Jim Harbaugh spoke to reporters Wednesday in London. Here is a transcript courtesy of the 49ers.
What’s been the biggest challenge thus far in acclimating to The Grove and the situation here?
“Can’t say what the biggest challenge has been. But, it’s a great place to set up camp. Honker down in a great football environment. I think we have everything we need. Great set up here at The Grove, football oasis. So, it’s been a pleasure.”
You’ve stayed on the road before when you’ve played games on the East coast. Does that help with this experience?
“I think so.”
You’ve come here on the back of a four-game win streak. Is a long trip like this kind of a distraction for you guys?
“It does not have to be, no. I think there are many positives. The team really can spend more time together, getting to know each other even better. Everybody’s got a story. A chance to spend time in the rooms at the hotel here, or more time with the coaches to watch tape. You don’t have to drive home. You don’t have to drive into work. You really just come right down the elevator, or the lift. And then practices and meeting rooms are right across, are a short walk to the practice field, weight room, everything centrally located. An opportunity for more positives I believe.”
You mentioned getting to know people. Have you had a chance to get to know something that you didn’t know about one of your players already on this trip?
“Yeah, [S] Bubba Ventrone turned 31 on Monday. And would have never guessed that he was 31. He’s the youngest looking 31-year-old I think I’ve ever come across. Also, [RB] LaMichael James had his 24th birthday yesterday. Had a chance to celebrate those two today.”
Would you say you’re purposely keeping QB Colin Kaepernick in the pocket more this year? Is that a conscious decision from himself?
“No, I wouldn’t say that’s a conscious decision, no.”
Can you talk to us a little bit about the increased production you’ve got at the cornerback position from CB Tramaine Brock over the last four weeks? How pleased are you with what you’ve seen from him?
“Very pleased. Interceptions, scored a touchdown for us in the Texans game. He’s got PBU’s, pass breakups. And he’s also tackled well. He’s had some big tackles on third down that have allowed our defense to get off the field and get the ball back for the offense. So, pleased.”
The defensive unit as a whole, obviously you lost LB Aldon Smith four weeks ago, that’s a lot of production to lose at a defensive end position. As a unit, they’ve seemed to step up?
“Yeah, I think they’re playing very well. Good team defense. As you alluded, I think that’s the key, and some very good individual performances. But, overall they’re playing really good together. And we can get better, too. As you watch the tape, you see the opportunity to improve. And certainly would like to do that.”
What’s the challenge you see from the Jaguars? People would look and say they’re not having a good season. What’s the challenge though that you see that they can pose?
“Many challenges that the Jaguars pose. They’ve been in tight games and especially you look at the Broncos game, it was a two-point game at the end of the third quarter. Defensive line is outstanding. They’ve gotten hits on every quarterback they’ve played. They’ve gotten big hits on [Broncos QB] Peyton Manning, [Colts QB] Andrew Luck, [Seahawks QB] Russell Wilson, all of them. Name a team they’ve played, they’ve gotten to the quarterback. So, that’ll be a challenge for us. They’re really good off the ball up front defensively. And another big challenge is the special teams. Jaguars special teams is outstanding. And they’re a young team in many areas, one in the secondary. But, they fly around. They play with great effort. And those are dangerous teams when you can see them getting better. So, could go on but many challenges. Like every challenge, playing in a game.”
You mentioned the Jaguars special teams. What about your own special teams that sometimes it takes a while for those units to gel. Where are those units in your eyes as far as chemistry and the way they’re playing, coverage units in particular?
“Very good. Talked about it after each of the ball games, especially the last three, four ball games. Special teams are playing very well, coverage units in particular.”
A few years ago, former 49ers LB Blake Costanzo was the unofficial captain of the special teams. Is there somebody that you’ve seen sort of taken a leadership role on those units?
“The guys that are consistently showing up with the outstanding play are [S] C.J. Spillman, Bubba Ventrone, [WR] Kassim Osgood, [CB] Darryl Morris, made two huge plays in this last game. I think he is really coming. The forced fumble that led to our touchdown and also a big tackle on the kickoff coverage unit. Really had the chance to show his speed and just how far he’s come as a football player. And many others have contributed. We’ve talked about them, [LB Nate] Stupar and [LB Dan] Skuta, and [S] Craig Dahl, [RB] Anthony Dixon, some guys that have been real staples on that unit. And they’re gelling right now and they’re playing extremely well.”
Is there a way that you can get Morris and Spillman in there? I mean obviously Morris filled in as a gunner when Spillman moved over to safety, but use both their speeds on those coverage units?
“Yes, and Kassim is also doing an outstanding job. I don’t know if there’s a way to get three gunners in there. I’ll take that back to [assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Brad] coach Seely and put that in the suggestion box.”
Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has a lot of connections to Europe. He’s the longest tenured assistant. When you came onboard, was that a tough decision to retain him? Or I guess what were your initial impressions of him and thoughts on him since you’ve had him on staff?
“When I first got hired, that was two and a half years ago. Interviewed all the coaches and no, it wasn’t a tough decision to hire Jim Tomsula. It was a very easy decision after speaking with him. He’s had a special gift of presence, personality, of teaching ability and that came shining through. I remember that first meeting. And that’s one position I’ve just never had to worry about since I’ve been here as the head coach, is the defensive line position. He’s always got them well coached and ready to play.”
He’s gone through a lot and sacrificed a lot in order to continue coaching. Slept in his car for a while and all sorts of crazy stuff. Did his passion shine through to you, just how much he loves what he’s doing?
“Yes, none of us look at it as a sacrifice though. Coaching is a great honor and a great privilege to be able to coach, to be able to teach and do all the things that make you keener, finer, more alert. If that means sleeping in your car to be a better coach, than by God, that’s what you do. But, yeah he’s got a great love of the game that shows through every day.”
When he said he wanted to bring on DL Lawrence Okoye, did you have any reservations? That here was an amazing athlete, but somebody who had never played the game and his first exposure be at the professional level?
“I was ready for the experiment, yeah. I was excited about the possibilities. And many things struck me about Lawrence, and our coaches, that were exciting. The fact that he was a rugby player, a tough sport that football evolved from, rugby. But, then the fact that he went and started throwing the discus and in two years was at the Olympic level, thought that spoke volumes. And you wanted to see what would it be like if he switched to football and how quickly he could grasp that. There have been some positive sides. Can’t say that I can tell you if it’s going to eventually work. But, he’s on the right track and it’s got possibilities still. So, still excited about it.”
What is he able to do now? Is it just learning? Classroom time and learning?
“Yeah, and rehabbing.”
And what do you see from him just from the study aspect of it? Do you see the game clicking with him upstairs?
“He’s a very bright guy. And he can regurgitate the information, yes. But, as far as still can he translate that to actually playing, we got somewhat of a glimpse of that and there was steady progress. But, we won’t know again until he gets back out there on the field. American football is one of those games you get better at football by playing football. And he’ll need more of that.”
So, the next time he gets on the field will be offseason program?
“Don’t know exactly about that. Not for sure on that.”
What are the other possibilities?
“I’m not exactly sure on the rule when he can get back to playing.”
Sunday’s game is an 0-7 team against a 5-2 team. What are the levels that could make that a close game, as you said a dangerous game? What are the things that you have to guard against on Sunday?
“Everything. You start with what’s the worst possible thing that could happen as you go into every game, and that’s losing the football game. So, you’ve got to work backward from there to the root, which is where we’re at right now. And understand that our preparation is going to put us in the best possible percentage of winning that game. So, that’s in our best interest to get prepared for this football game, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Your ground game took a while to get started this year.
“Did it? [Laughs].”
Was there anything specific that sparked it off recently?
“I think it’s always had a good spark to it.”
It’s an away game for you. With the links that Jim Tomsula and Lawrence have with England, has it helped with the preparation in any way, or do you just treat it as a normal away game and it’s just a well-oiled machine?
“Yeah, it’s helped. I think there are quite a few guys on the team that Lawrence has become a more popular guy on the team. I’ve noticed that. But, yeah the team was here in 2010, so that definitely helps from all aspects. Coaching, operations, logistics, etc.”
Do you have any health updates on S Donte Whitner or S Eric Reid or anybody else?
“I think it’s as we talked about, I don’t know, maybe I didn’t talk to you about this, but I think they’re going to be fine.”
With QB Jay Cutler out for the Bears, what would it take to get you back to quarterback for the Bears to lead them to a championship this year?
“What would it take?”
What would it take?
“It’d just take a call.”
I’m making that call right now.
Last week you activated DL Quinton Dial. Any chance that somebody off one of those reserve lists will be active for the game on Sunday?
“It’s possible. There’s a chance, yeah.”
And who would that be?
“I don’t like predicting.”
Who’s the closest to being game ready?
“The three that are closest are [CB] Eric Wright, [DT] Tank Carradine, and [WR] Mario Manningham.”
Welcome to the UK firstly. And apart from getting the win, what are you looking forward to most for the game at Wembley on Sunday?
“To improve, would be the next thing. Would like to get better. Like to get better as a team, better in all forms and fashions. Our teamwork, our play on the field. And I really thought two percent would be a good goal. If we could improve two percent as a football team this week, but might have underestimated that. I think we might be able to get three percent, or four percent, or maybe even five percent better with the surroundings we have here and the accommodations. This is a football oasis. I’m very excited about it. So, that’s what we’re attacking. That’s what we’ve been attacking the last two days. And we’ll get after it today. Excited to get out on the practice field and see the guys moving around and see if we can’t start chasing those percent improvements.”
And at the end of the week, will you know the exact percentage that you’ve improved? Can I check with you?
“[Laughs] Yeah, you can check there. It’s always readily told on the scoreboard. That’s the great thing about football and sports in general, the scoreboard tells the story. But, we’re excited about it. Excited to be here. Excited for the opportunity and looking forward to great meetings and a great practice. See if we can’t make this the best practice of the year today. I have a question for you. Foyle’s War, is that coming back? Does anybody know anything about that? I just love that show. Watched them all and a big fan, Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks. Did I get that right?”
“I’ve seen them all. Was kind of hoping there was going to be a return of the show. Anybody know?”
“No, it’s not coming back?”
“It’s done, done?”
“That’s too bad. What a shame.”