SANTA CLARA — This is the transcript of Jim O’Neil’s Tuesday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
“Alright. Half-way point of the season. We’re obviously not happy with where we are at as a defense. We’ve set very high expectations for ourselves as a coaching staff and as a group and obviously, to this point, we haven’t met them. We’re still going to relentlessly try to reach those expectations as players and as a group. Our players are doing a great job working. They’re focused on getting better every day and I do see improvement in those guys as the games have gone past. We’re looking forward to the remaining eight games, especially this one coming up against the Cardinals. Questions?”
ME: You just mentioned relentless. You’ve been speaking about relentlessness all year. Your run defense really hasn’t been relentless so far. Why is that?
“I would disagree with that. You watch the long run. Watch [S] Eric Reid run to the ball. That’s being relentless. So, the guys are playing hard. That’s not the reason.”
On that long run there, obviously there was an assignment missed. At this stage, have you seen that in previous defenses that you’ve coached, constant missed assignments this deep into the season?
“Yeah, I think that’s in all sports. Any sport, especially at a high level, it’s about execution and when you make a mistake, a good offense or a good player exploits it and that’s what happened on that play. They did a good job blocking up. We had a guy make a mistake and then the running back outran the angles we had on him. So, we gave up a big play and then it makes it look like what we did the rest of the game rush-wise obviously look really, really bad. So, yeah, it’s frustrating.”
When you say you’ve seen improvements, can you just share with us what they are?
“Yeah. [LB] Eli Harold I thought had one of his better games on the edge. He did a great job knocking tight ends back, falling off blocks and he had three or four big tackles for us on the edge. Just try to go, [LB] Nick Bellore’s really grown at the inside backer position. [LB] Gerald Hodges made some nice plays for us. I think one of the first plays of the game where Gerald ended up, we were in, he was a quarter flat player. They went empty and he had great eye discipline and he pushed through it, number two to the flat and he ended getting a pass breakup. Just [DB] Jimmie Ward, how much he’s grown at corner and at nickel with him being in and out of the lineup. Eric Reid has done so much for us positionally just to try to patch up some holes. We played him a lot at dime backer this week. So, that was a new position for him. [CB] Rashard Robinson, some of the things he’s, yeah, so I can go on and on. There’s guys that are growing every day. We’ve got a good young group that continues to get better. We knew it was going to take some time. We knew it was going to be a journey. Obviously, we were hoping to get quicker results, but I’m not discouraged at all. The guys are working, the coaches are working and we’re doing everything we can to fix the problems.”
What was the decision to move Reid to dime backer?
“We just used him there on third down situations and some obvious passing situations to take advantage of some matchups, some man-coverage matchups.”
So, is that just more of a Saints matchup thing or is that something that maybe now you can use–?
“We’re going to go into each game different just to try to base it off of what we need to do matchup-wise.”
Early in the season, you were able to offset some of the yards you gave up with takeaways. I know takeaways can be a little fickle, but anything you can put your finger on why you haven’t been getting those–?
“Yeah. We talked all week to [DL DeForest Buckner] DeFo and [DL Arik] Armstead with going against [New Orleans Saints QB] Drew [Brees], those guys pushing the pocket and trying to tip a ball to change a game and DeFo actually did it early in the game and we had two guys that had a chance to intercept it. Unfortunately, we didn’t and then we had another one down in the red zone. I think [CB Tramaine] Brock made a nice play on a pass and [LB] Mike Wilhoite, it just kind of slipped between his hands. So, we had a chance to make two really big interceptions in that game. Unfortunately, we didn’t. We did get a ball on the ground. They recovered it. So, it is hit or miss, but we understand this league it’s all about the turnover battle, everything about this. So, we’ve got to do a better job forcing turnovers and putting our offense in better field position so they can gain a possession.”
You watched this game from up in the box. What kind of different vantage point did that give you, I guess, in terms of perspective on what you saw from your defense?
“New Orleans does a lot of things that a lot of people probably don’t even notice before the ball’s snapped personnel-wise, substitution-wise. So, I thought that I’d be able to save our guys a second or two if I was up top and being able to to see it instead of somebody just relaying the information to me. One of the big goals for our team that game was to try to beat them out of the huddle and then we wanted to get our cleats in the ground before them. I think for the most part we were pretty good at that. There were a couple times where I might have been able to be a little bit quicker with the call or a guy could have been a little bit quicker to get lined up. But, I thought that I could help them out by doing that against New Orleans.”
You guys have another veteran quarterback this week with Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer. Is that the same thing? Are you going to plan on doing that?
“I don’t know yet. I haven’t decided. We’re going to set the game plan and then I’ll kind of make a decision in the next couple days on how I want to do it.”
When you go through a seven game losing streak, how do you keep things light for the players? Obviously, they’re working hard. They want to see results in the game. Do you have to kind of, not change up what you’re doing but how do you, mood to keep them engaged?
“Yeah. You always talk about not letting a loss turn into two. You don’t want the previous week to affect you, but it’s hard. It’s really hard. Everybody likes to win. You put so much into it, the players do, the coaches do. You put every ounce of energy that you have into trying to build a game plan, try to coach guys up, try to go out there and execute and then when you lose, it sucks. But, you’ve got to be consistent. You’ve got to stay positive with them and that’s what I think we’ve done. The coaching staff’s done a great job with the guys in their position group. The guys have done a good job through a lot of adversity already in the first eight weeks and you’ve just got to keep going. What wins in this league is consistency. What wins in professional sports is consistency and if you’re not consistent week in and week out, you’re not going to win.”
This defense is one pace to threaten NFL records for most point, most rushing yards, most total yards allowed in a season. After the last two games, head coach Chip Kelly’s been asked about, ‘Are you going to consider any changes to the defensive staff?’ Obviously, the implication is changing your role or your position. Obviously, you understand the deal. Do you think the criticism, ‘Hey, replace the defensive coordinator,’ is fair? Do you understand that?
“People can have their opinions. That’s fine. There’s been three different coordinators here now in three years. I’ll say it again; I came here to help with the problem or to be a part of a new staff. I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in coach Kelly. Consistency wins in this league.”
Chip was asked yesterday about the job you are doing. He said no one on the defensive staff is doing a good enough job. Do you agree with that?
“Well, we’re 1-7. So, I do think we’re growing each week, but when you’re 1-7, nobody’s doing a good job.”
When you say three different coordinators in three years, are you just warning that these guys have had to learn a new system three straight years and it’s hard to–?
“I think that is hard, yeah. We can talk for hours about that and my beliefs. But, I think when you’re consistent with guys and you allow guys to hear the same message and get coached the same way, there’s a reason the good teams in this league are really good.”
When you come in with a new staff and have been teaching a new defense, part of not necessarily when you were a coordinator, but what’s the time period on when things start to click and a lightbulb goes on?
“I think it’s different for everybody. I think you can really start to see it click for some individual players. It hasn’t really clicked for us probably as a group yet because we’re still making some mistakes. For example the secondary, I think we’ve started a new lineup every week in the secondary and just those guys, them working each week on communicating with each other. They’ve really grown. So, I don’t have a great answer for that on when it clicks. You have young players. You have older players. You have young players mixed with older players. Every team’s different. Every year’s different.”
Whose job is it, when you guys come off the field after a bad play or giving up a touchdown, the guys, they sit down on the bench and they listen to the position coaches as they should and go over the plays, but whose job is it to fire them up? I don’t know if it’s a veteran leader necessarily. Do they need somebody doing that on the sideline?
“Those guys come off the field and they know right away. I would say 98 out of 100 times when a guy messes something up, before you even get to him, he knows. So, you make the correction. If a guy knows he messed up, what are you going to do? You’re not going to make too big, you get him coached up. He knows he messed up. And then as far as firing guys up, you know, yeah there are some leaders and there’s some coaches that can do that. But, if you’re a guy that consistently needs to be motivated and fired up, you’re not going to spend too much time in this league.”
What players have been the most consistent on your defense?
“Eric Reid jumps out to me. I think he’s been really consistent for us. Very solid. If you had to ask for one, that would be the one I would probably say.”
CB Will Redmond, do you expect him to be added to the 53-man?
“No, I don’t. I think that he will not be activated.”
He’ll go on IR?
“Yeah, that’s the plan.”