Is Ward a lock to start at Nickelback? Fangio: “I don’t think you can assume that.”

SANTA CLARA — Vic Fangio spoke to Bay Area reporters Wednesday afternoon. Here is a transcript courtesy of the 49ers.

Are these the first real looks that you’ve been getting of DT Tank Carradine since he got here last year?

“Yes. Last year at this time he wasn’t practicing, and that you guys know, didn’t practice until some point in October, November. And he wasn’t physically ready to go then. This is the first time where he is physically ready. And he’s basically not in a much different state than a rookie coming in right now. So, this is his first shot.”

As far as his injury, can you tell whether he’s back to pre-injury levels from what you can see out at a non-contact practice?

“I think he is. Last year during the season I never felt he was there. And then there came a point in the offseason where he got better. He had a little cleanup done there. And it really, he turned a corner then. And his whole demeanor changed, and I think he’s healthy now.”

Will you determine his role after watching him in training camp or preseason, or do you have an idea of what he might be doing this season during the regular season?

“No, I really don’t have an idea and we won’t know that until training camp and preseason games. And it will be evolving, but to say I have a picture in my mind right now what he will and won’t be and what part he’ll play in our defense this coming year would be way too early.”

Can you explain the fundamental differences between the Mike and Jack linebacker positions?

“Well, there’s not a lot of difference as far as physically going. To me, if you’re an inside linebacker, you’re an inside linebacker. Doesn’t matter if you’re the Mike or the Jack. Where the differences come in is there are some different assignments. And if you’re playing one, you focus on those assignments. Those particular assignments come up more often than they do for the other position and vice versa. So, we’ve been working [LB Patrick] Pat [Willis] at Mike so he can be more interchangeable moving forward, if that’s the best avenue we want to go down. So, he’s more capable of playing both.”

Is Mike the strong side, strong inside?

“The Mike lines up to the tight end side.”

Is the Jack more covered so you can run more?

“Part of it, part of it. But in some cases no, in some ways yes. And more so in the nickel stuff when you move to that package.”

 

You have CB Darryl Morris playing a lot of slot cornerback. What did you see in him to kind of prompt that decision?

“Well, we saw enough of him last year during the season in practice and what little he played. And we were looking for a guy there that we say, ‘hey we’re going to take a long look at him there.’ He’s a smart guy. He’s fast. He’s tough. So, he’s got some good intangibles along those ways. He just has to learn to play the position and all the nuances that go at that, which is a tall order for him coming from a small school, just making the team, making the practice squad and then being called up is a major victory. And now to ask him to take this next step, we’ll see how he does with it. And he’s made slow but steady progress through the offseason.”

You’ve traditionally had bigger bodied guys there, CB Perrish Cox, former 49ers CB Carlos Rogers. He’s smaller. Is that a concern to see how he will hold up close to the line of scrimmage?

“He’s smaller in height. But, I don’t know that he’s smaller in stature. And I don’t exactly have his weight in my mind right now, but I don’t see him as being smaller than Perrish.”

When people look at your roster they kind of, myself included, focus on kind of the cornerbacks where Rogers is gone, former 49ers CB Tarell Brown is gone. CB Tramaine Brock hasn’t started a season as a starter. Do you feel good about the cornerback situation? Or are you kind of like wondering, along with everybody else, how that group is going to perform?

“A little bit of all the above. I feel good about the guys that are here. Tramaine hasn’t been a full season starter, but he certainly played a lot of football for us last year. [CB Chris] Cully [Culliver], as we all know, played a lot of football for us in his first two years here. So, those guys have played and done well. Cully’s recovering from a knee injury, which he hasn’t been able to practice yet. So, that’s going to be a wildcard in his progress how he’s recovering from his knee injury. And we do have to find a nickelback. And anytime you lose two corners of Rogers and Brown, guys that have basically played every play here for three years, other than when they had a knick here and there, somebody’s got to step up and replace them. And we think we’ve got a group here that we can get those guys from that group. But, only time will tell.”

As a coordinator you just don’t assume that the first-round draft pick will step in and be the nickelback day one?

“No, I don’t think you can assume that. He’s going to certainly get every opportunity to. But, he’s missed all this time and he’s learning and he’s a rookie, etc. And we’ll all have to be a little patient with him. But, he’ll certainly get every opportunity to.”

In the classroom does he impress you?

“He seems to be fine. But again, classroom, like I’ve said before with some of these guys, the ideal learning situation is spend some time in the classroom, go practice, learn what you did good, learn what you didn’t do good, get it corrected, learn some new stuff, just keep going through that process. And when you’re skipping the practice part, you’re skipping the most important part. He’s done well. I think he’s done everything he can under his circumstances to learn our defense and improve. But, he’s got to go do it.”

Were you surprised by former 49ers CB Eric Wright’s decision and was he a guy legitimately in the mix to play nickel?

“He was. Right at the halfway point of OTAs, we were going to move him to be the nickel to share those duties with D-Mo [Darryl Morris]. And he didn’t show up for those first two days of the last week, and then he was going to get all these. And I don’t know why he retired. I never had that discussion with him. So, I really can’t shed any light on it.”

What have been your early impressions of S James McCray?

“He’s done well for a small school guy. He’s got good ability. He’s got good speed and he’s tough. Shows some instincts. He’s got to learn a lot. And that can be a slow process at times for these guys. But, I do like what he’s shown and he’s got some potential.”

How’s DL Lawrence Okoye look?

“He looks a lot better than he did last year at this time. But, we’ll see. We’ll see. He’ll get more action this year hopefully. Hopefully it’s easier for us to put him into some preseason games, give him some more practice reps and actually see where he’s at.”

Where does he look better, in what phase of the game?

“Just understanding the game, keeping his pads down. There aren’t many guys, if you guys did any research, there aren’t many 6’5” or taller guys that are good defensive players. There’s some. But, there’s not a lot. They’ve got to be able to bend their knees and play low, and use their height to their advantage when they can. But, they’ve got to bend their knees and get them down to 6’2” when they need to. So, he’s going to have to play the game lower and use his natural ability that he does have. He’s an extremely strong guy. He can run. But, we’ll see how he pans out.”

Some of your defense is getting a little older. Do you plan maybe on resting guys more, or maybe rotating more this upcoming season?

“Well, we rotated in [DT] Justin [Smith] I think is the main guy you’re alluding to, I would think, him a lot last year. And I don’t see it being much different. I don’t know who else comes to mind that you’re referring to?”

Well, I’m just talking about maybe just the entire team and how a lot of teams are really focusing on rest more now, Seattle in particular. And to keep guys fresh, to keep them going, particularly towards the end of the year and into playoffs?

“Well, we rotate our pass rushers, just like most people do. Maybe we don’t do it as much as some teams do. But, we do that.”

In terms of the thought that you were going to move Wright inside, how much of that is a byproduct of what you’re seeing from CB Chris Cook on the outside and what Cully might bring on the outside? Was that what was prompting that, that move, from what you’ve seen from those guys?

“No, no that was the plan. Rather than work, it’s hard to get three nickels a lot of work in these types of practices, particularly against our offense that doesn’t do a lot of three wide receiver sets. So, rather than spread it out amongst three guys over the whole offseason, we’re only going to work two for half and then work two guys the last half. And that was the thinking there.”

Cook said that you guys planned to do some pressing, but at this point in the year obviously you guys can’t because of the limited contact. When you’re coaching pressing at this point in the year, what are you looking for? What are you asking the players to do?

“Well, we’re not asking them to press now.”

Right, but fundamentally are there things they can do in this setting?

“It’s hard because under these rules you can press, but you can’t jam. Well, if you can’t jam why would we press? So, it’s kind of.”

 

So, it’s just been something you guys talk about and will push off until training camp time?

“Right, right.”

What about Chris Cook? How does he look to you? He seems to be getting a lot of reps with the first team?

“He’s doing fine. Chris Cook is a guy that was at Minnesota, I believe, the last four years. And things didn’t pan out for him there like they had hoped and like he had hoped. And hopefully we can get him here and get that out of him what they were hoping for and what he was hoping for. And we’ll see. He’s definitely made progress. He still has a ways to go and he’s going to have to ultimately do it on the field, in practice, and ultimately in the games, to be considered one of the guys for either in the top four in the base, or the top five in the nickel.”

Can a guy with his I guess physical gifts, he’s tall, he’s fast. Is that a double-edged sword where he relied on that too much and doesn’t learn the technique that’s needed to play the position?

“Maybe, I think you’d have to ask him that what his feelings were in Minnesota. But, ultimately you’ve got to be able to find the ball down the field. No matter whether you pressed or started from off. When the ball’s thrown up you’ve got to be able to find the ball and make a play at the ball. And he’s struggled there in his past. So, whatever we can do to improve him in that area will go a long way in helping his career.”

How do you do that?

“Just repetitions and emphasis on tracking the ball, and repetitions.”

Last summer you said S Eric Reid was the only safety getting work exclusively at free safety. Is he working at strong safety some of this offseason, too?

“Yes and no. He’s mainly the free. But with him and [S Antoine] Bethea, they take their initial alignments as free and strong. But, if things change they assume the other guy’s job.”

And how’s Bethea’s transition?

“He’s been doing fine. I think he came in here with the right mindset to learn the defense, to learn the assignments and the techniques and how we want to play them. So, he’s been in a learning mode. Once he feels more and more comfortable, I think he’ll even be a positive influence on the team from an intangible role and be a leader in his own way. So, been pleased with his progress and I think he’ll ultimately be a good player for us.”

Jim said Justin has been working through something. That sounds like that’s not something that concerns you as far as going to affect him in training camp and the regular season?

“I don’t think so. I think he’ll be fine.”

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  1. Vic is a breath of fresh air compared to Harbaugh in these press conferences. I think TJE may be the surprise of camp. If he comes on, and the Tank raises eyebrows, Vic will have the best core of defensive lineman so far in his tenure…..

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