SANTA CLARA — This is the transcript of Jim O’Neil’s Wednesday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
“I’m excited about the regular season. I thought we had a good training camp. I thought we learned and grew a lot as a defense. I’m excited about the matchup this week against the Rams. They’ve got a very talented roster and I think their offensive coordinator [Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach/offense] Rob Boras is doing a good job schematically with those guys, so it’ll be a great challenge for our defense.”
Have you seen DL Glenn Dorsey, has he been practicing? What do you envision his role to be?
“It’s still probably a little too early in the week to tell, but he has been able to do a little bit more over the past couple of weeks. These next couple of days will be huge for him.”
Seven-on-seven stuff? Has he gotten into full practices to this point?
“Not in full team drills yet, no.”
And what about DL Arik Armstead, where is he going to be as to practice being handled?
“Again, it’s early in the week, so that’s something that we’re going to monitor as the week goes on. Again, he’s a guy that’s done a little bit more over the past couple of weeks, so hopefully 48 hours from now we’re feeling pretty good about it.”
With eight defensive linemen and five inside linebackers, it looks like you’ll have the possibility to rotate along that defensive front, figuring teams might want to run the ball and control the tempo. Is that sort of your thinking with the numbers at that position, those positions?
“That might be a great question for [general manager] Trent [Baalke]. I think the way they went about it is they were kind of locked into some numbers to get to the 46 and then I think they just kept the best players that they could from there. I think that was their philosophy. I think that’s a great philosophy, that way you don’t get so locked into numbers and you end up keeping a guy who might not be better than some of the other guys on your 53. If you’ve got eight guys, it’s going to be a tough decision for us each week who’s going to be up on game day and how we’re going to deploy those players.”
Would you expect game days to have a five-man rotation on that defensive line?
“The guys that are up for us are going to play. As far as how many guys are up, we haven’t discussed that yet as a coaching stuff. That’s something that we’ll discuss at the end of the week.”
You talked a lot about rotating guys through during the preseason. Do you feel comfortable that you have a good handle on where everybody’s best fit yet or is that going to just be ongoing all year?
“I think you’re constantly evaluating guys, but yeah I think we’ve got a pretty good picture right now as a defensive staff as far as what we have defensively and how guys fit into this scheme.”
What’s made LB Tank Carradine suited to that outside linebacker spot?
“Say that again.”
What’s made Tank suited to that move to that outside linebacker?
“For us, schematically, he’s a bigger body. He’s put a lot of work into learning the coverage stuff. Very physical on the edge, which will help us set edges in the run game and force the ball back inside. He’s worked real hard at learning the position and then he’s got position flexibility along the front for us in some of the passing situations. So, that’s what we look for when we go find guys in college football. We want those big, physical guys who are heavy handed, can set edges, and at the same time be able to do some drop stuff for us.”
49ers color analyst Tim Ryan spoke during one of the preseason games, he actually compared DL Ronald Blair to Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald. Do you see some similarities in their game and what are your expectations heading into his first season?
“I don’t like to compare players, but I know Aaron Donald’s a hell-of-a football player. That would be great if Ronald Blair could ever get to that level, but Ronnie is different than anything we have along the front. [Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro] Azz does a great job. You can’t coach Ronnie Blair the way you’re coaching [DT] Quinton Dial. They are different players, but Ronnie’s going to be a guy that’s going to make some splash plays for us in the run and pass game. He’s a guy we’re excited about.”
How happy were you to get LB Marcus Rush back on the practice squad and will he put pressure on the other pass rushers if they’re not performing?
“I was surprised that we got him back to be honest with you. When I found out that he was going to be on the practice squad, I was really excited about it because for the next four weeks we have three outside backers and he’s a guy that if we need to we could easily activate him and bring him aboard. He’s a heck-of-a football player. He’s done a hell-of-a job throughout the preseason and he’s a guy that I’ll be shocked if he’s on the practice squad all year.”
What’s the scouting report on DT Taylor Hart, the guy you got from the Eagles?
“I think I figured out Azz’s recruiting philosophy when he went to Oregon. I think he found every D-Linemen that was 6-5 or taller and just recruited those guys and wacked everybody else. But, I’m still getting to know him. I have watched him on tape. He’s a guy that I evaluated when he was coming out of college. Big, physical, strong at the point of attack in the run game, very tough, which we’re always looking for tough guys. That’s how you win late in the season, with tough gritty guys. I’m excited about adding him to the group.”
Do you anticipate it being a pretty seamless transition for him, given his familiarity to Azz?
“I think it’ll be, I don’t think it’ll be seamless because he’s never played in this system. I think he’ll be familiar with Azz and some of the D-Line techniques we use, but schematically some of the terminology will be different for him. He’s got some catching up to do.”
What stands out to you about the Rams?
“I’ll start up front. They are very physical. They have their whole offensive line healthy. In my opinion, they have six really good players. They haven’t been able to play together this preseason, but they are starting to get healthy. The quarterback does a great job getting the ball out of his hands, puts them in a position to win football games. Obviously, [Los Angeles Rams RB] Todd Gurley at running back is a dynamic player. [Los Angeles Rams WR] Tavon Austin is a dynamic player as a receiver, running back, screen guy, down the field. They’ve got a big receiver in [Los Angeles Rams WR] Kenny Britt. They’ve got three tight ends that they roll that all do a good job. So, they are pretty good personnel-wise.”
What did you see from CB Will Redmond from the time you had him on the field and do you think there is a chance you could see him before the year’s over being that you can bring an IR guy back?
“Yeah, I think that’s the plan. Will’s a guy that we were very excited about when we drafted him. We’re still very excited about him. We’ll lean on Ferg and the athletic training staff as far as when he’s fully back and if it’s a situation down the line where we can activate him, I’m sure that that will be a conversation.”
What are those three inside linebackers next to LB NaVorro Bowman separate and how do you kind of plan to go forward with that?
“They’ll all play. We need them all to play. We need all three of them to win. We have a plan right now going into Week 1. I’ll let you guys figure out that plan on Monday night. I’m not going to sit here and tell it to you now. But, we need [LB] Mike Wilhoite, we need [LB] Ray-Ray Armstrong and we need [LB] Gerald Hodges to be a good defense.”
The depth chart yesterday had Armstrong and Hodges kind of “co” and then Wilhoite behind them–?
“I don’t buy into that. Those depth charts are written in sand. So, that’s one package, one personnel group. We could have eight different personnel groups up in any given game. So, I don’t get into that.”
What’s the emphasis for the defense in terms of stopping Gurley?
“Do your job. Takes all 11. You know, just execute.”
Do you have to prepare any differently for a unique skill player like Tavon Austin where they really try to get creative to get him the football, use him in different ways?
“Sure. You’ve got to do some stuff schematically to get guys around him because he is such a dynamic player in space, yeah.”
They use a lot of those kind of ghost sweeps with Tavon to play Tavon off of Gurley. What are some of the challenges trying to defend that?
“They just force you to communicate. You know, if you’re running any type of combo coverage stuff, if he’s running to the other side of the formation, you’ve got to change coverage or if your zone drops on one and now one could become two very quickly. So, it forces you to think a little bit quicker. It’s not the same thing, but it’s kind of similar to some of the up-tempo stuff. Just makes you think and react faster than probably what you want to as a defense.”
Do football coaches ever watch Hard Knocks, especially when you play the team going into Week 1?
“When I was with New York, we were on it. So, I watched it when we were on it. I did not watch Hard Knocks this past year just because I know that the head coach usually has final editing rights and you really don’t get a lot of football stuff out of it. So, some guys on staff have watched it and some of guys on the defensive side of the ball have made some comments about it, but me personally, no.”
Comments along the lines of what they’re doing or–?
“Yeah. Just some stuff that have come up, yeah.”
I know you’re just focused on Week 1, but I think your first six opponents were in the top-10 in rushing last year. Are you aware of the early season challenge there? Are you eager to see what your run defense looks like?
“Absolutely. I’m excited about it.”