This is the transcript of special teams coach Thomas McGaughey Jr.’s Thursday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
When, shortly after RB Jarryd Hayne muffed the punt and was on the sideline standing by himself, you went up and it seemed like you had some encouraging words for him, tapped him on the helmet. What was kind of the message you wanted to get across to him?
“It’s part of the, like we talked about before in here, I mean, that’s part of the maturation process of being in this league when you’re a young guy. Young players make mistakes sometimes. They’re trying to make plays or trying to make, do the things they were brought here to do and sometimes they get a little overzealous. But, that’s one of those deals. It’ll be alright. It happens to the best of us.”
Why did WR Bruce Ellington replace him?
“In that situation, it’s always best to have a fresh guy in there. So Jarvis, I mean not Jarvis, I reverted back. Jarryd had just ran a return, 11 or 12-yards or whatever. So, you always want to get a fresh guy in there. He’s not tired, he hadn’t been hit. It kind of worked out for us a little bit.”
Bruce stayed in there, I mean, Ellington stayed in for one more that he fair caught. Why was that?
“Yeah, he scored a touchdown. I mean, he scored a touchdown.”
Oh OK, so you said, “Oh OK he just stored a touchdown?”
“Yeah, he scored a touchdown. You’re not going to take a guy out of a game who scored a touchdown.”
Tell me, who’s returning punts Sunday?
I thought you might say that.
With, on the touchdown he scored with, you know it was called back, obviously, but with the blocks that were illegal, did those matter in the return?
“Possibly. I think, I’ve seen those not called before, some of those. But, I think it was blocked up pretty good other than the obvious, those are kind of, like I said, I’ve seen those not called before. So, I mean, I think we had it blocked up pretty good at the point. Anytime you have a guy fall down in the open field, Monday Night Football, it happens.”
S L.J. McCray made a big hit as a gunner on punt coverage. I mean, is he still showing you everything you saw in training camp and preseason?
“Absolutely. L.J. is getting better every week. Big, strong, physical guy, explosive open-field tackler and we expect plays like that from him consistently moving forward.”
On the blocked field goal, was that something that the Vikings had scouted and they sent two guys?
“Everybody in the league does that rush. I mean, that’s the staple rush in this league and you see it from day one. And, that’s what you’ve got to block. We run the same rush. It’s just, it’s the execution of the fundamentals of the technique of the scheme and you’ve got to execute. It’s just one of those deals, you got young guys in there playing and it just, it happened.”
What was your, I mean, obviously that wasn’t the greatest special teams start, a blocked field goal, a muffed punt, running into the kicker, illegal blocks. I mean, as a coach, what’s going through your mind? Or are you just so into the game you’re just like let’s just fix it and move on type of thing?
“It’s frustrating as hell. I mean, it’s like anybody else, you get in a situation where you get a ton of penalties and guys are making mistakes, it’s frustrating. But again, when you, the thing about special teams that, especially in certain situations, you’re going to play young guys. Young guys make mistakes and a lot of those situations there were young players at the center of those mistakes. So, we just got to let those young guys understand, hey, this is what it is, this is how we fix it and like [49ers head coach Jim Tomsula] Jimmy T always talks about, ‘Own it, fix it and move on.’”
WR Bruce Ellington didn’t make many or any mistakes that I can remember as a punt returner, but he also didn’t have any big returns. Are you coaching these guys to be more aggressive in the return? I mean, are you willing to trade off a mistake every now and then if it means a steady number of bigger returns?
“Everything we do is aggressive. We coach in an aggressive manner, but obviously we want to be smart too. We’re not going to sit back and just let things come to us. We’re going to try to make some plays. But, obviously, in the process of being aggressive you have to be measured and calculated and smart.”
Do you think that based on the film that you’ve seen from last year that Bruce is playing faster back there?
“Yeah, I think he’s more comfortable. You know, last year he was a rookie and it’s like the game has kind of slowed down for him a little bit and he has some confidence. I think he’s getting better. I think the sky is the limit for the guy. I mean, he’s every week, he’s starting to get better. You see him start to get a little confidence in himself and he’s very confident in the guys that are blocking for him. Those guys are confident in him so you’ve kind of got that reciprocal thing going on there and you’ve got a little synergy starting to brew a little bit in the room and it’s starting to feel good to go out there and they’re enjoying themselves, having fun doing it.”
You said about the Sunday assignment, “We’ll see.” How much of that for the punt returner are you talking with the offensive coach to see what kind of role a backup running back might have or do you have carte blanche to take any backup and use them in any way that you want?
“That’s always a fluid conversation. It goes all the way up until an hour before the game. So, that’s why you guys laugh at me when I say we’ll see, and we will. That’s just kind of how it works.”
So, there are times when you don’t necessarily, the guy that you would like to have back there might be kind of pulled away from you a little bit?
“Normally it’s a little bit more solid than that. But, sometimes it is like that.”
On the blocked field goal, is the technique you block the inside guy and then the outside guy? Is that the basic?
“You always want to protect inside out. And, the most important gap is the inside gap. That end position, that guy is always going to be in a bad situation for the most part. But, it has to, if you watch the other side with [DT Quinton Dial] 92 and then you watch the other side with [OL Ian Silberman] 62, when you watch those two, there’s two distinct ways of blocking. One guy’s done it before and the other guy hadn’t, as far as in a real game, in a big-time situation. So, it’s just a part of learning. You’re going to fail your way to success and sometimes you’ve got to bump your knee and skin your elbow and touch the hot stove. I mean, that’s just kind of how it goes.”
What’s the scouting report on the Steelers special teams?
“[Steelers special teams coordinator] Danny Smith is an outstanding coach. He’s one of my favorite coaches. They are always well coached. They’re going to play hard. They’re a physical group, they’re a big physical group that can run. Obviously, [Steelers WR] Antonio Brown, you watch him, he’s electric in the return game. And then, they’ve got [Steelers RB] Dri Archer, who can fly. So those guys, the specialist are solid. [Steelers K Josh] Scobee can kick it a country mile and then this new [Steelers P Jordan] Berry kid is an excellent punter. So, they’ve got a good core of people, their personnel is solid. Like I said, they are always talented.”