This is the transcript of Jim O’Neil’s Week 16 press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
“Merry Christmas, happy holidays guys. Start off, I thought it was awesome that [LB] Ray-Ray [Armstrong] got extended. A good example of a guy who kind of bounced around the league, worked his butt off, had a great spring for us, had a great training camp, had a first really good game and a half and it was good to see him get extended here and be rewarded for that. As far as the game, obviously that was a tough one. I do think we had some guys that really stepped up for us and got put in some positions that they haven’t gotten lot of practice reps in and really got put in a tough position but they fought their asses off and they gave us everything that they had. I thought the coaches did a good job adjusting throughout the game with the injuries as guys went down and those backup guys went in. They did a good job. They were able to execute the scheme and we were able to get some stops with those guys in there. Questions?”
At what point did you know that LB Gerald Hodges had violated team rules and wouldn’t be active for the game?
“Late in the week.”
So, before you made the trip?
So, what do you do at that point as far as trying to line up what Plan B is and then after that?
“We’ve been in a situation the past few weeks where we’ve only had three inside backers up. So, we’ve had catastrophic plans in case we lost two guys throughout the course of the game what we could go to. Obviously, when [LB] Nick [Bellore] went down on the third play of that game, my entire game plan was pretty much scrapped and we were inventing some calls that we could run with the personnel that we had active for game day. So, it was fun.”
At what point did you know that S Antoine Bethea was in the picture to play inside linebacker?
“He thought he could help us.”
Is that something he made apparent during the game?
“The first series, we went with [S] Vinnie [Sunseri] and [LB] Ahmad [Brooks] was part of our emergency game plan if that had happened over the past few weeks. And, Antoine’s a guy that gets down in there some when we’re playing man coverage and he’s on tight ends. But, it was a lot to ask of him and I told him after the game that there’s not a lot of guys in the NFL that would have done that for their team. He gave us everything he had in there. He battled. Obviously, it wasn’t a great picture at the end of the day, but he gave us all that he had and it was what it was. It’s just unfortunate because I thought we had a really good game plan going into it. I thought our coaches really had the guys ready to go. I was watching practice tape from Cleveland going back two years against [Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator] Kyle [Shanahan], stuff that worked against him and we just weren’t able to run any of it.”
Given how thin you already were at inside linebacker, what was the disappointment level in Gerald for not doing what he needs to do to–?
“Guys, I’m not going to go down that road. I think [head coach Chip Kelly] coach addressed it yesterday. It was a coach’s decision and that’s where we’re going to leave it.”
Is Hodges going to play on Saturday?
“We’ll see how the week goes.”
You’d mentioned after the initial cuts to 53 that you were surprised Jacksonville Jaguars LB Marcus Rush made it through unclaimed. Is it a disappointment this late in the season to lose him?
“Yeah. I think we talked about him a few weeks ago. He did a great job for our guys on scout team. He obviously had a great preseason for us. But, I’m happy for him. He’s got a chance to be on the 53, get a couple game checks and put some film out there for himself. So, I’m happy for him.”
We only got a game and a half of Ray-Ray like you said, but did you envision him being an every down type of linebacker if he had been able to stay healthy this season?
“I do think that that’s the way it was going for him. I do see him as that type of player. He’s got a skill set that’s very different than anything we have in that room as far as his ability to blitz and play man coverage, which is what we want to be defensively.”
Being a former safety, was he good enough and physical enough in the run game too?
“Yeah. I think that was one of the things that if you asked any of the personnel guys and any of the coaches, that was our biggest question mark and I thought that he answered that throughout the preseason. He really showed up in the crossover practices against Denver and Houston where we got a lot of two-back stuff where they were downhill and he went to go get it and it showed up in some of the preseason game stuff.”
I realize it’s preseason and all sorts of other issues that might come into play, but fans and maybe some of the media look at Rush’s numbers from the preseason and say, ‘Why not?’ On a one-win team with some pass rush issues, why not roll the dice and see what he can do in a real game? What would you say as far as why didn’t you bring him up and give him a chance?
“Those decisions are above my pay grade.”
If it was your decision, would you have done something–?
“I’m not going to second guess people in the building. So, I’m not going to go there.”
What’s DL Glenn Dorsey’s status right now?
“He got dinged. He’s day-to-day right now. I’m obviously hoping he can go this week. We’re a different defense when he’s in the middle of it.”
Can you say what his injury is?
Speaking of decisions above your pay grade, were you at all consulted about Ray-Ray like, ‘Hey, what do you think? We’re thinking about extending him.’
“Well, we did our evaluations at the end of training camp and I think that everybody knew how I felt about him. You guys asked me about him when we were down in Orlando and I don’t think it was a secret that I was pretty high on him. I think that when you look at what we want to be defensively and what we are, I think he’s a really good fit.”
How’s the Rams offense different with Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff?
“They’re really different from what we played against Week 1 to what they are now. Some because of injuries, some because they’ve built it some around the quarterback position. More spread out formations. A little bit more zone-read, similar to what coach does than what we saw in the first week that we played them. So, there’s some different things that they’re doing. They still want to run the football with [Los Angeles Rams RB] Todd Gurley back there, but it’s a different offense that we faced in Week 1.”
Is there much tape on Los Angeles Rams QB Sean Mannion to look at?
“Stuff in the preseason that we’ll look at, that we have looked at already.”
As you know, the defense has put up some bad numbers. But, everyone deals with injuries too. You’ve had a fair amount on your side. How much has that affected what you wanted to do this year as far as just not having personnel or is that just a flimsy excuse and everyone has injuries and it is what it is?
“It’s drastically affected what we wanted. We’ve pretty much changed our whole identity in the run game from probably the first quarter of the season to what we are now. We’ve gone from more of a two-back team where your linebackers are going to play off the front three guys to more of a single-gap team because we’ve tried to fit it on what we have and what our guys do the best. So, everybody does deal with injuries. We’ve been decimated obviously at the inside backer position which is difficult because the inside backer position is the bridge from the D-Line to the secondary and they’re so actively involved in everything that takes place in the run game and they’re so actively involved with everything that takes place in the pass game and they’re the guys that run everything. It starts every play with those guys because they’re the ones commanding the huddle and they’re the ones delivering the play call and there’s so many reps that get involved in that. That’s the one position where it’s really hard to just plug and play. You can hide guys on other parts of the defense, but inside backer’s tough. The injuries are what they are. You’re not going to use them as an excuse, but I do think that our coaching staff has done a really good job developing some of the backup guys, getting guys off the street and getting them ready to play. We have a starting defensive lineman right now who we took off the street four weeks ago in [DT] Chris Jones, who’s done an unbelievable job for us. So, it’s part of the game when you have such small numbers, you’re going to have to fight through some of that stuff as the year goes on.”