Jim O’Neil: “It starts first with tackling. We’ve got to do a better job.”


This is the transcript of Jim O’Neil’s Tuesday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.


Opening comments:

“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.”

    1. Absolutely. Like CfC, he was a guy I really liked in the draft. It’s concerning how much he’s bounced around in the league, but still worth a shot.

            1. Those are exactly the same words rotoworld used.

              Moore looked like a good NFL player in the making in 2013 and 2014, but at the end of 2014 had a serious hip injury that required surgery. He’s not been the same player since unfortunately. But I think he’s still worth a look. He’s been slowed by hamstring issues this year. If healthy, he’s a very good athlete for the position that provides some nice versatility.

              1. He’s not any better than Wilhoite or Hodges in my view, that’s probably why rotoworld described him as such….

              2. In 2013 and 2014 he was.

                Rotoworld isn’t very consistent given after the 2014 season they called him a playmaker and definite starter for the Raiders in 2015 no matter who would be coaching them.

              3. Yea, that might be, Scooter. I don’t follow rotoworld, but I do pay attention to free agents. Adding him is fine with me, but he’s just another guy in my view. The Colts played the same risk-reward card and you see how it ended. He’s had his flashes but the pan is now cold….

              4. You are probably right. Its a real pity – he looked like he could really turn into something prior to his hip injury.

              5. I will say if any team is going to know what he can offer, its the 49ers. Tarver was his DC at the Raiders when he was playing his best football.

            2. Have you seen what the 49ers have left? I’d venture to guess that the “sub replacement level player” would still be an upgrade over Skov and Hodges.

              1. Probably, I just don’t see it making much of a difference. I’d just let Skov and Hodges sink or swim in the defensive waters underneath the Chip….

        1. He’s a back up plan to Collins in my view….

          After this season yes, but currently Moore would be the top choice given that he is available and the 49ers have been hit hard at the ILB position.

            1. That’s the problem though, razor. They have two backup ILBs, a STs player and a PS guy. Yikes.

              Moore is a better ILB than Bellore or Skov, at worst.

              1. Yep, missed tackles have definitely been one of Moore’s bugbears. But you’ve got to get in a position to make a tackle in order to miss it. He’s already better than most of the LBs on the 49ers roster then… ;-)

    2. The Raiders just signed a guy I was thinking of for the Niners in Perry Riley. Sio Moore started out pretty good with the Raiders and then had some injury problems. No harm in taking a look.

  1. .

    Defense ! Defense! Did anyone see a 49er defense in the 2nd Half?

    The 49er defense allowed 26 first downs, 428 yards and 24 points in the last 33 minutes.

    1. The 49ers defense was on the field for 76 snaps Sunday, the third “high-snap” game they have endured in a row. In Week 2, the Panthers offense ran 83 plays. Last week the Seahawks had 70. By contrast, the 49ers offense ran 53 plays against the Cowboys.

      1. Those high snap games can and will lead to injuries. Bowman, Ward, and Ray Ray are hurt and Buckner is hobbled. Chip never should have been hired. He needs a 75 man roster.

          1. Point taken. That certainly applies to Ray Ray, but the others have barely had enough time to catch their breath. The snap count has been high for Bucker. Not as high for Armstead who was already hurt. Bowman needed the rest more than anyone. This offense has left the defense gassed and it will only get worse.

  2. Grant, I think with the right knowledge, I could overrule Trent Baalke and turn this organization around. I’ve done my research and found what appears to be the right course of action.

    As this infographic indicates in the right column, the 49ers will hire me to be the head of HR, above Baalke, if I earn an MPA. Can you check with your sources to confirm?


    1. Purcell gets away with on here too. Both he and Armstead went against the grain. If Armstead flows with the football then Elliott has a nice hole through the middle instead of between the OG and OT.

    2. What’s clear from this clip is that the DL was expecting the play to go to the weak side. Both interior DL stunt to that side which essentially left the entire right side of the line to be defended by two LB’s that were both stationed outside of the tackle. Will never know for sure who is to blame on that one. Who called the DL stunt? That would be followed up with given how the defense was lined up why would you call a stunt that left the strong side of the line empty? Next question would be why does Bethea? take so long to react to the obvious hand off and run situation. Watching the play he doesn’t take a step forward until Elliot has basically run through the line.

      Also the weak side OLB doesn’t play his lane and would have been smoked if Prescott and kept that and was rolling out weak. The linebacker gets sucked up too far and the QB cold have easily run right around him.

      This defense is terrible.

      1. Looked to me more like Armstead and Purcell were playing pass not run. Those look like pass rush moves to me.

        Not sure what you mean about Bethea? Looked to me like he was trying to avoid the RT. I can only assume the gap he was meant to cover was between the RT and TE. But by trying to beat the RT to the gap he left a huge hole. Though it was Armstead’s gaff that really created such a huge hole.

        Looking at the alignment, I am assuming either Purcell was meant to take both A gaps, or Bellore was misaligned at the snap. In the end Purcell took the B gap on the weakside of the play. What a mess.

        1. It was Reid not Bethea. I see Bethea was with the linebacker outside of the tackle.

          The end in the 3 technique is playing the run because he jumps from the 3 all the way to practically the 0 before trying to run up field. If that was a pass rush move it was the worst pass rush move of all time The tackle on the weak side doesn’t make a definitive move forward as much as he slides over and reads. They both look like they’re playing the run.

          The main point though was why or who would call a stunt(calling it a stunt although he doesn’t swap with another player because he moves to another slot) for the end on the strong side with nobody to fill in behind him? Either he wasn’t supposed to move out of position or someone was supposed to fill in behind him. It’s odd to see both the linebacker and the safety line up outside of the tackle and then to see the end essentially vacate that side of the field with nobody filling in. So either he was supposed to stay put or one of those two parked on the outside were meant to fill in is my guess on that one.

          1. I think Armstead was always meant to fill the B gap, which is where he lined up. If Bethea was meant to come over and fill that gap after Armstead jumped into the A gap after the snap, then it would have left the C gap open anyway. I can’t believe O’Neil would have designed it that way.

            Given Purcell jumped from an A gap into a B gap and basically ran into Buckner who was doing his job and flowing with the play, I think both Purcell and Armstead did the wrong thing. I still think both guys were thinking pass not run – the moves they put on are designed to get penetration with little thought to gap integrity. If you watch it again you will see both guys have not only gone sideways but also forwards to be between the Cowboys OL players. If that was how they are being taught to defend the run, no wonder the run D sucks.

            Btw, it was Tartt, not Reid, playing FS on that play.

            1. “Btw, it was Tartt, not Reid, playing FS on that play.”

              Whomever it was they were too slow.

              I think Bethea makes the mistake of getting sucked up into the blockers and isn’t looking to see where the ball is. When the ball is being handed off you can see that Bethea’s helmet isn’t even looking in that direction. What was he even doing on that play? It looks like he’s covering the TE but never bothers to check if it’s a run before locking up with his man. He puts himself in perfect position for the right tackle to take him out of the play. Had he been watching the ball he might have been in position to slow that play down so Tartt/Reidd/Sourdough Sam could have come over and helped out. Should have been a short to medium gain at most.

  3. Seems weird to say after such a horrendous start but I like Jim O’Neil. I like his youthful exuberance. I like his answers on some of these questions. I didn’t like his answer to your question but I don’t think there is a good answer to your question. The factual answer is:

    “Trent Baalke saddled me with terrible talent that doesn’t fit together or lend itself to having a good run defense. The way to fix the run defense is fire Trent Baalke and start over with Tom Gamble.”

    Of course O’Neil cant say that so he gave you the canned Nuke LaLoosh “we have to tackle better” response. He seems like a good guy to go have a beer with at the combine.

  4. At least he is consistent with Modkins ,who has no second half plan , whereas he has no plan on improving the run defence.

  5. Both DC and OC have shown that they are the weak links in the coaching staff.

    Glad O’Neil is working on the tackling. Too bad they did not do that in TC.

  6. I noticed this issue in the ore season. Harbaughs Niners were tackling machines. I guess O’Neil came in and thought fundamentals were a waste of time. A solid coach or coordinator beats that into their heads and makes it priority #1

  7. “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”

    This is almost exactly the B.S. Aaron Lynch spouted a couple years ago, something like
    “I gained 30lbs in 2 months in training camp because the chef made really good steaks”

    I don’t have his exact quote, but, god they really think we are that stupid ! Disgusting…

  8. Grant, if you had challenged ONeil politely on his bogus theory that Robinson was starved by his evil college administration whose football scholarship didn’t provide him with “three good meals a day”, would 49er security have thrown you out of the room and escorted you from the premises ?
    Was everybody in the room giggling when he said that ?
    Is there any good reason you can’t question the coaches on their B.S., such as the story that Lynch gained 30lbs in 2 mos because of good cuisine?
    What’s more important to you, access or trust?
    I believe that trust equals survival in the current view the general public has of media.
    My opinion.

    1. His biggest bogus answer was about tackling. He clearly has no idea how to coach it. He should watch Pete Carroll’s videos on youtube.

    2. SC,

      If you read O’Neil’s answer carefully, he was talking about the time after Robinson had left LSU (middle of 2015, I believe) and, apparently, he didn’t have the means to get three good meals a day.

      The tackling answer isn’t, or better not be, the real answer to improving the defense. On the other hand, what kind of answer do you expect? There’s no version of reality that I can conjure in which O’Neil would give an honest answer to that question.

            1. It’s a hell of a good show, it is.

              I’m going to sue you for saying bad things about the 49ers, I will, right after I get finished suing Vermont, it is.

  9. So Grant, it looks like Jim O’Neil has uncovered a major scandal in the NCAA, LSU is not feeding their players, even though they are on full scholarship ! Maybe your first step should be to ask Eric Reid if he was also starving at LSU. What if it turns out they were feeding white players under the table while starving black players? Maybe you should also contact Black Lives matter and Loretta Lynch?
    Or you could contact the AD at LSU. I’m sure they would be thrilled to hear about how an NFL assistant coach has been slandering them and starting rumors which could hurt them in recruiting players !
    OK, I’m exaggerating, but I think the coach’s comments are outlandish and you should hold him accountable for those comments.

    1. s.c.,

      If you read O’Neil’s comment again, you’ll see he’s talking about the time when Robinson was no longer at LSU.

      1. Are you talking about a balloon that’s fully blown up and then let loose, or a fully blown up balloon that is securely tied off?

        Because balloons that are fully blown up and then let loose, fly around all crazy and are very, very hard to catch. In that case, I agree, the 49ers defense couldn’t catch a balloon, at least not until it runs out of air and falls to the ground.

        Now, if you’re talking about a fully blown up balloon securely tied off, lazily floating through the air, I think the 49ers defense could probably catch it. As long as it wasn’t too windy, anyway…

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