Jim O’Neil: “Part of our issue early was we were really playing without a true nose tackle.”

SANTA CLARA — This is the transcript of Jim O’Neil’s Week-11 press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.


Opening comments:

“It was a tough loss on Sunday to Arizona. I thought our guys played really hard. I thought we took a step as a defense in some areas. I thought we tackled better. We did a good job executing the scheme. I thought some guys made some big time plays for us and then obviously our ability to get four turnovers always helps us or puts us in position to win a football game. We’ve got to keep building on those areas, continue to take steps and that should help us, going forward, win a couple football games, especially this week. It’ll be big that we continue to do those things. Questions?”


Obviously, the big thing was you guys handled the run a lot better against a pretty good running team. What do you attribute that to?

“I thought we tackled better and then I thought our guys did a good job up front getting knock back at the line of scrimmage. We did a good job getting off blocks. Like we’ve been talking about all year, there was no magical call or no magical personnel change. We just did a good job executing the scheme.”


Is that something you emphasized to your front guys to try to get up the field more than they had in the past?

“That’s something we emphasize every practice, every meeting, every minute since I’ve been here. So, they did a great job with it this week. It’s a tribute to them.”


Does that seem though that DT DeForest Buckner and DL Arik Armstead before him were more absorbing through the first eight games than attacking?

“We didn’t change anything, like I said. So, [defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro] Azz’s individual drills didn’t change last week from the first nine weeks of the year. So, they’ve been doing the same thing week in and week out. Again, they just did a better job executing and playing good team defense.”


Coming out of the Saints game, DT Quinton Dial acknowledged that he had taken a misstep on that long touchdown. He was obviously bothered by that. Did you see him step up his game, for lack of a better term, in Arizona?

“Yeah, I thought he was really solid in the run. He was one of the guys, I mean, I thought he did a good job knocking guys back and giving our linebackers a chance to scrape clean to the ball over the top, ate two blockers and he was part of the reason that we were able to have some success in the run game this past Sunday.”


DL Glenn Dorsey has probably been the rock in the last game. You guys have had some trouble up the middle. How much of an impact has he made, making his teammates around him, especially on the defensive ends, better?

“He’s been outstanding the past two weeks and I think part of our issue early was we were really playing without a true nose tackle. We tried to cover it up with Buckner. We tried to cover it up with Quinton Dial. But, those guys are more four-technique ends for us and now that Dors is feeling better and starting to turn the corner from his injury, it’s been a big help for us and he’s playing really good football right now, at least he has the past two weeks, and we’re hoping that as the season goes on he continues to take steps because he’s a guy that can definitely help us.”


That was more of an injury thing than a coaching decision not playing him?

“What’s that?”



“We played him whenever he was ready, but there were some weeks where the knee was bothering him early. It was never a decision on us where we didn’t want to play Dors with the kind of football player he is. No. It’s just, it took him a little longer than I thought, than probably what anybody thought, to just feel good and get back from that knee and now he’s starting to do that and you can see what’s happening on the field with him.”


What do you need to see out of your secondary against New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, maybe that they couldn’t do against New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees or Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer?

“I just want to see them keep competing, keep fighting, keep executing. If you’re playing with leverage, keep your leverage. If you’re press, put your hands on them. If you’re off, stay in your pedal, have good eye discipline. Communicate. Just the same things we always preach.”


And just the thoughts on going against Brady as well? What does he pose just in terms of the accuracy, how he likes to play the game?

“Yeah. Obviously, he’s a really good quarterback. They’ve got a lot of weapons around him. He’s been in the same system for a really long time. So, they have answers for everything. He gets them in the right plays. He’s not a guy that you’re going to trick or fool. He gets the ball out fast. So, there’s not a lot of deficiencies in his game.”


It seemed like on Sunday there were some really fantastic catches made by the Cardinals receivers. Was it necessarily that your guys were playing poorly or were outplayed? It seemed like a lot of times they were where they needed to be and–.

“Some people say they have the best wide receiving corps in the NFL. Those guys made some plays. I thought our DBs made some plays at times. That’s what the NFL is all about is guys making plays and usually when you have guys making plays on both sides of the ball, you get what you get. The ball comes down to the last possession of the football game. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make one more play.”


When you face big, physical tight ends, they might be without New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, but how do you balance trying to win with positioning, maybe someone who’s faster who can get leverage correctly versus someone who’s strong and can maybe displace them off routes?

“Yeah. You’ve got to do a good job playing to your leverage and then you’ve just got to do a great job being violent at the reception point. If it is a high ball, you’ve got to get off the ground first, try to beat them to the spot. But, it’s a challenge. Their tight ends are huge.”


There was a healthy debate whether DB Jimmie Ward had a good game or not. I guess he had some penalties but was really aggressive. Do you want to see him continue to play that way or does he need to clean things up?

“We want everybody across the board to be aggressive. You never want to say, ‘Yeah, I’m OK with penalties.’ But, if guys are being aggressive and you get a penalty, you’ve got to live through some of that stuff. Where you don’t want to get penalties is third-and-long. We had a chance in that game on a third-and-long play where Jimmie had a defensive holding penalty and we gave them a first down. We would have been off the field and probably gave our offense the ball at the 50-yard line or in plus territory. So, that one hurt. There was another penalty or two where he was doing exactly what he was coached to do. I wouldn’t change anything.”


Did you felt he had a good game or a bad game?

“Jimmie? I liked the way he competed.”


ME: Is LB Nick Bellore your best option to cover running backs on passing downs?

“Depends on the call. There’s things we do to try to get Nick off the backs and then there’s, in certain defenses he’s got to cover backs, he’s got to cover tight ends. So, it just depends on what the call is.”


Arik Armstead posted on social media he had surgery today. Now that he’s done, can you say how much, obviously he just had shoulder surgery, I assume he was affected by that during the season, but can you say how much maybe it did affect him as he tried to play through that?

“Yeah. It clearly did. I mean, you guys were here all throughout training camp and spring and I think everybody saw the playmaking ability he had in the run and pass game and then when the shoulder kind of went on him or he lost strength in that, he wasn’t the same player. I do credit the kid for trying to fight through it and try to play to the best of his ability to help his teammates out, but he clearly wasn’t the guy that he was in spring and in training camp that as a staff we felt would be a Pro Bowl, All-Pro type difference maker for our defense.”


ME: In retrospect, on the Cardinals final drive when they were on third-and-eight, they went empty and threw the pass to Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson, would you have liked to call timeout and match up differently or do tip your hat and take that–?

“No, I thought it was a good play call. They were in a pretty good situation where they could run or pass the ball. They were probably three or four yards away from where the percentages of their field goal kicker went way up. So, I was erring on the side of run there. You go small and then they run the ball and then, so, I’m not a guy that’s going to look back and second guess myself. The play call was the play call and they did a good job and they executed. We still had a chance to win on that play.”


What are the keys to defending a quarterback and receiver corps that have such good chemistry in terms of how they evaluate body language and running option routes? What are the keys for your defense?

“I think the thing that they do and what they’ve done such a good job of for however many years is they do a great job executing. To win on plays and beat this team, you’ve got to out-execute them.”


Were you pleased to see LB Eli Harold make the play he did in the red zone?

“Yeah. It was a second effort, exceptional play by him. The play got extended. We had really good coverage on the play. Eli took an outside rush, Carson stepped up and he was relentless with how he went after the quarterback. It was a great sack-strip. It’s something we work on every day at practice and it was good to see it show up on the football field.”


Do you feel like that’s a degree of monkey-off-the-back for him?

“For Eli? Maybe. I’m sure it’s always good to get your first one, in anything in life. But, yeah, I’m sure it was good for him to get his first sack.”


A note that your guy’s holding play against the Saints, the NFL said that’s not going to work anymore, the Saints just before halftime when you held their receivers.



The NFL I guess has said that that’s not going to be allowed anymore. Do you have any thoughts on that? It seemed like a smart play, and did you know the NFL said that’s not OK?

“I don’t know why our DBs held on that play. I think one thing that we try to do a great job of is situational football. That was a special situation that might only come up once every three years. For us, it’s happened twice already this year. You guys just didn’t catch the first one. But, we train our guys and we work hard on those situations and you hope you don’t have to use them but if they change the rules then we’ll adjust.”


It looked like it came up on Sunday too.

“It did not come up for us on this Sunday.”


Was there too much time left?

“Too much time. They had a timeout.”

This article has 34 Comments

  1. O’Neil – “…part of our issue early was we were really playing without a true nose tackle…”

    If that truly was the case, why not change the defensive scheme to fit the attributes of the players who were healthy enough to play?

    Isn’t that part of coaching? Evaluation and utilization of personnel!!!!!!!!

  2. Been saying all along that a major part of the problem was that Dial is not suited to play NT. And while you can blame the coaches for not adjusting better (which I agree with), who did Baalke provide as a backup NT? I forget exactly, but I believe that Williams was already penciled out by the time FA began. There was no attempt to bring in a FA NT. You guys have a better memory than me, but weren’t there some pretty good NTs available in FA: Wilfork for example? And NTs aren’t typically expensive.

    1. Baalke talks out of one hole and craps out of the other. “I’m a firm believer in building from the inside out, and being strong in the middle of the field”. Meanwhile he’s ignored the true NT and C positions….

    2. Well, they had signed Williams to a long term deal then found out he was injured. I don’t know if they knew all along how serious that injury was. If they did, and knew he wouldn’t play all year, then yeah, big question marks around what they were thinking.

          1. Too light, and consequently he’s prone to injury. Not his natural position. He can play it, don’t get me wrong, but he wasn’t a true NT at ND and he really isn’t built to be one. His strength coming out was his quickness, not what you’re looking for in a NT. That’s just me, Scooter….

            1. He was a NT in college. And while he is officially listed at 305lbs, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a little heavier than that when in playing shape (he was 320lbs at the combine).

              This was the scouting report on him from NFL.com:

              “Williams is recovering from a torn MCL suffered during his senior season, but he is a quality run stopper that could be an effective two-down specialist. He is near impossible to move when he gets in good position, as he is very strong and has a thick compact body. He is also a hard worker that never gives up on the play. He can be a very stout run stopper, but he is not athletic or technically refined enough to contribute in the pass rush. Williams is a one dimensional player, but he is human hole plugger and should get picked late.”

              He’s always been a good NT. I agree his quickness is an asset, but its just one of the attributes that makes him a good NT. And it has also enabled him to develop into a decent pass rusher for a NT.

              1. Players that come to mind as a true NT. Wilfork 325lbs(more like 345), Knighton 355lbs, Who ate Gilbert Brown, 340lbs….

  3. Grant..you have made it clear you do not believe in Kelly or his coaching staff,but do you think a successful coach could come in here and win with Baalke running the roster?And what’s up with all the leaks?It’s been awfully quite in S.C..This is about the normal time for the leaks to start coming out wouldn’t you say?Could it be nothing changes at all and everyone is with held?The fact that Jeds buddy Paraag is no longer in the building and we’ve heard no leaks is very telling to me

  4. Kelly said it earlier and now O’neil, “there was no magical call or no magical personnel change. We just did a good job executing the scheme.” Were they talking to you Grant? lol

      1. They do seem rather defensive don’t they? Kelly and now O’Neil going out of their way to say nothing was changed.

        In their defense, I will say a lot of what they did formation wise was the same, but there was definitely a change in alignment and gap splits.

          1. I wonder how your spell check replaced “irrelevant” with “weak”?

            There are plenty of other shortcomings to worry about. This isn’t one of them.

        1. I noticed that they have dropped the term- Gap, from their vocabulary. Brent Jones, however, was all over the term- Gap Integrity.

            1. Brent also mentioned having a 45 mil lion dollar less talented team and wondering why everyone is surprised at a 1-8 record.

              1. Seb,

                What do you think the record would be had they used up all the cap space to sign players? 3-6? Maybe 4-5?

                As painful as these last two seasons have been, I’d rather the 49ers keep their FA powder dry as long as possible, get an infusion of high draft pick talent (with the picks made by a non-Baalke GM, going forward), using the minimum required cap space to re-sign players and add FA judiciously, then, when the roster is build up a bit, make a splash in FA.

                Of course, this is based on the assumption that the 49ers will have a competent FO. If Jed York doesn’t wise up and abdicate control of all football decisions, chances for the team’s success will be seriously compromised.

              2. Well, if they had outbid the Raiders for Sean Smith, they would not have had to use their third and fourth round picks on a CB.

                After Redmond, the next 12 draft picks were Yannick Ngakoue DE, Bronson Kaufusi DE, Darien Thompson S, Jonathan Bullard DT, Kenyan Drake RB, Keivalrae Russel CB, Shilique Calhoun De, Shon Colman OT, Daryl Worley, CB, Joe Thuney OG, Isaac Seumalo OG, and Adolphus Washington DT.

                After Robinson, the next picks were- Kenneth Dixon RB, DAK PRESCOTT QB, Devontae Booker RB, Dean Lowry DE, Seth Devalve TE, Cardale Jones QB and Tajae Sharp WR.

                Players who were also available were- CJ Procise RB, Jacoby Brissette QB, Paul Perkins RB, Connor Cook QB, Joshua Perry ILB, Sheldon Day DT, Hassan Ridgeway DT, Andrew Billings NT, Antonio Morrison ILB and Kevin Hogan QB.

                Yes, there is no guarantee that they would be 8-1, but almost anything is better than 1-8.

              3. Hit ’em – I think you have a better plan than using up the additional CAP on FAs and the parts about Baalke and the FO are right on. I have to ask though, do you think that it is at all smart to start off the spending of the precious rebuilding budget by first signing our political activist/reclamation project we have now at QB for another $14 mil. or so? I say the money can be spent more wisely elsewhere.

  5. “I don’t know why our DBs held on that play. I think one thing that we try to do a great job of is situational football. That was a special situation that might only come up once every three years. For us, it’s happened twice already this year. You guys just didn’t catch the first one. But, we train our guys and we work hard on those situations and you hope you don’t have to use them but if they change the rules then we’ll adjust.”

    …………SERIOUSLY?! ?

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