This is the transcript of Jim O’Neil’s Tuesday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
“We’re off to a great start for the week. Been very impressed with how quickly our players were able to turn the page and get focused on the Arizona Cardinals. They’ve been great in meetings. They’ve been great in the walk-thru. They’re in their tablets, they’re in their iPads [Surfaces] researching the opponent already, studying them. So, that’s all been positive. I’m looking forward to another great practice today. As far as [LB] NaVorro [Bowman], it’s obviously a huge loss for our defense. Any defense would miss his playmaking ability, his presence on the football field. We’re confident in the guys in that room to be able to step up. But, I still see NaVorro being a big part of what we do here as far as his leadership abilities in the classroom with the guys and then his presence in the locker room. So, he’ll continue to take that role for us off the field, but he’s a guy we’ll definitely miss on the field. Questions?”
He’s got such a strong presence on the field and in the locker room. Who takes over that role, sort of being the spirit of the defense? I mean, who do you see who has that ability to do that?
“I think [S] Antoine Bethea is one of those guys. I think [DT] Quinton Dial is one of those guys in the trenches. So, those were the first two that kind of jumped off for me.”
Will LB Nick Bellore start for sure for NaVorro?
“We’re kind of seeing how practice goes, but you know, like I said several times, if you’re on the 53, we’re going to need you. So, it’ll be between Nick, [LB] Mike Wilhoite, [LB] Gerald Hodges and [LB] Shayne Skov.”
How would you assess CB Rashard Robinson? He had a few PBUs and basically held his own in his first start in DB Jimmie Ward’s place. How would you assess his game and what do you look for from him in the future?
“I thought he had a very solid game for his first start. He made two big plays; one down on the goal line, one on a third down on a backside slant and he was able to get a PBU. He still’s got a long way to go as far as technique and growing in the scheme and all that, but we were happy with him as a coaching staff.”
How about in the run game as a tackler? How did he do in that aspect?
“He was fine. There’s no plays that jump off to me where he would have had a negative play because of something.”
Was that a concern at all coming out of LSU when he was so thin framed at that point?
“I think he was thin framed when he got here just because he hadn’t played football in so long and wasn’t at a place where he was going to get three good meals a day. I mean, I think since he’s been here, he’s gained 20 pounds. So, he’s a good size corner.”
ME: How do you plan on improving the run defense?
“I think it starts first with tackling. We’ve got to do a better job and it’s something we did a great job of all through preseason and then the first game of the year and then the last two games, we’ve missed more tackles which has been uncharacteristic of our defense. So, we’ve got to emphasize the heck out of that in practice, just how you finish every play. You’ve got to bend at the end. You’ve got to press the hip. All the coaching points that we constantly give the guys. We’ve got to emphasize it. Even though we’re not hitting in practice, you’ve got to finish every play that way. We did some things the past couple weeks that were uncharacteristic of us technique-wise, especially up front where they were able to cut our defense in half. So, we’ve got to make some improvements there and then I can help the guys play-calling-wise, when we’re getting those fast zones, helping the guys get going in a certain area so we’re not as vulnerable to getting cut back side and some other things. So, it’s something that we’re spending time on and we did a lot of good things but we’re still letting those two or three big plays are getting out of us and that’s what we’ve got to take out of our game.”
Is DL Glenn Dorsey at the point physically where you can move him to the nose and have him take over there?
“Yeah. I think he’s getting to the point where he’s almost back to being 100-percent and that’s something we’ve talked about. But, again, with all of our defensive linemen, we want the ability to play all three positions for us.”
You get LB Aaron Lynch back this week as well. With DL DeForest Buckner in question, how much does that kind of change maybe those packages that you would use with Aaron?
“Again, we want to see how Aaron looks today in practice. I think he did a good job over the suspension getting himself into great shape. He stayed into his playbook, which is clear because just yesterday, some of the things he was able to do communication-wise was positive. So, we’ll see how Aaron looks today out at practice and then we’ll make a decision as a coaching staff what he’ll be a part of in the game plan. And then with DeForest, he’s day-to-day right now and we’re still optimistic for Thursday for him.”
How much tape do you have to watch on Arizona Cardinals QB Drew Stanton? How much tape do you have to watch on him as compared to Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer?
“Yeah. You watch all his throws. He’s a guy that’s played a lot of football as a backup. So, they’re in a good situation where if Carson doesn’t play, they’ve got a guy that can go in there, execute the offense and he’s got a lot of NFL experience.”
Aaron talked about how he lost 30 pounds during the suspension to get back in better shape. Did you notice that he needed to do that, is that something he was told he needed to do?
“Again, I think that that’s something he knew he had to do. I think that him and [director of human performance Mark Uyeyama] Uye had some conversations about it. But, yeah, I thought he needed to lose a little bit of weight from what he was playing with in the preseason.”
With NaVorro out, will you still communicate with the MIKE linebacker or is that something you will–?
“We have the ability to go both. So, we can signal or we can communicate with whoever we put the green dot on. Again, that’s not something that we’ve settled on so far 100-percent, but typically it’s the MIKE because he’s in the middle of the defense. He can talk to the secondary. He can talk to the guys up front.”
Just with his knowledge of the defense, being able to get guys lined up right and all those things, not being there, will you have to simplify things at all defensively?
“We’re going to build our game plan each week around what we have and what our guys do well and try to take away what our opponent does well. The one thing with Nick is he’s played in a similar system to this in New York in a long time. So, he’s actually been around it probably longer than any of those other guys. You get a guy like Mike Wilhoite, who’s an absolutely film junkie and just loves to study football. So, you feel good about him communicating and setting stuff. So, there’s guys in that room that we feel comfortable with.”
Does it have to be a linebacker with the green dot? Could Antoine Bethea be a guy that does that?
“You could do that. We’ve done that in the past. It’s just hard sometimes if the offense runs a vertical route and Antoine’s 40, 50 yards downfield communicating the defense then to the D-Line. But, like I said, going against [head coach] coach’s [Chip Kelly] offense where we’re a little different here is we have the ability to be able to signal and we have the ability to radio it in.”
With someone like DL Arik Armstead dealing with his injury, how do you balance playing him versus maybe take a week or two and try and get it right and get back into it?
“That’s something that’s decided each week between the training staff. Arik, I think that he’s battling a little bit of the injury, but I don’t think it’s anything that’s preventing him from not being out there on the field.”
What has Bellore done to be, to go from being basically a special teams guy through five years to now being a part of the defense and being a contributor on that side of the ball?
“I’ve never viewed Nick as just a special teams guy. I think that Nick is a really good linebacker. I think he can play in this league. He played a lot for us when I was in New York at inside linebacker when we had injuries and he’s done a great job preparing himself. He knows the position. He knows how to play the game.”
With DeForest Buckner being day-to-day, do you see DL Ronald Blair possibly taking some of those snaps?
“Yeah. Again, Ronnie is always a part of our packages. You know, the outside backers are involved in that also. So, yeah, it’ll be a combination of guys.”
When NaVorro went out, did Nick just take the green dot or did you guys go to signals on the sideline?
“Nick, for that game, was our backup inside backer. So, yeah, you’re allowed to have two guys mic’d up. So, Nick was the backup helmet.”
Why didn’t Hodges play on defense?
“He was a part of some of the packages for us defensively and just the way the game went I ended up not emphasizing or getting in any of those packages. But, Gerald’s a guy that we still feel great about. He’s going to help us win some football games here.”
He didn’t even have his helmet on a lot of times when you guys were on defense. Is there a reason for that?
“You’d have to ask him.”
Was there anything–?
“No. Not at all. No. I mean, I love G. G’s one of my favorite guys on the team. So, he’s a big part of what we’re trying to do.”