This is the transcript of Jim O’Neil’s Week 17 press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
“Good morning. It was good to get the win. Made Christmas a little bit merrier for a lot of people. I thought that it was a good win for our guys. They’ve worked hard week in and week out and it was good that they could get rewarded for how hard they’ve worked and how much they’ve given. I thought defensively we had two huge turnovers in that game. To start the game, the interception from [CB Tramaine] Brock set up a touchdown by our offense and then obviously the walk-off interception at the end by [CB] Rashard [Robinson] was awesome. I thought that the guys did a really good job executing the game plan in the run and pass game and then I thought it was one of our better fundamental games as a defense. I thought that we tackled better. I thought guys played with better eye discipline. Our pad level was good. So, just the things that we’ve been preaching week in and week out as a coaching staff to the guys I thought really showed up on Saturday. Questions?”
You talk about the Rashard Robinson interception. He was saying after the game that you helped set that up with whatever you called. Can you kind of get into that and how you helped put him in the right position for that?
“The way we kind of taught it, and [defensive backs] coach [Jeff] Hafley did a great job all week with those guys, is we were able to set a trap on that play and the safeties did a really good job disguising pre-snap. They showed a middle-closed look which invited the ball one-on-one coverage on the outside and the way it played out Rashard had help on the inside so it allowed him to really jump the route and he did a heck-of-a job. It was a really nice catch on his part. He got both feet in bounds. So, it was a good football play all around. There was some good scheme involved and then obviously execution on the player’s end.”
Is that something you can do a little bit more readily with a rookie quarterback back there that just hasn’t seen those types of traps as much in the past?
“We try to go into every game in obvious passing situations with some. I mean, we’ve been close to stealing a lot of balls. Sometimes you set a trap and the ball goes to the other side of the field. But, we were just fortunate that the ball went where we wanted it to go and we were able to make a play.”
From day one when you got him, he hadn’t played much, hadn’t played in a long time in fact. How has he grown and where do you think he is now, Rashard?
“I think he’s done a really good job each week. I think I told you guys coming out of the draft, we were really excited about his level one skills. So, when I say level one, I’m talking about his press man coverage skills and just how he’s developed, just his football knowledge, his note taking ability in the meetings. He works every day on improving how to play off-man coverage. His eye discipline and lowering his target. He still gets his hands up a little high and has some contact into the facemask which we got called a couple times on Saturday for. But, he’s really grown as this season’s gone on and if he keeps going he’ll have a very bright future in this league and he can be a very, very good man coverage corner.”
And the confidence has never been an issue with him?
“No. He does not lack confidence. It’s good because he’s one of those guys that, you hate to have to speed guys up. He’s not one of those guys. You’ve got to kind of slow him down sometimes and those are the guys that you like to coach.”
What do you mean by that?
“He’s going to go all out in everything that he does. You’d rather have to pull a guy back then have to continually, ‘Hey, come on now. Let’s go. You shoot your gun here or you can go make a play here.’ He’s going to go do that.”
One reason he was still around in the fourth round was because of the issues at LSU and all that. Character-wise and work-wise, it sounds like you’ve had no issues with him?
“No. He’s been outstanding. When we did the evaluation it was a pure football evaluation and I saw him rating-wise a lot higher than where he got drafted. Obviously, there were some other things that went into it and then since I’ve known him and have gotten around him, he’s been unbelievable. He loves football and it starts there. When you get a young player that loves football, the rest of it’s easy.”
You guys have played two games against the Rams, won them both. Your defense has pretty much called the shots in both of those games. Is there a matchup there, does your personnel match up well against the Rams or why is it do you think that those two games have been kind of the anomaly?
“I don’t know. We’ve had two very different game plans. We’ve been very different personnel-wise the first time we played them to the second time. They haven’t changed all that much. They lost the fullback and obviously the different quarterbacks. But, obviously [Los Angeles Rams RB] Todd Gurley’s a really good running back. You’ve got to plan for him. [Los Angeles Rams WR] Tavon Austin they do a lot of different things with. So, you’ve got to have a good plan for him and then we felt like we had to have a good plan for [Los Angeles Rams WR] Kenny Britt. He’s really developed as the season’s gone on. So, there were different points in that game where we’ve got to make sure the double’s on Britt this play, we’re loading the box to stop Gurley, this play we’re conscious of Tavon Austin on all the jet sweep stuff or some of the underneath option stuff. So, you just kind of play the game and our guys have done a really good job executing in the eight quarters that we’ve played against them.”
Can you talk about DL DeForest Buckner, specifically playing with low leverage, low pad level and the difference that you’ve seen from him coming into training camp as to today?
“Yeah. His progression’s been awesome. It really has been. We’ve talked all year long about it. Early on, he had to learn how to get his pads down and now you see him dominating at the line of scrimmage and knocking guys back instead of stalemating or at times getting knocked back. You’ve seen the progression of him as far as a pass rusher from the start of the season to now. He actually called his shot on his sack. He radioed up to me, ‘Coach, give me a shot at this guard.’ So, I gave him a four-man front rush on the next third down and he called it. He beat him and got a sack. So, that was pretty cool. I mean, a rookie saying, ‘I can beat this guy. On third down, give me a shot at him,’ and we did and he came through on it. I don’t know how he’s not going to be considered for the defensive rookie of the year. If you look at his numbers compared to every defensive tackle in this league, he leads the NFL in tackles for all defensive tackles. He’s at the top in sacks. He’s played the most plays of any defensive tackle in the NFL. I think he’s done an unbelievable job. And for such a young guy, he’s the ultimate professional and again, another guy that just loves football. When you get around guys that love football and they want to be around it and they want to grow, they’re easy to coach. And I think [defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro] Azz and [assistant defensive line coach Vince Oghobaase] Vinnie, our two D-Line coaches, have done an unbelievable job with him this year developing him.”
Were you surprised at how high his motor goes all the time considering he’s playing so many snaps?
“It’s very rare, especially for a guy that big. It’s very, very rare and that’s one of the things that we really liked about him when we evaluated him off of college tape.”
ME: You said a couple of weeks ago that you transitioned more from a two-gap to a one-gap defensively. How has that helped DeForest Buckner in particular, or has it?
“Well, I think DeFo’s got the skill set that he can do both. Where it’s really helps is it’s helped our inside backers some. That’s why we did it. [LB] NaVorro Bowman and [LB] Ray-Ray [Armstrong] were really good guys at rocking back and they could play off those defensive linemen when they were two-gapping. We felt like we’d help [LB] Nick Bellore, [LB] Mike [Wilhoite] and [LB] Gerald [Hodges] a little bit more by going to more of a single-gap and that allowed us to get guys like [DL] Ronnie Blair more involved and that kind of stuff. So, it wasn’t anything for DeFo. I think he can thrive in both systems. It was more to help out our other personnel. Anything else? Alright guys. Thank you. You guys have been awesome to work with all year. So, have a good new year. Happy holidays.”