Browns HC Shurmur on Niners D: “They’re so good against the run they don’t have to be overly heroic in coverage.”

Here’s the transcript of Cleveland Browns head Coach Pat Shurmur’s morning conference call with Bay Area reporters.

Q: Are you going to keep the same travel schedule from when you came out here a couple weeks ago?

SHURMUR: Yeah, we’re actually going to stay right there at the Westin SFO. We’ll come out on Friday.

Q: Have you talked to the NFL about these West Coast trips back to back so you don’t have to go back to Cleveland?

SHURMUR: No, I haven’t talked to them. That would have worked out. I’m not sure how I would have handled that, but I’ve never done it that way, but that would see to make sense.

Q: You’re familiar with the 49ers defense. Have you noticed anything they’re doing differently than they were doing last year?

SHURMUR: No, I think when you watch them schematically, they’re very similar scheme, coverage, philosophically as they were a year ago. I’ve always felth that they’ve been a very good defensive team, and I think they’ve taken it up a notch more this year.

Q: What do you point to as a reason for why they might be playing better this year as opposed to years past?

SHURMUR: I don’t know. I think defenses, and ours might be the same, if you start having success you build confidence. They’ve added some good young players that have helped them. They’re getting some production out of rookies like Aldon Smith. And then you’ve got leadership in there, guys that have played well in that system for a long time now that are doing the same.

Q: What do you think of the Niners middle linebacker tandem?

SHURMUR: It’s a big problem. I was very familiar with Takeo Spikes a year ago, and NaVorro has stepped in and done an extremely good job. They haven’t really skipped a beat there. They can run. They do a good job of going sideline to sideline to make tackles, but they also get downhill very well when you run right at them. That’s a pretty darn good tandem of inside linebackers.

Q: Where are you guys at health-wise?

SHURMUR: I don’t know how to characterize it. We’ve got a couple guys that are going to be in and out of practice this week, but I don’t have anybody ruled out for this week yet. We’ll see how we go along here.

Q: Are you expecting Peyton Hillis to be back?

SHURMUR: I expect he’ll be back. He’ll be out there practicing today. He’s a full go.

Q: You and Jim Harbaugh came and have been trying to install the West Coast offense. What challenges did you both face in installing it?

SHURMUR: They’re similar from the book. You vary somewhat depending on how you choose to run the football, and some of the passes you choose to run, but when I watch them on defense I recognize a lot of the schemes, and I’m sure he does with ours. The challenge of course is you don’t have as much time as you would with a traditional offseason. That’s more of a challenge than an excuse, so you just try to keep making sure that your guys are executing efficiently, and try to find ways to move the football and score points, and I think that’s the challenge.

Q: Have you ever been a part of a game like the one you coached last week, with all the third down but so few points?

SHURMUR: There were some things in there that I thought were really good right there at the very end. It’s important that you score points in games like that when they’re available. Cannot have two field goals blocked, and we had another drive at the end, I guess it was the third quarter that we threw an interception in the red zone. When the game’s tight like that, and I knew going in, Seattle’s a pretty good defense, I know going in that were going to have to stand toe to toe with them and battle them. But when you have an opportunity to get points you have to. That’s the message and that’s what needs to get cleaned up offensively.

Q: You’re familiar with Carlos Rogers from your days in the NFC East. Is he playing the best ball of career?

SHURMUR: I think so. I think he’s playing extremely well. I probably haven’t studied him as much in the last two years as I did when I was in Philadelphia and he was at Washington, but I think he’s playing probably as well as he ever has. He’s fitting into a scheme where they’re so good against the run they don’t have to be overly heroic in coverage. That’s helping him and he’s challenging. So I think he’s doing really a good job, especially within the scheme there.

Q: What makes your left tackle Joe Thomas so good?

SHURMUR: First of all he’s a pro. Joe’s out at practice every day. I think he’s a good pass protector, I think he’s obviously a very good run blocker. He’s what you’re looking for from a left tackle. You don’t tend to worry about it so much because he’s such a good player. We’re going to get challenged this week for sure, and our guys are well aware of how the Niners are built and how talented and how explosive they can be, so I think we’re counting on him to have one of his better games against an opponent that’s going to be a big challenge.

Q: Are you surprised that the 49ers have a three game lead in the NFC West and a five game lead over the Rams?

SHURMUR: Nothing surprises me in this league anymore, regardless of the division. Every team, I don’t know how people try to predict who’s going to be good to start the season and who’s going to have success and who’s not. I think that’s why you’ve got to just play them out. In terms of the 49ers, they’ve done a excellent job of finding a way to win their games. The only game they’ve lost was an overtime loss to Dallas. From that standpoint nothing surprises me. And really with the pickup of one or two players or an injury to another, what happens is your team can change tremendously, and so here we sit not quite to the midpoint of the season and who knows who’s going to win each division.

Q: Do you see teams around the league struggling because they didn’t have enough to get their offense our defense down in the abbreviated offseason?

SHURMUR: I don’t know about struggling. I think all 32 teams are dealing equally with lack of preparation time, but it affects each team a little differently I’m sure. Established systems probably didn’t have as much that they needed to fine tune. Newer systems, of course, as they work through practice you’ll find them being able to smooth out their offense as the season goes on.

Q: Do you see that with your own offense and do you have a prediction of when everything will be seamless with your offense?

SHURMUR: It’s hard to predict. This was so atypical. With OTAs and training camp you can kind of mark progress. Without that I think you just keep going through it and you keep trying to put together a game plan that’s going to get you a victory. You’re still obviously always working on the fundamentals of blocking and tackling and running and throwing and catching. I think how you play will be kind of an indication of where you’re at.

Q: How frustrating was it for you not to be able to get your hands on Colt McCoy, and do you think the lost offseason has set him back from where he could be at this point?

SHURMUR: Yeah, I think anytime you don’t have a chance to practice, obviously you’ve got to make that up somehow. I think the offseason for all of us as coaches kind of went from initially frustration and anxiety to OK, now there’s nothing we can do about it, and when you get them you start working with them and try to get them as good as you can.

Q: Jim Harbaugh was able to get a playbook in Alex Smith’s hands. Were you able to do the same with McCoy?

SHURMUR: Yes, when it was legal so to speak to get him a playbook we did.

Q: The four teams in your division have the top four ranked defenses. Have you ever seen anything like that?

SHURMUR: No, it just goes to show you how hard it is to play offense in this division. You’ve got four very good defenses, and now we’re traveling out west to play another top 10 defense, so there’s teams playing really, really good defense and it’s a challenge to the offense of course.

Q: Did coaching with John Harbaugh in Philadelphia give you any insight into their family?

SHURMUR: I don’t know about insight, but yeah, I know Jack, the father. He’s been around, of course, obviously growing up in Michigan, actually I think Jim is about a year and a half older than me, so we overlapped his years at Michigan and mine at Michigan St. I worked with John for a long time, and then when I was an assistant coach at Michigan St., Tom Crean, who’s married to John and Jim’s sister, was an assistant basketball coach at the time, so I know the family well. I don’t know if that gives me any insight in how to attack the 49ers, but I know the coach.

Q: Jim says he’s not too keen on being friends with rival coaches. How would you describe your relationship with him?

SHURMUR: I would say that Jim and I are friendly and professional, although we played against one another other in college. I’ve obviously had a chance to watch him and his career. When I see him we interact. I would say it’s a professional relationship.

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