SANTA CLARA – Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spoke in the media tent today, and here’s a transcript of what he said, courtesy of the 49ers.
How much more of the defense are you going to be able to install with this training camp compared to last year?
“Not much more. We pretty much got everything we wanted to put in last year. And then as a matter of fact, in training camp last year we installed more, and as the season wore on we stopped using some of the stuff. So, we kind of evolved into a package that best fit our players last year and that’s what we stuck with. And each and every week involves some adjustments that you have to make based upon your opponent, and that’s what we did. But, our attitude last year was to expose them to as much as we could, so if we needed it we had it there. We didn’t want to hold anything back and then say, jeez I wish we did this, or wish we had done that. So, we tried to expose them to most everything that we could last year even though it was tight. And then we evolved into what we were.”
Now that you know your personnel will get better, are you a little bit more focused this year?
“Maybe at this point compared to last year at this time, but we’re no more focused than we were as the season got into it last year, as we got into game three, four, five, six and on, we evolved to who we were.”
The only major change, really the only change in your defense is LB Aldon Smith every down. Does that change at all? Just getting a read for what he does? How to put him in the best situations in first and second downs?
“Not really. He’s just going to be expected to go in there and take over for [LB] Parys [Haralson], and do as well as Parys did or better. And we expect him to be a right outside linebacker and fulfill all the duties that the right outside linebacker has to fulfill. Now obviously no matter who you’re speaking about, whether it be Aldon at right, or [LB] Ahmad [Brooks] at left, or an inside linebacker or a DB, you’re always going to tailor it some to best suit your personnel, that’s always a goal, but within what’s best for the 11.”
I know it’s early, but how has he made that transition from a year ago where he wasn’t standing up too much?
“Well, obviously he’s a lot farther along right now than he was last year at this time. He’s got to practice a lot last year during the season there. He got all this offseason work. So, he’s much farther along than he was compared to a year ago, but he’s still nowhere near what he needs to be, and it’ll be a work in progress. He’ll be better in game four and five than he is in game one. He’ll be better in game eight or nine than he was in five. It may not always be visible to people because there’s a lot of little things involved, but he’ll be better as we keep going.”
What about the rookie LB Cam Johnson? Could you tell that he was dealing with something back in spring with his knee and needed to have that taken care of?
“We knew he had something when we drafted him. And he tried to come in here and play with it and it kept bothering him. So, we went in there and tried to get it fixed, it was minor surgery. Of course, minor surgery is for somebody to say that didn’t have the surgery done to them. It wasn’t minor in his mind, I’m sure. But, he’s back out there. He’s still not 100 percent. He’ still limping around a little bit, but he’s just going to have to fight through that.”
Were you able to tell anything from him given that injury? Were you able to see whether he’s got pass rush ability, drop back ability?
“No, it’s hard to see pass rush ability anyway in the offseason without the pads on. But no, he was hindered a pretty good bit by he was always limping and dragging it, so it was hard to evaluate.”
When you have as much success as you guys had defensively last year, what do you throw at these guys this year to keep them from becoming complacent?
“Well, first I don’t think our guys will get complacent. Everybody that’s on this defense that was here last year that is still here, that was their first playoff victory in their careers, all of them. And it was their first trip to the Championship Game for all of them. And I don’t think we have anybody that’s going to be satisfied with just that. I think if anything else it wets their appetite even a little bit more, and their looking for more. So, I don’t think complacency will be an issue.”
Are you happy with the linebackers? Last year you were very thin, but this year there are a lot of bodies on the roster. Are you very excited for the competition?
“Well, you’re always excited for competition, that’s the greatest motivator there is. Whether we have more competition or not remains to be seen. We have more bodies, but we don’t know the quality of those guys yet.”
A couple of your DB’s, S Dashon Goldson the other day said as good as the defense was last year, there were areas that he felt could be sharpened. Can you talk about areas that you felt weren’t quite 100 percent last year?
“Well, you always can improve, nothing’s perfect. And areas that we can improve in, it’s a little bit everywhere. I don’t think we were seriously lacking in any area, to where it’s a glaring weakness, or was, but yet we can get better in every area. Our coverage can get better, our rush can get better. We can play the run a little better. We can handle the hard situations a little bit better. I think it’s a little bit everywhere more than one area in particular.”
You’ve got a guy, LB Eric Bakhtiari, who’s been on the practice squad of a lot of teams. He made one active roster. What qualities does he have that has kept him around the NFL, and what does he need to improve on to make the jump?
“Well, he’s an intelligent player, number one. He’s got good football instincts. He plays the game hard. He likes football. He’s just always going to be one of those guys that’s always fighting there right at the end, whether you make it or not, one of those guys on the proverbial bubble every year. And that’s what has happened to him every camp he’s been in with each and every team that he’s been with. And it’ll be the same for him here. He’ll be the first to tell you that, I’ve told him. He knows that.”
You mentioned in the offseason program, that with these two-way guys you get into sort of a fine line. You don’t want to take away from what they do. And I noticed DT Demarcus Dobbs, yesterday was on the offense. Where is he as far as his development as a defensive lineman? And do you start to get concerned that he is spending time on the offensive side of the ball?
“Well, we all get concerned about it, both the offensive coaches and us as defensive coaches. Because every day that he spends over there is one less day he’s spending with us, and he’s still a young player. But, the big picture says if he’s our fourth, fifth, or sixth defensive lineman and he can fulfill a role on offense also, that allows him number one, to improve his chances to make the team. And number two, if he makes the team allows him a better opportunity to be dressed as one of the 45 on the game day, you guys know you have to deactivate seven or eight guys every game. So, it makes him more versatile. Does it affect his development in one position? Yes, it does. There’s no way around that, that’s why we practice. But, in his case right now, it’s better for the team, and better for him and his chances to make the team.”
Is he going to be defense today?
“Yes, today he’ll be defense.”
Is it just every other day?
“We kind of go—we’ve kind of started it off because we’re in no pads, we’re going every other day right now. Then when we get the pads on maybe we’ll give him two-a-days, two days in a row at one side. We’ll just keep mixing it up.”
He made such a splash as a pass rusher in the preseason last year. What are the areas he needs to improve upon this year?
“Well, he did a good job in the offseason and really ever since he’s been here, even during last year, of improving his strength and improving his body. His body wasn’t developed to the point that it should have been when we got him. I’m talking from a strength, speed and quickness standpoint. And he’s worked extremely hard on that, been one of our best workers. It doesn’t look like it to you, he still probably weighs about the same that he weighed last year at this time, but it’s a different 285 pounds than it was last year. And he’s much better prepared physically to be an NFL player.”
Do you want DT Justin Smith and DT Ray McDonald to play fewer snaps this year than they did last year?
“Not necessarily. Yeah, I think I told you guys before, with defensive linemen, if you’re good enough on defense, and hopefully we will be, where you get a bunch of three and outs, or you get where teams have one first down and then you make them punt. And all your drives are maybe three plays, four plays, or five plays; they can play the numbers of plays that they played. It’s when you start getting eight, nine, 10, or longer drives against you and you have a couple of those in the game, is when they start to get fatigued, and you’ll see them come out more then. So, it really kind of depends upon their health, obviously, and then what type of defense we’re playing.”
Is DT Ricky Jean Francois, is he your backup across the board? Or are you going to focus him in on nose, or a specific position?
“No, he can play all three spots up there. So, he can go in and play for anybody at anytime.”
Is he another guy who spent a lot of time in the training room this year and transformed his body a bit?
“I think he’s done that throughout his career. Even before we got here, I think he was doing that. And he looks to be in really good shape now. Ricky’s a hard worker. He’s a good player. And we have no concerns about him from conditioning or where he’s at physically.”
Last year you guys broke camp with seven defensive linemen. Is that more than likely not going to be the case this year?
“I think it’s too early to say that. A lot of that depends upon the numbers at other positions. It’s pretty easy as we get going into this after we play our third and fourth preseason game, it’ll be pretty easy for all of you to pick out 40 guys that make this team. It’s that last five that are hard decisions. And then it becomes the factor of the numbers at other positions. Last year, we kept seven of those guys because we had seven that we liked and we didn’t want to expose any of them to the waiver system. We had two young guys in Dobbs and [NT Ian] Williams that we felt if we didn’t keep we might lose them. So, that was part of the thought process there to keeping seven. And as it turned out, all seven of them played. Obviously Williams and Dobbs didn’t play a lot, but they were active for games.”
At the end of last year, you said Aldon would be a really good player as long as he stayed humble and hungry. Did what happen in the offseason make you raise any questions about if he has any tangibles to be a great player?
“No, I still think he’s humble and hungry as it relates to football. I think he got himself into a couple unfortunate situations. And I think he’s learned from both of them. And hopefully those will be far and few between as we move forward. We’ve spoken. He and I have talked about it and he’s talked to other people about it. I think Aldon’s mature enough and smart enough to know the difference of what he needs to do and what he doesn’t need to do. And hopefully he’ll do a better job of avoiding those situations in the future. I have confidence that he will.”