SANTA CLARA – Vic Fangio spoke to Bay Area reporters Friday morning. Here’s what he said.
Q: How does it feel to start training camp and have everyone back?
FANGIO: It’s good. All offseason we didn’t have Ahmad, Justin and Aldon out there. It was limited what Ray did, so it’s nice to have them all back out there playing real football, although we don’t have the pads on. We still have a couple more days of this type of practice.
Q: Justin Smith is coming off surgery…
FANGIO: He looks fine. Fortunately the injury he had, once it’s healed it’s healed. I don’t think it has many lingering effects at all.
Q: The conventional wisdom is you’re going to start Eric Reid Week 1 because you traded up 13 picks in the first round to draft him. What’s your take on where he stands?
FANGIO: If you go back to when we drafted Aldon Smith, he was the seventh pick of the draft. He didn’t start as a Nickel rusher until the last preseason game which is when he actually went out and won that job. Nothing was given to Aldon that year and nothing’s going to be given to Eric this year. He’s got to go out and earn it. Right now, it’s a battle between four guys. Trenton Robinson had a good offseason and put himself in the mix there, too with Dahl and C.J. It will sort itself out. The one good thing about training camp is we get a lot of reps. Everybody will get a lot of work.
Q: What about Trenton Robinson jumped out at you?
FANGIO: He just played better. It was one of those things where a guy from Year 1 to Year 2 learned how to become a better professional football player. He took his job more seriously and saw himself having a chance to improve his play and the urgency of, “Hey, I need to make this team.” I don’t think he felt that urgency last year. I think he wasn’t as mature last season. When we started the offseason, he wasn’t much in the mix for that but he’s done well for himself here in the offseason and put himself into that mix.
Q: One of the story lines this offseason is defensive staffs studying up on the read option. How much does it help you guys to face it every day in practice?
FANGIO: It does help that we’re facing it in camp from our offense. Last year when on our offense would work on that during training camp, we wouldn’t work against them. We would split it up and take our first team defense on another field and work on more conventional offenses because last year at this time the only time we thought we would see it would be from Tebow in the game against the Jets. We didn’t waste our time working on it against our own offense with our first team defense. This year we will, obviously. So, it does help having an offense that can run it and they know how to run it, not running it out of a scout card.
Q: Where is Reid right now as far learning the play book?
FANGIO: One good thing about Eric is he’s plenty smart enough, he’s plenty diligent enough, he’s got a good understanding of football. The learning and mental side of the game will not be an issue for him. Now, he’s still a rookie. The speed of the game, recognizing offensive concepts and reacting to different formations and plays – he’s still a rookie. But the mental part of the game will be a plus for him.
Q: How much of your job is creating good chemistry in your defensive meeting room, especially in light of the recent incident between Ahmad Brooks and Lamar Divens?
FANGIO: I have not seen any indication that it has dragged inside the building at all. If I hadn’t known that something happened, I wouldn’t know something had happened by the way people are acting.
Q: Do you have a contingency plan in place in case Brooks is suspended at some point?
FANGIO: Not really. It’s the same contingency plan if he were to get injured.
Q: Does having Parys Haralson back at full strength give you a bit more leeway at that position?
FANGIO: Having Haralson back is good. Also, having Cam Johnson, who’s now in his second year and is making some really good strides. He’s not even close to being the same player he was last year at this time. He’s light years ahead of where he was. We picked up Skuta. We drafted Lemonier in the third round.
Q: What has it been like having Eric Mangini around?
FANGIO: Eric’s here to help the offense and help Jim and that’s what he’s doing. Nothing’s changed there.
Q: No defensive responsibilities for him whatsoever?
Q: Have you talked to him about defense?
FANGIO: Not yet. I’m sure over the course of the year we may have a discussion or two, but he’s got his hands full learning our offense so he can help our offense, and then he’s going to help our offense from a defensive perspective.
Q: Has anyone emerged as a backup inside linebacker?
FANGIO: Not yet. We still have Wilhoite, Nick Moody, Darius (Flemming), and…..who am I forgetting?
FANGIO: Stoop. Nate Stupar. Those guys are fighting it out for two spots possibly. We can move Skuta back there if we need to. Nobody has surfaced yet internally. That position is really wide open.
Q: Is that an area of concern at this point or do you feel like somebody has the ability to emerge?
FANGIO: Well, it’s an area of concern and I do have confidence that somebody, one or two of those guys will emerge. It hasn’t happened yet. They’re all at different stages of their career. Moody was a safety in college and now he’s playing inside backer, so it’s all new to him. Mike Wilhoite’s been here for a year and a half and played some last year on special teams, so he’s got the lead from a knowledge standpoint within our scheme. Darius just moved there and had zero practice last year, was an outside backer in college and now he’s trying to learn inside. And Nate’s been doing a good job, too.
Q: Do you have an equivalent of Mangini on your defensive staff, an offensive coach who helps you from an offensive perspective?
Q: Would it be helpful?
FANGIO: Generally speaking, I think defensive coaches have a better understanding of offenses and what offenses are being taught to do from a schematic standpoint. I think offensive coaches do not have as good of a understanding of defensive football.
Q: Are you saying defensive coaches are smarter than offensive coaches?
FANGIO: I didn’t say that, you did. No, it’s kind of a fact. I did that role one year in Baltimore and they learned a lot from having a defensive guy in the room. They just don’t always understand the adjustments.
Q: What broke down for your defense the last two games of the season?
FANGIO: No.1, you’re going against elite offenses and elite quarterbacks, so everything’s got to step up. That’s No.1. No.2, we’ve just got to play a little bit better. I think at times in those games, we didn’t play with the technique and discipline that we’re accustomed to and we prided ourselves on. We’ve got to be able to play with great technique even on a big stage.