s going to play there. [LB] Corey’s [Lemonier] gotten a lot of reps, [LB] Aaron Lynch, he’s starting to get back out there but he did some really good things last year. You’ve got a guy like [LB] Eli [Harold], who’s shown some real promise here early and we’ve been moving those parts around to play left and right so we wouldn’t have to play guys in the same spot the whole time. I think the defense has some flexibility built into it as well. You can’t easily replace someone of that caliber, but we’ll find ways collectively to get that done and there’s great opportunities. There’s great opportunities for guys who made have had more limited roles had he been here.”
When you talk about Eli Harold’s progress, what are you referring to?
“He’s got a tremendous motor, which is the starting point. He’s intensely competitive. He’s one of those guys that you always have to tell them to hurry, but don’t rush, and slow down, get your reads because he’s so quick off the ball, he’s so quick to read and react, which is a good thing. You don’t want to coach the aggressiveness out of him or the intensity out of him, but you also have to get him to a point where he understands exactly what he’s processing and to take enough time to process that. But, his physical traits, he can run really well and he’s developing in the other areas, the coverage component, the games, things like that, blocking schemes.”
Did you have a view on DT Tank Carradine’s hit on RB Jarryd Hayne right at the goal line there in that drill?
“I didn’t have a great, I was back and kind of at an angle. I didn’t have a great view of it. How was it?”
It was loud.
“Was it loud? With a nickname like Tank, you’d think all those would be loud. He’s a big boy.”
DL Marcus Rush had a pretty aggressive play against QB Colin Kaepernick in one of the drills there. Is that just him doing too much as a rookie and trying to prove himself or do you have tell him to relax a little bit on those?
“Yeah, pretty much with the quarterbacks, you don’t want anybody around them. We’re going to see that you could have gotten the sack. We’re going to see that you could have made the play and want to pull off as much as we can. Sometimes, even the best intentioned will get a little too close to the quarterback for what you like. Marcus is another guy as a rookie free agent who’s come in, worked hard, developed flexibility. He’s worked a little bit inside as well. I like a lot of things about him too. It’ll be fun to watch him in the preseason and see what kind of role and niche and place he can carve out for himself.”
Former 49ers and current Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio used LB Ahmad Brooks a little bit as an inside linebacker in goal line situations in the past. Couldn’t tell if he was doing that today, but is that something that he might have a role at moving ahead?
“With Ahmad, one of the great things about Ahmad is his flexibility, because even in substituted defenses, he has the ability to go inside and play specific roles. He’s an impressive athlete, the things that he can do at the line of scrimmage where he sets the edge, the strength, those components of it, but he’s fluid too. He moves well in space, he changes directions well. When you look at sort of the prototypical outside linebacker with the skillset, both run and pass and then the coverage movement that he has, pretty good.”
A couple of his teammates have commented on LB Nick Moody, just how, I guess you could say, he doesn’t mind contact. A couple running backs got a little shaken up in a drill a couple days ago going up against him. Does he bring to mind anyone as far as his aggressiveness and willingness to throw his body around?
“Yeah, and earlier I should have mentioned Nick. Nick’s done an outstanding job. From his growth from last year to right now, from an ability to run the defense, to see what the offense is doing, his work ethic, he spends extra time in meetings. I’ve really been happy with Nick’s development, his progress, getting to know him better in this role. He’s done a good job. I’m excited to see him in these preseason games and see where he is because what he’s done in practice so far has stood out in a really positive way. I want to see how that translates into games, his reactions and things like that.”
It seems like from our vantage point that the defensive line is one of your deepest groups. How have you managed to divvy up reps? It’s obviously a good problem to have, to give all those guys the reps they need to get going.
“Yeah, that’s a great problem to have. And Jim has done a really good job, and [general manager] Trent [Baalke], of getting guys that can play multiple roles, and then over time, Jim Tomsula worked those guys at different spots. Not only is there depth, but there’s flexibility as to where those guys can play and it is one of those problems that you love to have. It’s how are we going to find this guy meaningful reps in the game. What’s his role going to be in certain packages and then how can we get him to spell the other guys so through four quarters, we’re getting the best and freshest mix of those players out. And I really do appreciate the flexibility that Jim’s built into the system and into the players over time because they, it wasn’t like he sat them down and said ‘Hey, you’re a left end. That’s all you are.’ It’s your left end, you’re going to work at nose, you’re going to work at right end. So, that’s our responsibility as coaches is to figure out what we can do with them, how we can use them, how we can maximize their ability to be consistent through four quarters.”
With DL Arik Armstead in particular, do you need him to sort of master the left side before you try to get that flexibility from him?
“It’s a little bit like any of the rookies. You want them to be able to concentrate on a skillset, on a specific position. But, at the same time, you don’t want to pigeonhole them and you want to give them the flexibility if an opportunity arises to move over there. So, it’s that balancing act of making sure that he’s getting what he needs so he can be productive in a role, but also enough of the other stuff so if we did have to move him, it’s not like we’re completely taking him out of his comfort zone. And we’re, I think, doing a good job of developing that and then giving him spots where he can learn some of the other roles.”
What are you going to be looking to see out of the cornerbacks in the exhibition games since there’s a lot of new guys and you haven’t seen them much in terms of aggressiveness and the ability to handle assignments?
“The way we’ve always, I always evaluated DB’s is can you play man-to-man? Can you play in the deep part of the field and can you tackle? And it seems like a simple criteria. And there’s elements to each one of those, but that’s going to be the baseline. How do they look playing man-to-man coverage? How do they look in the deep part of the field? The short, underneath zone part of it, obviously, we look at it, but how do they look down the field in zone coverage? And what kind of tacklers are they? Make sure that, when the ball does get to the perimeter they can do what they’re supposed to do. They can be a component in the running game, a number in the running game if we need them. And with all those guys, there’s tremendous opportunity and I talk to them a lot about it. That whole group, there’s great opportunity for young players to have a chance to have a significant role on a defense. Often times, you come into a team and you got no shot and maybe you get some work as a nickel or you get a little bit in dime, things like that. These guys have a chance to distinguish themselves and really, we’re going to give them the opportunity to make a case for themselves, and whoever makes the strongest case is going to get that chance. We’ll give them all though that chance to do that.”
ME: This is your second season as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. Your first was about 10 years ago. How have you evolved or changed or improved as a defensive coach over the last 10 years?
“Well, I had a bunch of years as a head coach, so that helped me look at it from a global perspective. I had two years recently on offense that gave me insight from a game planning perspective and from a scheme perspective, and it’s hard to do when you’re in one role. I’ve actually been very fortunate to be able to play those other roles, to be in those other roles, to hear the conversations, to hear the thought process, to look at it through a different set of eyes so that when I came back in this role, I’ve got a fresh set of eyes and perspective going into this that my first time at it I didn’t have. So, that’s been huge for me.”