SANTA CLARA — This is the transcript of Geep Chryst’s Thursday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers P.R. department.
“Again, great to see you. Happy New Year. Hard to believe this is the last one. Before we get going, you take the questions and we fail to remiss some of the guys who have really had good years for us offensively. You can start with the quarterback position. I think probably seven games is a large enough sample size for [QB] Blaine [Gabbert]. We really like not just what he’s done in those seven games and the production he’s had, but how he’s continued to improve and moving forward, I think that’s been dually noted and worthy of mention before we get to questions and answers. Other guys, [G] Andrew Tiller, remember he went in for the Giants game. He’s from New York and kind of a spot-duty time guy and then he became starting right guard and then he’s flipped over to left guard. So, special mention to Andrew. I think he’s done a nice job and really even before he was playing he had a nice chemistry with the rest of those linemen, if you guys have seen that. I don’t want to say he’s the butt of all the jokes, but he’s right in the mix with all the jokes and that’s a good thing for that room. Probably the next guy that comes to my mind is [TE] Garrett Celek. I know he’s injured so we can’t talk about him and what he did against Detroit last week. But, I thought what a great year for a guy that’s been around and all he’s done is show up and go to work. And he was really, really productive and I thought that he and Blaine had a really nice chemistry and made some important plays when they were there together. And then the fourth guy is really [RB] Shaun Draughn, of all the guys that probably epitomize a guy coming in, learning stuff on a short week and becoming productive. We appreciate how hard Shaun was and how he was embraced by the guys on our offensive line. So, before we got those questions, I wanted to make special note of those guys and feel like those are the kind of guys that you enjoy coaching every day and they give you optimism about the future.”
Let’s go back to Blaine. The offense, it still hasn’t scored 20 points. You had the one defensive touchdown, more than 20 points I should say, since he’s taken over. Do you see him, why do you say that he’s continued to improve because the points per game haven’t been good?
“You’re right. So, what is the metric that we’re using? For example, he’s close to 240 yards passing per game. I think the balls that he’s throwing, the accuracy that he’s throwing the balls with, the reads that he’s making, how the ball is being distributed, I think that’s been excellent. I also know situational football of which third down is our biggest negative. But, our biggest positive might be in the red zone. Blaine’s had 13 trips to the red zone and we’ve had ten touchdowns. A dramatic improvement over the first half of the year and something that I think has become part of his game. He uses his athleticism, his mobility. I think that’s also where he’s probably used the tight ends in a positive way. But yeah, we’re not perfect across the board. The two things that affect your scoring, right, are going to be field position, your starting field position and then the third downs which extend drives. You either get more drives, get them on a shorter field or extend the drives you do have.”
One of the things that stands out with him is that he is 26 years old, which it seems like he’s older than that. But at 26, how much room does he have to get better?
“You know, I think we have to look at the quarterback position. We’ve said this actually to [QB] McLeod Bethel-Thompson about redefining what is over the hill with the quarterback position. With all the advent of spread quarterbacks coming in, think of a guy like [New York Jets QB] Bryce Petty from Baylor. There’s probably going to be an apprentice to the NFL game, fewer and fewer teams running “pro style offenses.” But, those players like [Cleveland Browns QB] Josh McCown or like a [Indianapolis Colts QB] Matt Hasselbeck or even a [New York Jets QB Ryan] Fitzpatrick with the Jets, you might consider those people over the hill or maybe you did or you’re always looking for younger blood. But, it’s very unique demands that we put on the quarterback position. We expect them to know the protections and know the plays and check the runs. So as a result, in that context I see Blaine as a young quarterback with a lot of upside. He’s stayed healthy throughout his career. With this extended playing time, again, seven games being a sample size compared to what he did in Jacksonville when he was a young quarterback, I think there’s been really improvement there. That’s what gives you that optimism. Improvement over what his numbers were in Jacksonville and then more importantly you can see how he’s continued to improve from week to week. We’re frank about not starting quickly with our opening drives and we finally started quickly and made some plays and went down the field and scored on the first possession. We’re well aware of what those metrics are. And you can choose whatever metric you want to choose to measure success, but over that seven game spread our total offensive numbers have been up and I know they’re not 32nd. I know our yards per play, we’ve hit some big pass plays, our yards per play I think it’s 19th in that seven game window. Again, it’s a sample size, choose what metric you may, but you get the feeling that Blaine is playing quality quarterback right now.”
You mention his progress, what does he need to do moving ahead?
“I think that he works so hard during the week. And when you’re a backup, you work hard during the week, but you don’t have the luxury of getting four at-bats in a game. But again, what we’ve been concentrating on is just starting quicker. Think back to the first throw in the Cincinnati game where it’s third-and-long and they basically were in a drop-defend mode. He got so quickly, he went to like one-five, he went to his fifth read so fast that it almost surprised the running back who was the eligible receiver in the pattern. He thought he was going to be part of a progression. And so, that opportunity when you start to play, the game slows down for you and I think at times Blaine’s taking all the preparation and he’s excited about playing. But, as you continue to play, your game matures, your game just gets into better rhythm. And I thought that was the one thing that we were real excited about that first half is that you could see that Blaine got himself into rhythm, that the run game was a contributing factor which allowed us to do some play action and we hit some well-timed throws.”
Going back to last game in Detroit, before the game, it was announced in the press box that either RB Kendall Gaskins or RB DuJuan Harris would start at running back. So, at what point do you decide that RB Jarryd Hayne’s the starter and what will be the case this week?
“That’s a good question. Again, trying to be honest with you as we’ve gone through, I think it’s now 10 different running backs that we’ve tried to ramp up for a game. Everyone has a learning curve that’s different. We were impressed by the short learning curve that Shaun Draughn had. You take a guy like Jarryd Hayne, who was on the practice squad but had been around, just like Kendall Gaskins. And more importantly, I think during the course of a practice week you want to define what a player’s attributes are and what his role is in a particular game. So we know, and think back in the second quarter, Kendall had a really kind of a bruising run. He’s one of the bigger runners that gets behind his pads. He also does the same in pass protection. Jarryd, we really like. He’s kind of got that swivel-hip style. Somehow makes people miss. His pads are more upright, you get a little bit worried that he’s going to get his block knocked off going so high through the line of scrimmage. But, he’s kind of got a knack for that. We like some of the backs in a matchup pass-wise. Jarryd’s got really good hands. And then DuJuan, you start with the run game and DuJuan was quickly oiled up on the run game, but probably protection-wise and route-wise, was not quite where maybe Shaun was when he came in that first week or what the guys who had been here all training camp were. So, to be specific to the answer of the question, what are these guys’ attributes? What are the plays that are going to be part of that opening sequence? We felt like Jarryd was probably going to be the best fit for that. But, by the third play of the game, we knew we wanted to run the ball and DuJuan was in for the third-and-one run that was a nice pop. That was his first play for us. And we kind of knew that. [Running backs coach] Tom [Rathman] does a nice job rotationally. Who gets the start is probably not as important as who’s getting the playing time and all of them got playing time.”
With C Marcus Martin returning to practice, how urgent are you to potentially get him back on the field versus maybe give T Trent Brown another start at right tackle?
“You know, another guy that stepped in and really started the game excellent and played a really good first half was Trent. And like a lot of guys, you get a little tired, you get a little fatigued, the concentration, the 60-minute game is such that you can see Trent start to lose some wind in his sails a little bit. But, he did a great job on the first start. In terms of Marcus, we see him as such a great swing guy. He’s played center, he can play guard. But as he ramps back up and gets back into the flow of things, we also like the continuity. [G/T] Erik [Pears] was brought in to probably play guard. He’s probably a better guard than tackle. So, at some level, you want to stay with continuity. That’s the one thing we’ve lacked with all of the people rolling in and out. So, again, as we sit here Thursday, finishing up walk-thru and we still have two practices left, I really think that we’ll probably stay with continuity. And then we’ll see where Marcus is at. That takes less pressure than ‘Marcus you hop back in and become the starting guard’ or whatever that may be. Instead, stay with continuity, let Marcus come along and then we’ll see where they are by Friday, Saturday.”
From the time you started working with Jarryd to where he is now, where would you say he’s made the most strides?
“You know, it’s quite remarkable. We got a little frustrated with him. The very first drive on that third down play, there was a pass interference on [WR] Torrey Smith. Jarryd was so excited to run his route. We got the matchup we wanted on a linebacker. ‘Remember now Jarryd, all you’ve got to do is go up into five-yards and break out, you’ll be right there for a touchdown.’ He didn’t even get back to the line of scrimmage and he was breaking out. He was so excited to be playing. That first drive he made a very nice run on a power play. His protection, again, I think that’s where the language of football is so different. We have odd fronts and even fronts and then Tom will get into spinner fronts and rat looks and overloads and KC looks, all the different things that a defense can do. And for Jarryd, who’s not played any college football, not played any high school football, to come in and play at the top level is really quite a remarkable story. And he’s been productive and I think he’s got a great upside. A full offseason and I think it’s important that he did play in the game, kind of got a sense of that game tempo. And so, the corrections that you can make, say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to remember to climb into the guy now. You’ll have a chance, you just got a little bit anxious.’ Those are common kind of rookie mistakes. But, it’s really remarkable when he really didn’t have any other football background other than that. So, we’re really excited to have Jarryd and I think he was excited to be out there too.”
Are there any comps for him that you can look at and say that’s the kind of player he can become?
“I don’t know if there is or not. I know the Jets had an Australian rules player that was kind of a tight end type. But, Jarryd is an elite athlete. He kind of wants to touch the ball and that’s unique because you want the guy touching the ball to be one of your best playmakers. And if you think back to all the positive things he did in the preseason. He had the big run again Houston the very first series he was in there. He had the big run against Dallas. And then, we put him into that situation in Detroit where he does get the start and he has, I think it was a 14-yard run to help us on the first drive. He doesn’t back away from or kind of have to ease into the game. He’s excited to be out there and he’s making plays. I also think that with experience because of reps, I think he’ll become a really dynamic special teams player on both sides of the ball. I think he can run, I think he’s big, I think he’s hard to block. I think that as he works on fielding punts, I think he’s going to be a really exciting player to watch moving forward and we really like him. But, like any young player, you need to correct in a positive way. If you think back, that was probably a precursor on that first drive where he didn’t go deep enough for the play in the fourth quarter. Again, he rushed the route. Was he open? Did he catch it? Those are all really good, but his sense of timing, the game hasn’t slowed down yet for him. He’s so excited to be out there, but like a lot of young players, they’ve got to stay with their technique and kind of slow their heartbeat down just a little bit so that they can really fit. But, he doesn’t fit a certain label. We look at ‘Hey, he’s a third down back,’ or ‘He’s a possession receiver,’ or ‘He’s a special teams maven.’ All of those labels we want to find to define him, but he’s kind of outside that, he’s kind of an outlier in that because he can carry the ball, he can catch the ball, he can run. And so, we’ll just have to wait and see where it goes. But, he’s probably outside a small shoebox of ‘We’ll label him as a third down back.’”
What’s your level of interaction been with QB Colin Kaepernick since he came back to do his rehab?
“Colin, his number one responsibility of course is to get healthy and that’s the most important thing. And then he’s in the meetings when he can when it doesn’t conflict, like all the IR guys. So, I would say a little bit like [RB] Reggie Bush who’s in the same scenario. You run into them in locker room. You see them more in the training room or how hard they’re rehabbing, even we’re walking to a meeting and they’re already going out to the weight room. So, you know, you’re just ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ ‘How you doing?’ And I would say that’s true of most of the, especially veterans who are on injured reserve. They kind of know the drill. We like our rookies to be kind of on task and learning the system. Veterans, I think they know the system. So, it’s been good to run into him. This morning when we had the team meeting, for example, was the last time I saw him and it’s where you see him normally.”
Because he’s a vet, he might not be super active in those–?
“I think the number one things that vets know is get healthy. Same thing, I think [T] Joe Staley Tuesday had a stomach flu, one of those things. OK, Joe’s not out for the walk-thru. Now, if it’s a rookie and you’re a little concerned, if Trent Brown had the same stomach flu, you might have him wrapped up in a towel and a little pale next to him, but you kind of want him out near the walk-thru. And if that’s rude, I’m just trying to be honest with you. With Joe, it’s like ‘Go home and get some rest. Make sure you drink your Gatorade and Saltine crackers.’ So, that’s probably where it’s at, is that the young guys, you kind of want to make sure that you’ve got your thumb on them a little bit more and that they’re paying attention. The veterans, they’re a veteran for a reason. They’ve gone through the battles and we hope that they get healthy.”