SANTA CLARA – Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio talked about what makes NaVarro Bowman and Carlos Rogers so good, the Niners cornerback competition and how good the defense can be this year. Here’s a transcript, courtesy of the 49ers.
What are some of the things that have allowed LB NaVorro Bowman to emerge as an All-Pro, as such a young player, in his second year, last year? And also, you have him next to one of the best in LB Patrick Willis, who obviously gets a lot of attention. What are some of the primary things that, do you think, have allowed him to emerge so quickly as a force in the NFL?
“Well, he’s a good athlete. He’s got really good movement. He’s athletic enough to be a good player in pass defense. He’s strong enough against the run. He’s a really good tackler, both against the run and pass. When he breaks up on things in the passing game, he does a really good job of tackling. He’s good in the open field. You guys saw some good plays from him last year in the open field where he made some tough tackles. I would think it’s his athletic ability, but he is 240 pounds. He can go in there an slug it out in the trenches. He’s very versatile as a linebacker.”
Is that aspect of slugging it out in the trenches, has that allowed you to do more with Patrick Willis, using him more to cover the tight end like you have been?
“Not necessarily, not necessarily.”
Your offense has changed during the offseason, added a lot more speed. Your defensive guys go against WR Randy Moss every day in practice. Does that help your defense prepare for its opponents this year having a lot more speed on offense?
“I think anytime you go against quality players it helps you improve, and hopefully we’ve done that. We’ve added to our depth and quality on offense and it will have a residual effect on us defensively of being better prepared for going against quality players.”
Have you started to look at Green Bay at this point?
“We looked at them some in the offseason and did a complete scouting report like all teams do of their first couple opponents and looked at them. But, right now we’re not doing anything as it relates to Green Bay. We’re getting ready for the season.”
What were some of the accomplishments you felt the team has improved on this past week?
“I don’t think we’ve made a great deal of accomplishment yet. We’re a work in progress of fine-tuning our defense, getting the guys’ rust off. We’ve got a few new things here and there. Nothing major, but some new things that they’ve got to totally understand and be able to play. So, I don’t think its gross improvement yet, other than it’s getting back into football shape, getting back in the knowing our system so they can execute it flawlessly and picking up the new things that we’ve inserted.”
During the offseason, it was a lot of situational football that you were working on. Is this a more basic approach as you have larger roster numbers?
“It’s both. We still try and do some situational football, but particularly in the first week. you just like to go out there and play ball, start cracking the pads, get guys calloused to contact, get guys calloused to practicing and running and more of simulating of a three hour game. So, it’s a little bit of both, but we do mix in the situations also.”
Are you giving CB Chris Culliver a chance to compete with CB Tarell Brown at that right cornerback spot?
“He does. He has a chance to compete there. We’ve played him at both sides. Luckily he’s a guy that can player either side. It is a little bit of a transition. There are some guys that can only play one side. Some guys can play them both. Just the calls mean the opposite sometimes when you’re on the right than they do on the left. So, there is some mental gymnastics to go through. But, I think he’s capable of both sides and being intermixed in there.”
Will LB Parys Haralson be worked in on the left side at all or is he seeing the same amount he’s always been?
“Yeah, he’s getting his work. He’s gets a lot of work with [LB] Aldon [Smith] and [LB] Ahmad [Brooks]. We rotate those three guys in there with the first group. We feel fortunate to have all three of them. We feel we’ve got three starters there. So, he gets as much work as Ahmad and Aldon does.”
Do you want to see Haralson more on the left because you know he can play the right spot?
“He’s got that. Even last year, all during the season, he would get a lot of reps and practice on the left side because if Ahmad would have had to come out of game, he would have played left, Aldon would have played right. So, last year during the season, he would get about 25 to 30 percent of his work on the left, so it’s nothing new for him.”
Your front seven has obviously been a dominating force in your defense. But how would you say the safety combination of S Dashon Goldson and S Donte Whitner have developed together and what has it done for your defense? They’ve become a safety tandem—
“They’re a good tandem back there, and you can’t play good defense with good safeties. That’s just been a fact over the years. And those two guys back there, they quarterback the secondary, they quarterback our coverage element. And they’re both good at supporting the run and tackling because they are the last line of defense and one of the reasons we were able to not give up too many big players last year, both in the run and pass, was because of having those guys back there. But at safety, play is very, very critical and we feel fortunate to have both of those guys.”
Bowman and Willis were both First-Team All Pro last year. What would be the next level for these guys to take it to?
“They’ve got a lot of improvement that both of them can make individually, and they’d be the first to tell you that. We’d like to improve their blitz ability. We’d like to improve their understanding of the coverages, exactly how they fit with each and every route progression that they have to defend. They both have a lot of work to do, which is good. And they’re both young enough. They’re still on the upswing in their career, both of them, obviously NaVorro is playing his third year. But still they’ve got a lot of work to do.”
When it comes to CB Carlos Rogers playing the slot, what makes him fit in so well as a slot cornerback?
“Well he’s got good quickness. The slot cover guy has got to have good quickness because there’s a lot of short area routes that you got to be able to react to and play. He’s got the intelligence because, really, everything he learns as corner has no carry over to the nickel. He’s actually playing a linebacker position and he has the intelligence and the football instincts to be able to play all those new zones and all new techniques that he has to play in there. He’s got a really good understanding, as you would think a veteran would, but some guys never master it. He’s got a good understanding of what the offenses are trying to do from route concepts and he has good anticipation.”
Who else are you trying to work in at that spot behind Rogers?
“[CB Perrish] Cox is there. We have [CB] T [Tarell] Brown is there also and we have [S] Michael Thomas plays that also for us. So we’ve got four guys that we can put in there right now.”
What do you think of Cox so far?
“He’s done well. He’s done a good job playing the nickel position for us. Same thing, he’s got good instincts, he’s got good short area quickness, can feel the routes and he’s a capable corner also. It’s critical you have those guys because when teams will put four wide receivers on the field, you need two of them then. So hopefully we can develop three or four of them. ”
Can he win that job, Perrish? Be the slot guy?
“Well it’s a possibility. We got all combinations. He could be the guy and Carlos can stay outside. That position and our two corners in our nickel defense will be corner type players, so they will be three of the five or six corners we have available for those positions. And yes, he could be. ”
What kinds of strides have S Trenton Robinson and S Michael Thomas made so far?
“They’ve done well. I think Trenton’s done a good job of improving from the first day he got here in the offseason after the rookies came in in May. He was swimming then a little bit mentally. I think he’s gotten better, has a little better feel for our package, yet still has a long way to go, but he’s gotten better. I think Michael Thomas is a very heady player, knows and understands football and he’s done a good job, too.”
For your new guys, your undrafted guys, DT Tony Jerrod-Eddie looks like he’s got some nice size, movement. Are you kind of moving him around just to see where his best spot is or do you have an idea of where his ideal position is?
“Well all three of those guys, for the most part up front, are interchangeable for us. Now we leave [DT] Justin [Smith] at end and [DT] Ray [McDonald] at end, but Ray can play nose in a heartbeat. We like those backups to be able to play both nose and end because you can’t have a guy that’s only a nose, you can only have one of those on your game day roster. And then somebody out of the other five that are dressed has to be able to play nose also. That’s what makes [DT] Ricky Jean [Francois] valuable because he’s a nose and he can play end. You can have one guy that’s a nose only, but your backups have to be able to play both.”
How good can your defense be overall this year based on what you did last year?
“Well, I think we can be as good as we were and if not better, but it may not show that on paper. Stats are whatever you want it to mean sometimes. I am confident we’ll be better, but one of the reasons we were really good on defense last year is because we had a really good offense that protected the ball. We had very few short fields against us. Our kicking game did a great job in controlling field position for us. So they made our job a little bit easier for us last year than compared to most teams in the league and that will be important going forward. So we had a phenomenal year that way, if that slacks off a little bit then that bleeds into your defense also and your team. I think we are capable of better, I don’t know if it will show that on paper though.”
Back to NaVorro real quickly, you talked about intelligence of the game and this being his second season as a full-time starter. How do you see him grasping the defense mentally this season that might be different than last season?
“Well, he’s much, much further along this year than he was last year at this time. Obviously he’s got a season under his belt, a season in this system that hadn’t changed a whole lot. He still has things to learn. Sometimes the coverages run together on him about how he can play a certain route combination and the differences in them, but he understands football. Some guys understand it better than others and he understands it good and you can talk to him at a high level when you’re teaching him. You don’t have to break it down and paint by numbers. He can imagine what you are talking to him about and feel it and understand it and I think that will improve much more the more he plays.”