Harbaugh vs. Singletary: It’s in the eyes


Sorry to be so late with this. I had computer problems today in Santa Clara.

Jim Harbaugh addressed the media after practice at a podium under a tent facing the field.

When we asked questions he’d pause for a second or two before responding, face completely blank. Then he’d either light up and respond enthusiastically or bypass the question with a vague, short answer.

He’s the opposite of Mike Singletary, who would frown if he didn’t like a question.

One more thing about Harbaugh. When he responds to a question, he tends to look past you, right over your shoulder as if he’s reading an invisible cue card. I don’t know what it means but it’s the opposite of Singletary. It’s very hard to read Harbaugh. I’m making no judgment one way or another. I’m just describing.

A funny thing happened at the end of the interview. Eric Branch, formerly of the PD, asked the last question, and just as he began to ask it, a plane flew over us drowning out Eric’s laid-back San Diego voice. Harbaugh couldn’t hear the question, so he walked down from the podium over to Eric, but he tripped and almost fell. He caught himself, and without missing a beat said, “A lesser athlete would have hurt himself just now.”

Here’s the Harbaugh transcript courtesy of the 49ers’ public relations department:

On how the players breath smelled in reference to Coach Harbaugh wanting to be close enough to smell it:

“Smelled pretty good, smelled pretty good. It was good to be smelling it. It’s good to have these guys back, felt good. We had a really good day yesterday and I thought we got better today so we’ll define success if we can come back tomorrow and be better tomorrow than we were today.”

On whether practice turned out how he envisioned it to be:

“Yeah. I thought the energy was great. I thought our guys took care of each other in the format of the practice, understanding the tempo, understanding we didn’t have the armor on today and yeah, I was really impressed. You wish you can come up with the formula to try to bottle the enthusiasm and the energy that football players have for the first day of training camp. There is nothing like it. It’s almost like the best day of the year in terms of that and if you can just find a way to bottle that and keep it every day throughout the season you really have something.”

On whether he sensed any apprehension from players:

“No, did not sense that whatsoever.”

On what it means to have QB Alex Smith and DT Ray McDonald signed:

“That means a lot. I’ve said it before, Alex is a 49er. Ray McDonald, 49er in every sense of the word. It means a lot that those guys want to take care of our team in that way and play football with us. It means a lot and great to have them back.”

On the challenges/adjustments unsigned players bring forth:

“Hundreds of adjustments. Hundreds of adjustments. The rule changes were still coming today. A lot of time to plan for this but I’ll be glad when we know all the rules and don’t have to keep changing practice schedules sometimes 2-3 times a day. I’m not complaining though. I’m not complaining, but it was a well run practice. Our players really focused, they finished, started fast and they kept that tempo throughout the practice so it was a good day.”

On whether he has to go out and bring in a better receiver:

“Have to? I mean, that’s your words so I’m not going to…I don’t think we have to do anything. We like the guys we got here and I thought they performed very well out there today. We won’t discuss any plan in terms of free agents, our plans moving forward with personnel, other players on other teams, any of those kinds of things. It’d be like going into a game and divulging the first 15 or the first play of the game. We’re just not going to do that.”

On whether he’s happy with WR Joshua Morgan and WR Ted Ginn Jr. as the starters to open the season:

“Again, you’re saying something that just…those aren’t my words. I’m just not going to talk about the plan no matter how the question is phrased and I’m not trying to be confrontational in any way other than just to get the point across that we’re not going to talk about our plan. Creative though how you phrased the question, I appreciate that, I really do.”

On whether he’s talked to RB Frank Gore since Monday:

“No. You know a lot of times coaches will say that they only worry about the players that are here and coach the ones that are here and to a large extent that’s what we do. We’re coaches and we go out there and coach but I do worry about all of our players and Frank Gore is one of our guys. But at the same time, all my energy is coaching here on a daily basis, meetings and on the field and there will be a reckoning to come, but I worry about Frank. I like Frank. Frank’s a 49er and I hope Frank comes back.”

On whether he thinks Gore will fall behind:

“It’s hard to say for me because I haven’t worked with him on a daily basis to know where he’s at.”

On whether he has reason for optimism Gore will be coming back soon:

“Do I have any reason for optimism? I have a lot of reasons for optimism and right now, just so you know, my mindset is great expectations for tonight’s meetings, great expectations for tomorrow’s practices. I don’t know, I can’t put myself in somebody else’s position to speak for anyone else. It’s not humanly possible for me to do that so I’ll just speak for myself and what my focus is and what I’m trying to accomplish.”

On his focus, philosophy and coaching style:

“Right now it’s just good to be back. I like being in the chaos of this. Talked about it before, some of the uncharted water, back coaching on the football field, I can’t tell you what a joy this is for me. A lot to do, very little time to do it. A lot of things to be caught up and not a lot of time to catch up so it’s chaotic in that regard and talk about some of the obstacles that we face, but they got to be overcome and I love that part of the challenge. That’s very exciting to me personally and I hope it is to our guys to keep forging ahead. We’ll define success as better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today.”

On QB Colin Kaepernick’s first practice and whether he struggled on the field, particularly with taking the snap from the center:

“Well, we did as a unit, definitely. We’re going to try and get better at that tomorrow than we were today. We’re working hard on it. We’re working hard on it with all our quarterbacks and centers.”

On his first thoughts from Kaepernick’s practice:

“Really good. I thought there were some really, really good things. He made some fantastic throws. The kind throws where you didn’t think the ball was going to get there fast enough and then it got there with plenty of time to spare. And some of the tougher throws, the corner throws, having to drop it in over the defender, having to throw the deep, 20-yard in-cut, those are big-league throws and to come out here, walk out on the first day taking the snaps with the starting professional football offensive unit is really, there’s some remarkability in that. That’s remarkable in some ways. Same thing for Kap [Kaepernick], we’ll go back to the meetings tonight and see if we can get ready for tomorrow’s practice and improve on some of those areas that you pointed out and keep getting better tomorrow.”

On the benefit Kaepernick has taking all the first-team snaps, now that Smith isn’t allowed to practice until next week:

“You talk about Ray, you talk about Alex not being here. Tony Wragge is another guy, good news, bad news. And I don’t know you guys well enough to know what you like better first, the good news or the bad news. The bad news is that Alex and those guys aren’t getting these reps. The good news is that there’s another player who is and that will bode well for us down the road.”

On whether a quarterback can get better without being out on the field:

“Yeah, mentally. Mental reps, through visualization, through meeting time. Meeting time is very important to football. [Former Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals head coach] Paul Brown invented the football meeting and every coach afterward since Paul Brown has thought it was a pretty darn good idea, so there’s no doubt that a quarterback, especially, can get better through meeting time and watching film. Paul Brown also invented filming practices so every coach since then has used that as well, so Alex can benefit in that way.”

On whether he can gauge how effective the player-run minicamps were during the NFL lockout:

“It’s obvious. It’s obvious that they were a great benefit. To come out on day one and to be able to call plays, for me to go into a huddle and call a play to the quarterback and have him immediately turn to the offense and repeat the play. That just doesn’t happen on day one after getting a day of meetings under their belt and preparation, studying their playbook at night and then to be able to turn around and be able to go do that, and then retain, then the reads, the receivers running the right routes, the linemen executing the right blocking schemes and adjustments. So it’s obvious that the mental work in the camps that the guys had was very, very beneficial.”

On his first impressions of the offensive line:

“I’ve got high hopes. Good expectations, again, that we can keep improving with an offensive line that there’s been some shakeup, especially with a new system. It’s so important that those guys play well together. I think they got the right makeup to do that, I think they have a heck of a coach, two really good coaches in [offensive line coaches] Mike Solari and Tim Drevno to lead them along. [They’re] the right guys in the room to really create that kind of working relationship to get better.”

On why G Chilo Rachal didn’t take part in the team reps:

“He was working through something today that limited him.”

On WR Michael Crabtree’s situation and whether he has a timetable for his return:

“It could be, you know with the PUP [physically unable to perform list], he could be back at any time. Again, Michael’s working through something as well. He tells me he a fast healer so we’ll look forward to that.”

On when Crabtree’s injury was confirmed to him and what he understands about how it happened:

“I don’t really ever get into talking about other peoples’ injuries, whether they’re on our team or anybody else’s. That’s their body, their business. I’m certainly not going to go out and repeat it unless I absolutely am mandated to do that. That’s something that I don’t ever really get into, the specifics of those types of things.”

On when he first knew about Crabtree’s injury:

“I really can’t recall the exact time when I knew about it.”

On whether he feels confident that there is a plan in place to take care of some of the 49ers’ personnel issues through free agency:

“I do. I’ve been involved in it and [general manager] Trent Baalke and I are talking everyday on it and we’re executing that plan, and I think smartly. We feel good about it and we’ll let our time and results judge if we were correct in our thinking.”

On whether part of the plan is to be patient and let things shake out:

“We’re working very hard at it and, as far as the patience part, I would probably say three quarters of the team in the National Football League are taking that approach right now.”

On whether it makes his job more challenging early in training camp with Gore not yet in camp, Smith not allowed to practice yet and Crabtree injured:

“Yeah, absolutely, they are three core offensive guys that we’re counting on. But again, it’s back to that good news and the bad news and the attitude with which you approach things. You’re always trying to tell the players just how important attitude is. The good news is there are guys that we’re going to need during this season getting valuable work. The bad news is those three guys aren’t getting work right now, but we’ll get to work where we can and make the improvements where we can. Crab is in every meeting and getting extra treatment just like some of the other youngsters who weren’t at full speed in practice. I thought it was really another great thing, the extra treatment starts at 6:30 AM for us here and each and every guy was there on time, and early. Every guy there was there by 6:15 AM even. That’s taking care of the team and I think that’s a pretty good thing attitude-wise and also to get that extra treatment. Keep forging ahead and hopefully we’ll have more for you in a couple days.”

Follow me on twitter @grantcohn.

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