Fangio on the responsibility of the nickel back, and more

SANTA CLARA – Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spoke first in the media tent this morning, and here’s a transcript of what he said courtesy of the 49ers.

Your defense, the last couple of days, has obviously looked really solid. Is that what you’re seeing on tape too out of these guys?

“We’ve had a couple good days. Obviously, there are some mistakes out there that don’t show up as clear to you that we see. And there are things to be corrected, but we’ve had a good couple last days.”


Has DT Justin Smith reached the stage in his career where he doesn’t need to do much if any preseason work?

“You mean in the games?”


Yeah, in the games.

“We’ll monitor his reps. I think last year in the preseason, I think he might have had 40 to 50 reps, at most, in the four games total. It will probably be about the same, give or take. That doesn’t even equal a full game.”


What do you see out of CB Chris Culliver this his second year? When you develop a player, what do you want to get out of him and see him grow? What areas this training camp?

“Just to see him improve in all areas. I know that’s kind of a generic answer, but he just needs to become a better master of his position in route recognition, technique, where he fits within the whole scheme of 11 players. Particularly for a corner, playing only in passing situations is different than playing in all situations. The route variety and the types of plays that you see if you’re playing first and second down as one of the regular corners, there’s much more to learn, much more to see and be ready for it. And he’s got to improve in that area.”


How did CB Tarell Brown get better throughout last season?

“I don’t know the whole overall answer to that because I wasn’t here for his previous years. But I don’t think he played a whole lot prior to last year, and from day one, he was focused. He was learning and he was competing. I think maybe just a new environment, one of those few guys where maybe a change helped him. That’s not to say anything that was done previously was wrong. But I just think he took advantage of a new opportunity. Obviously, when [former 49ers CB] Shawntae Spencer got hurt early in camp and he missed all of camp, that gave him an opportunity. And he took advantage of that and we just left him in there because he was playing good.”


What does Brown do so well that makes him an every game starter?

“He’s a good student of the game. He understands football. He understands the importance of technique. He understands all the little things that go into playing his position. Yet at the same time, the corner is on an island many times and he knows that and accepts that challenge and responsibility. He’s become a real pro at his position. He’s one of those guys out there that can really help our young guys because he’s learned the position, knows what we want and expect and he does a good job of that.”


Did he go up against WR Calvin Johnson in that Detroit Lions game last year?

“I don’t remember but he could. It all depends on where he lined up.”


Was there any game last season where he really jumped out at you?

“He was pretty consistent the whole year. I can’t pick a game, it doesn’t come to mind right now, but he was pretty consistent the whole year. I think the thing he did as the season wore on last year, when he had his opportunities to get some interceptions, he took advantage of them. He dropped a couple of them early in the season and I think that’s why he got more notice as the season wore on. Instead of them just being break ups, he finished the down.”


Was he your second nickel back when you faced four wide receivers?

“He was at times. He would go in there and be our sixth DB and we’d bring in another corner.”


Is the scenario right now that you do all that right now about who is going to play in various secondary packages?

“Right, we have more options this year than we had last year at this time as it relates to playing six DBs because we have the addition of [CB Perrish] Cox. We have Tarell Brown in there and we have [S] Mike Thomas that’s been working in there. So, we’ve gotten four guys that are getting good reps. Now, Tarell Brown doesn’t get a lot of reps in there, but we expect him, and that’s goes back to you asking about Tarell Brown, we are expecting him to be ready to go in there at any time and I know that he’s keeping up on that position, even though we don’t give him many reps.”


Do you the potential for teams more and more maybe giving up on the run because of the way you guys played it last year and just trying to spread you out?

“That’s possible. It happened to a good degree last year. My numbers aren’t exact here, but they’re pretty damn close. In our season last year, I think we defend around 820, 830 passing plays and there were about 350 or less running plays against us. That basically did happen last year. Now, part of that is when you’re winning 13 games, a lot of fourth quarters you’re ahead and you get a bunch of passes then.”


When you talk about bringing in the six DBs when you’re facing four wide receivers, just getting back to Culliver, is his position changing or would it stay the same?

“No, it would stay the same. He would not be affected by that.”


Have you looked ahead and seen all of the offenses that like to use four wide receivers? It seems to me, even more than last year, on your schedule this year on your schedule, the Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers being the primary opponents?

“They do. I haven’t taken an in-depth look at some of those teams that you’ve mentioned because we don’t play them early. We still see a tight end on the field most of the time. Most teams when they get into their passing formation are three wide receivers, one tight end and one back. Now sometimes that one tight end is a really good receiver as we’ll see in the first game against Green Bay with [TE Jermichael] Finley and in the second game with [Detroit Lions TE Brandon] Pettigrew right now. We still see a whole lot more at least one tight end on the field than four wide receivers.”



How much has LB Ahmad Brooks improved over the time you’ve been working with him and what areas do you want to see him improve on this year?

“He’s improved a great deal since we first started last year. Number one, I think he’s got a better understanding of his position and how to play it. The area I’d really like to see him improve in is become even a better pass rusher than he was last year. I think he’s got to improve his technique, just the little things that go into becoming a top pass rusher and he’s shown that he’s on his way to doing that so far in this camp. But I think he’s got a whole lot more he can give us in the pass rush that he gave us last year consistently.”


Didn’t Brooks play something like 93 percent of your snaps last year? Is decreasing that percentage part of improving his pass rush?

“Not necessarily. Again, it goes back to what the flow of the game is, what type of game it is. Are they passing a lot? Is it more of a first and second down run and play pass team? I’ve got no problem with reducing it, particularly if [LB] Parys [Haralson] is one of the backups there, that he can go in there and take a little bit off of him. But, that’s not an emphasis by any means.”


What have you noticed in Randy Moss as he tries to create separation from your cornerbacks?

“I think he’s still got some speed there that he can create separation. And even in his prime, he was a guy that you didn’t know if he was really running as fast as you think he is. He kind of has a little glide to him or a smoothness to him. We used to say if a guy looks smooth, he’s probably fast and I still think he has some of that. Time will tell, when we play the games, exactly how much.”


You talk about Ahmad, DT Ray McDonald, obviously, another first year starter who was prominent in the rise of the defense to a level it hadn’t been before. How much was he responsible for that? What part did he play?

“Tremendous part. Ray McDonald is a big, big piece in our defense, both in run and pass defense. He plays the run and rushes the passer extremely well for us from the inside position. I think he improved as the season wore on last year. He was a guy that was one of the most pleasant surprises for us, in that I knew he was a good player, but I think he played his best last year and [head coach] Jim [Harbaugh] would tell you that, too. He’s a big, big cog in our defense.”


Coach Harbaugh mentioned yesterday, you noted that DT Justin Smith, obviously, as a star, but he plays like he’s just trying to make the roster. Are there other guys you’ve coached, obviously a player of his stature, who have that kind of attitude?

“Yes. [LB] Sam Mills comes to mind. You guys remember the linebacker from New Orleans and Carolina. Sam Mills, everybody thought was an overachiever because he was short. He was only 5-9 as an inside linebacker. But that was the only negative of his game was his height. He was very talented otherwise and I feel that same. And he had the mentality of an overachiever, of a guy fighting to keep his job and I think Justin’s the same way. Justin’s a very talented football player that has the mindset and attitude of an overachiever.”


Getting back to LB Ahmad Brooks, sometimes when you see a guy sign a big, long-term contract you see a decrease in his commitment, his work ethic. What have you seen from Ahmad this offseason?

“Actually it’s had the opposite effect with him. He’s had an increase in his commitment. He was here, he probably had his best offseason that he’s had in pro football. Again, I haven’t been around him throughout his whole career but people that know him longer than I have said he had a much better offseason than he’s ever had and he will tell you that, too. He was here a big portion of our offseason program. I think he’s probably in the best shape of his life, at least in his NFL life, and we’re expecting a big season from him. We’d be disappointed if he doesn’t.”


CB Tramaine Brock was your number three cornerback early last season before he got hurt, how is he progressing this training camp?

“Good. He’s had a good camp so far, been pleased with the way he’s playing. He knew he had to improve in his corner play. He was another guy that has some ability to play inside in the nickel package. We took that off his plate. We wanted him to focus right now on becoming the best corner he can become. He’s another guy, down the line, that we could slide inside, possibly.”


Looking at the nickel position, what physical attributes do you need kind of there as opposed to the outside?

“Well, a lot of the same ones, but you need to be a guy that can handle the short area quickness. You get a lot of quick routes in there and option routes that you can react to them quickly. The biggest thing is the ability to learn the position and execute the position. I mean if you think about it, the nickel defense is no more than a 4-3 defense and the nickel replaces one of the linebackers in the 4-3. His responsibilities are linebacker responsibilities so there’s no carry over, mentally, from the corner position to the nickel position. They are two separate positions mentally. So you have to have a guy that can learn all that besides being a corner. It puts a premium on a guy’s ability to learn and execute a totally new position.”

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