Harbaugh on Justin Smith: “God willing and the creek don’t rise, he’s going to play.”

SANTA CLARA – Jim Harbaugh spoke in the media tent Wednesday afternoon. Here’s a transcript of his press conference, courtesy of the 49ers.

 

Have you made a decision on your kicker yet?

“No. Not one that we’ll have made or announce yet.”

 

Will you not announce it until an hour and a half before the game?

“That’s possible.”

 

I was on a conference call with former 49ers QB Steve Young a little while ago and he was speaking to the importance of kind of getting after Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. And the quote he gave was “Aaron Rodgers will beat you if he’s protected.” What do you make of that?

“Well, there’s a lot of evidence for that statement. I think the biggest issue that everybody faces, or task, is it’s extremely hard to get pressure on him. There are times that you could have a free rusher and before he can get across the line of scrimmage Aaron Rodgers has already got the ball out. So, I think there’s a lot of evidence for what he said.”

 

WR Michael Crabtree’s production lately has really gone up. Do you spectate that he’s just playing better? Is the system changing to get him more open? What do you credit to his production going so high?

“He’s a very good player. This isn’t a new or recent thing really in my mind. He’s got a lot of skill. He’s very productive. And he loves to compete.”

 

Why is the ball going to him more?

“Why is?”

 

Is it the quarterback? Is it that he’s getting more open? Is it?

“It’s not the first time balls have gone to him, or he’s caught balls or made big plays. This is something he’s done for the better part of his career.”

 

Last week K David Akers talked about the double-hernia surgery that he had in February and sort of aggravating that. Do you believe he’s healthy enough to kick?

“I do. I go off of what David says.”

 

Did you notice late in the season did it seem like he wasn’t striking the ball as well as he had earlier?

“He had gone back, back East and saw the doctor who did the surgery. And I can’t jump into his body and say what percentage he is, or isn’t. But, like a lot of football players, there are things they work through this time in the season.”

 

But as a coach who’s evaluating your kicker, does it look like he’s striking the ball well? Especially in that last game against the Cardinals?

“Yeah. Yeah, I think a lot of times he has made really good kicks on the ball and they’ve gone in. And the other times he’s made very good hits on the ball and it just missed. So far, so good. He’s had a very good week this week and last week.”

 

DT Justin Smith, yesterday defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said it would be up to him whether he plays and all that stuff. Will the doctor have the input also? I’m thinking kind of a Redskins QB Robert Griffin III situation where people were saying maybe he shouldn’t have played and then the doctors should be consulted. I assume the doctors have been consulted, but how does that?

“Yeah, the doctors are always consulted. And the player knows his body the best, but the doctors have final decision. They’re not going to just let a guy go out and play if he can’t protect himself, or could severely make it worse than what it already is. That’s a general rule of thumb. I think what Vic also said is that’s not something that’s in his hands. That’s not something that we as coaches pretend to try to be in somebody else’s body, or that we have our medical degree either.”

 

Does he ready to you from what you’ve seen?

“Yeah, I think he seems ready. I do.”

 

With K Billy Cundiff, what reports did you get about how he kicked at Candlestick the other day?

“It was a good experience to get up there and for him to kick on that surface. And Billy’s coming along, doing a good job.”

 

The pictures at least from his time out there, the turf did not look very good. And the turf didn’t seem too good in your last game. Are you concerned about the Candlestick turf for this game?

“From what I’ve been told is new turf was put down three weeks ago. That comes from our general manager who says that, and says the field’s going to be in good shape.”

 

Did you think it was OK for the last game?

“I thought it was OK, yeah. It’s not like it is in September. Most grass fields tend to not be as lush in the winter months.”

 

Some coaches look at kickers as a necessary evil. The rest of the game here’s these guys running out here and kicking the game. Former Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian said I’m going to go kick a touchdown, etc. Guys laugh at him. How do you approach place kicking?

“Who said?”

 

Garo Yepremian.

“Oh, Garo Yepremian. Yeah, I know Garo Yepremian.”

 

He said I’m going to go kick a touchdown. So, guys don’t even know what’s going on. But, it drives some coaches crazy. I’m just wondering. How do you look at kicking, placekicking?

“We look at kickers as football players.”

 

Another kicking question for you. Obviously you have Cundiff who could possibly be kicking for you in the playoffs. He missed a significant playoff kick last year for your brother’s team. Did you talk to him, your brother, just kind of get where he is with his psyche, mentally? How he recovered from missing that kick?

“I think like a competitor would, like a football player would. Ready for another opportunity. Ready to compete.”

 

Did you talk to your brother about that specifically?

“That kick specifically?”

 

Yeah.

“No. That’s what I’ve seen though, by his actions.”

 

You mentioned last time that QB Colin Kaepernick was picking up the gameplan savant-like, or however you used that. Have you seen that progressively? Is it way ahead of where he’s been in the past?

“It’s been extremely good. And when we talked the other day that was early in the week and I think he’s progressing very well, very ‘on it.’ And the focus has been very good. And I can really say that with all our players. It’s a very ‘what do we have to do? What’s my job? What do I have to do?’ And they’re kind of on the edge of their seat wanting that information. I’d say for the whole team.”

 

What have you seen out of WR Randy Moss as the playoffs are getting closer and considering all his experience in the playoffs has he shared with the team some of that?

“Yes he has. He has. Some of the other guys on the team have done that as well. I think those are just personalizing it from one conversation to the next. Guys, first and second-year players who might not have been in the playoffs, they wonder what it’s like. They hear a lot of people say what it’s like. But, to actually talk to guys that have been there and played in those battles, it’s good to hear from them.”

 

And how do you assess how Randy has performed up to this point all season?

“Very well.”

 

But, in terms of on the field and on the field?

“Yeah, I think it’s been A-plus.”

 

Who else shared their playoff stories besides Randy?

“In front of the whole team so far there’s been T Joe Staley. There’s been TE Vernon Davis. And there will be others to come. And Randy, Randy was another one who talked to the team.”

 

I just wanted to ask, as far as open-field tackling. I know that could be important with Green Bay’s pension for throwing short passes. Is the tackling where you want it to be right now?

“Where we want it to be right now, today, Thursday? Or lately? It’s a pretty high level what this team has done in terms of tackling when you look at – did we have one missed tackle in the game? Yes, we did. Did we have two? Yes. And that’s the standard that this team has set. They’ve been an outstanding tackling defense and special teams. So, it’s a high bar. We’ve been very pleased with the way our team tackles.”

 

When Justin Smith was initially injured, a day or two after you said you thought he was going to be roping and riding and ready to go. At that time, did you not know the severity of the injury? Or did you think he’d be able to play through it?

“At the time I did know the severity of it and felt that with the brace, he would be able to play with what he had. Now, again you’re not in somebody else’s body. There are strength issues. There has been significant improvement since that time.”

 

To a fan wondering if he’s going to play it sounds somewhat encouraging that you almost a month ago thought he was capable maybe. Is that accurate?

“Mmhm.”

 

What is the percentage of the tear?

“I’m not going to get into the specifics of it. I never really like to do that. I think if a player wants to share that information, then so be it. We’ll turn in the information that we’re required to and leave it at that.”

 

Is the brace designed so that he doesn’t fully extend his arm and therefore the tendon can’t have any more pressure on in? Is it fool-proof as far as the risk of a complete tear?

“At the risk of sounding like I don’t know what I’m talking about, I suggest maybe talking to the brace manufacturer or to one of our medical personnel or trainers.”

 

Will you make those guys available to us?

“Aren’t they available to these guys?”

 

Do you know that he will play?

“Do I know that he will?”

 

Yeah.

“God willing and the creek don’t rise, he’s going to play.”

 

Can you talk about RB Frank Gore real quick, just how his health’s doing going into the game and what role do you expect Frank Gore to play in the game plan.

“I’m sorry, what was the first part of the question?”

 

Frank Gore, how’s his health going into the game? What’s his role in the game plan?

“His role will be what it’s been, a prominent player in the game.”

 

With all the success the Packers have had the last few years, it seems like Mike McCarthy doesn’t get a ton of attention compared to some NFL coaches. Besides having a great quarterback, what can you consistently expect from a Mike McCarthy offense or a Mike McCarthy team?

“Well as a team, they’ve been consistently good. The best team in the National Football League over the last number of years. So offensively, consistently the best. Defensively, right there, the best. Special teams, the same. So, they have great coaching. They have great talent. They play tremendous as a team and they have guys step up when others are injured. They do the things that all teams aspire to be, which is not just consistent, but consistently good.”

 

Are you a Tennessee Ernie Ford fan?

“Tennesse Ernie Ford?

 

Yes.

“Who isn’t?”

 

You quoted him a minute ago.

“I did? [laughing]

 

God willing and the creek don’t rise?

“That was Tennessee Ernie Ford? I thought that was Jack Harbaugh.”

 

Could I ask you something out of left field, I know you had Willie Mays, I know you were really psyched about Muhammad Ali and Willie Mays and the like. Baseball writers just voted nobody in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Barry Bonds got only 36 percent of the votes. Do you have any thoughts on performance enhancing drugs, how that impacts whether somebody should get in the Hall of Fame, whether it be football, baseball or anything like that?

“Yeah, I have some thoughts about that, but I have other things to focus on right now. Maybe some other time I express that.”

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