The 49ers have cut their roster down to 53 and built a 14-player practice squad. On Thursday morning general manager John Lynch and assistant general manager Adam Peters discussed the construction of the roster.
General manager John Lynch: “Alright, we’ll get this going. I’m happy to have Adam up here. Adam’s been with us since year one in our tenure here and he’s been a real valuable member of our organization and our staff and it’s good to have him up here with me as we talk about our 53. Obviously, the last few days, I haven’t been there myself as a player for a number of years. It’s gut wrenching to watch these players, the angst, the anxiety, the nervousness and more so than anything, just watching guys who have put everything that they have and preparation and all their heart and mind and everything they’ve got into a goal. And when it’s not realized that’s really tough to deliver that message. What we try to do is look them in the eye and tell them the truth. And the nice thing now is, at this point, with the larger practice squad, most of them are here in some capacity. And we really look at our practice squad as a part of our team and an extension of our team. And I really appreciate the league allowing for that, the COVID rules upped that to 16 players and we’ve stuck with that. I think that’s good for our league. It’s good for football. It’s really the version of a developmental program that we have, we try to do things in house, but that certainly allows for it. And we’re utilizing that to the best of our abilities. But with that, we’ll open it up to questions on the 53 and you guys go ahead.”
RB Trey Sermon made the initial 53, but he was waived yesterday. What went into the decision to waive Trey, who was just a third-round draft pick?
JL: “Yeah so, when we kept five halfbacks and a fullback and four tight ends, we knew that wasn’t sustainable long term. But we felt like the players we had were worthy of that, so we had strength at each of those positions. The bottom line, [RB Jordan] J.P. Mason just played too well, and we felt like he made our team better. And the hard part of that equation is on Trey, it’s been much chronicled, his readiness last year. Not that he wasn’t ready, he wasn’t ready to play like we felt we needed him to last year. To Trey’s credit, he was challenged and he answered the bell in every way this year. And so, I’m really proud of Trey for that. We got this kid out of Georgia Tech as a backup, and we couldn’t deny it at the end of the day that he hadn’t earned a spot on the roster. What J.P. Mason becomes; I don’t know. We’re very encouraged and we think that he’s really going to be a good football player for us. He runs in our style. And ultimately, it came down to that. Now we were going to, when we decided to keep Trey on the original 53, we were going to ride it as long as we could. I think the transaction that probably made it happen quicker than we thought was that [OL] Blake Hance became available. He brings real five-position versatility, so sometimes we talk about guys versatility, he’s actually done it in our league. Played five positions and has that center versatility, which is so important. And we put a claim in not knowing if we’d get him and we were pleased when we did. At that point, we had to make a decision, where does it come from. And we talked through that with Trey. We’ll find out at 1 p.m. today if he’s been claimed, if not, we’d love to have Trey back because I think Trey really has a bright future in this league. And it just came down to numbers.”
Was there any attempt to trade Trey before you waived him?
JL: “Yeah, we had discussions throughout camp and I think it speaks to Trey’s talents, those were initiated by other teams calling us. So we’ll see where that goes in terms of claims and all that, but I can’t tell you how highly we think of a young man with just how he’s handled the situation here. The way he went to work and then the way he handled it right down to the end, so nothing but good things to say about Trey Sermon.”
Is there something unique about the scouting of running backs where you guys as an organization seem to have more success with undrafted, lower-round guys than you have with higher. Is it just harder to predict, or how do you explain that?
JL: “That’s a good question. We’ll always look at our processes we do every year. The one thing I think we won’t apologize is for having success in later rounds, whether it be [New York Giants RB] Matt Brieda or [RB] Jeff Wilson [Jr.], those guys weren’t even drafted and J.P. Mason and [RB] Elijah Mitchell. We’re happy. We don’t wear it as a badge of honor. Some teams, they’re very beholden to their draft choices. Like they’re not going to move on from a draft choice. We’re not that team. We’re going to play the best players, but we’re also not the team that we’re going to prove a point and let everyone know we’ll cut a third-round pick. I take no joy in doing that. And every draft pick that doesn’t shine, I take that personally, we all do. We have a good process and I think our late-round success, I always go back to, I think it’s the real synergies between personnel and coaching. And that’s why I think we hit on those guys. I guess you go back in our history, some of the running backs that haven’t worked out, we’ll take a hard look at that, but I’m confident in the group as a whole and I’m confident in this roster as a whole, I think it’s a good one. It gives us an opportunity, I remember playing for [former NFL head coach] Mike Shanahan. He used to, it was almost every meeting, all you can ask for is a chance in this league and this team, as its constructed has a chance. And that’s a good feeling going into the year.”
You started to answer this about Hance, but what’s the plan position-wise for him and for OL Nick Zaklej and for OL Jason Poe moving forward?
JL: “Yeah, so for Hance, I talked to him down there this morning. He got into his hotel room at 1:30 a.m. and he was in here early in this morning, getting schooled up on the offense. Working with [offensive line coach/run game coordinator] Chris Foerster, [assistant offensive line coach] James Cregg and that group, going to work. But when I mentioned his versatility, I think it will be just as that. And then [OL Daniel] Brunskill’s coming off this hamstring, we’re hopeful that we have him for Week One. You just never know with those things and so, having a backup center, someone who’s done it is very important. And so I think Blake did a lot of that last year for Cleveland, but he has played left tackle; he has played right tackle. He’s played both guards and so, we’re excited about that. Those guys are extremely useful. As for Zakelj, as [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] calls him ‘Zakel J’, he is just a guy who kept getting better every single day and that’s what you want in this league. He came from a smaller school, lesser competition and so, probably it was an eye opener when he got here, just like it was at the senior bowl. I remember Adam talking about at the senior bowl his day two was so much better than his day one. And he’s got a lot in his body and he just kept looking like more and more of an NFL player with every given day. And we have really focused on him at the guards. We don’t want to throw too much, but we do believe that he has center in his future. And he’ll start snapping out here, we’ll make that part of this repertoire under the thought that the more you can do, the better for him, the better for us. Poe that was a tough one, man, because that guy, his fight. You talk about a guy you respect and just the joy he brings to playing football, I think it’s palpable. You feel it and we were hanging on for dear life. That that was a hard call and the guys love him, like in the locker room when he makes a play, everybody, you hear it. And so, we’re just going to put him in and allow him to keep getting better. And guys like that, despite the challenges of being a little smaller, when you have heart, fight and it’s not just that, he has ability, those guys tend to make it.”
His skillset is so unique, he’s shorter, but he’s got that natural leverage. I think Chris Foerster said he was a bowling ball. With the position coaches, when the cut down was happening, are there different positions that are kind of pounding the table for Jason Poe given that skillset?
JL: “No, but my worries were some of these other teams in the league, ‘gosh, is someone going to bring him in as a guard/fullback/tight end, so I should probably shut up right now. I really like the young man.”
How do you look at this draft class? No first-round pick, but, well, I don’t know, three, four guys maybe could be pretty big contributors right away. Did you see that in this class? CB Samuel Womack even down to QB Brock Purdy, did you see this happening with this draft class?
AP: “Yeah, I think any draft class you hope that happens. And we thought we had a lot of talent in there. We thought we got really good value, especially with our first three picks. And then on down the line. Purdy, I thought he was probably going to be a fourth-rounder or a fifth-rounder and everybody got kind of pushed back. So far so good, it’s been really promising and we’ll see how it’ll go in games.”
Was the decision to go to three quarterbacks specifically, because you didn’t want to expose Brock?
JL: “Yes. Brock came in from day one and just kind of showed a grasp for our offense. It wasn’t too big. I think his experience, this is a guy who’s played a lot of football. Just command and presence and when he steps in that huddle and it’s his huddle and he’s not afraid to throw into small windows, there’s just a lot to like. And he just earned that spot and we’re a team, if you look at our history, we like keeping two quarterbacks on the active because it allows us to do some things elsewhere, but if you have a guy like him, you don’t want to expose him and we didn’t and we like that room and the way it’s constructed right now.”
Following up on that, a point of clarification on Jimmy. You mentioned in March that you hadn’t received any offers for him because of the surgery. Did you ever actually receive an actionable trade offer on Jimmy and also how much did keeping Jimmy maybe shake things up?
JL: “Yeah, that’s always an interesting question, because it’s not like someone emails you here’s our offer. It’s discussions, and what I can tell you is, with great confidence, combine time there were really serious talks with probably two, three teams that I felt like, you’d have to ask them, like this was going to happen. And that’s when that that’s news broke, and then things went where they went. We talked a lot about the other day as to why we arrived at where we’re at, but I’m glad that we’ve arrived where we’re at.”
But after he got healthy, those conversations never got back to that point where you were in February?
JL: “Yeah, and that’s why we were a little at a loss. You can talk to his doctor, you can talk to our doctor, you can talk to a lot of people and he was doing well, but we’re happy that they didn’t, we’re happy that he’s here.”
Going back to Mason, he wasn’t even starter in college, right? So how do you guys find someone like that?
AP: “Yeah, he was actually beat out his junior and senior year by a guy who’s really highly talented, actually transferred to Alabama this year. Gibbs is his name, so really got dug out by [area scout] Warren Ball, he’s our Midwest scout now, was our Northeast scout, but he crosschecks the running backs. And he dug him out, just watching a ton of tape and said, ‘I really like this guy.’ I remember he sent me a cut up like four days before the draft, ‘watch this guy’, so I watched him, coach [Anthony] Lynn watched him and we thought he was right up there with everybody. So kudos to Warren for find him and obviously, I think he’s been a great fit for us.”
And another question, different player, CB Sam Womack III, it seems like he came on your radar late. Obviously, a collaborative thing, but how rewarding is it for you to see a guy chosen where he was to now being in line to be a major contributor for year one?
AP: “Yeah, I think with Sam it sounds like he came onto the radar late but really, I think back in August of that year, [area scout] Ryan Kessenich, who’s our Midwest scout, said he’s one of his guys that he’s convicted on. So, we had our eyes on him from then. And then, just throughout the process, we noticed his ball skills, his length, something that we really look at is a guy’s length compared to his height. And he measures at like a six-foot guy. And you actually saw that in some of the preseason games this year. He was able to get that ball out on the interception and then making the play over the middle. So really, I think it was another collaborative effort with our scouts. Our R&D loved him in terms of his metrics and all that, so we’re really excited with where he’s at and hopefully he’s competing for a spot right now.”
Let’s do WR Danny Gray too since we’re doing the rounds
JL: “New number, right? Six. That’s what I think it is.”
AP: “Oh wow, yeah, he made it. Danny, same thing, Danny we really loved his speed, I think that’s the one thing that really jumps out on the tape for you, and it jumped out on the tape at SMU. And then the other thing that we really talked about was his toughness, when you got a guy who’s fast and tough and catches the ball well, I think he’s going to add a good element to our offense.”
JL: “With Danny, I was just down at TCU, doing a dual-purpose trip, seeing one of my daughters who’s a sophomore there but also stopped by practice, they got some good prospects there. But [TCU head coach] Sonny Dykes, [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] has got a little relationship with Sonny, I think from Cabo. And I’ve known Sonny, because I played for his dad in the Japan Bowl way back when and so we got on the phone with Sonny, and he just couldn’t say enough about the young man. And for a coach who’s coached in Texas for a long time to say I’ve never felt speed like that on a field, some guys have timed speed, but his speed, you feel it like I’ve never felt. But just being down there, because the old SMU staff, a lot of it is over at TCU, just the love those people have for him. He’s got an interesting story, he overcame a lot, but those people are just really pulling for him. And after being around Danny you realize he’s got a ways to go in terms of the grasp of the system and we ask a lot of our receivers but man, we like that kid because it’s real speed, but real tough kid as well.”
You guys started out with five running backs and four tight ends and a fullback and your two rookie running backs are like 220-plus, is that an indication of the ground-and-pound, play bully ball?
JL: “Yeah, you know there’s certainly been an evolution in us as an organization and kind of what we covet and I think some of that is just predicated on how you win games. Some of it you grab a player like a [WR] Deebo Samuel and you see the physicality that just wears on people. We try to do a lot of things and I think we got as good a staff and a lot of it starts with our head coach who’s our play caller in terms of gaining schematic edge, but it’s not all about scheme. At some point you got to impose your will on people and some of our early picks that didn’t pan out you say why, and then probably a rebound effect, okay we’re going to go get a thick, strong and tough and you start seeing it. I remember back to Tampa, defensive coaches getting really upset with me because I would never sit on the bench, well I wanted to watch [former NFL FB] Mike Alstott run somebody over, that lifts a team. And so I think those things start kind of getting ingrained in, alright, this is how we win. So, if we can mix scheme with that man on man, we’re going to impose our will on you then that’s a good thing. So maybe it has become a thing. [TE] George [Kittle], the way he plays kind of embodies that, [T] Trent Williams, you go down the list. So yeah, it becomes kind of a characteristic that we covet. But it’s really nice when you get guys who can impose their will but also separate and do things and also run. So that’s what we try to do, come up with a good mix of all of it.”
You guys have always gone heavy on the D-line, you were heavy on the O-line this year. How much of that is just maybe because T Mike McGlinchey and Daniel Brunskill are banged up, or is it more of, kind of like you do on the D-line where you just feel really good about the guy?
JL: “Well, we go heavy on D-line, always have, always will because it’s just a philosophy and because [defensive line coach] Kris Kocurek, whatever we have he asks for ten more. So, he wears us out and we kind of meet in the middle. But in all seriousness, I just feel really good looking at this list and the fact that we got [DL] Kemoko Turay to come back, that’s really exciting. So, I really see it as eleven and then we got guys like [DL Alex] Barrett that are so integral to what we do. So that’s a really nice thing. We’re always kind of set up to go heavy there, but it will always be dictated by who the players are offensively. We really thought we were going to go nine this year. Blake [Hance] at the end, you’re always scouring, and I want to point Adam, [director of player personnel] [director of player personnel] Ran Carthon, who leads our pro department, [pro scout] Fred Gammage III. We have so many Slowiks, [pro scout] Steve Slowik. We’ve got [offensive passing game coordinator] Bobby [Slowik] and Steve and then I played for his brother [Miami Doplhins senior defensive assistant] Ryan [Slowik]. And his dad, [former NFL coach] Bob [Slowik], and [pro scout] Crowley Hanlon. So, they do such a great job of really scowering the league and sometimes it’s a thankless job because they do all this work and we only claim one guy and might not claim anyone but they do the work and they do it really well. So, when Blake became available, we saw that as a good fit, that took us up to ten offensive linemen. Having twenty, we do believe the game starts up front and I think that our roster’s indicative of that.”
Was playing for Kris Kocurek something that brought Kemoko back? Because he had five and a half sacks last year, so I figured he might have had opportunities elsewhere.
JL: “Yeah, I think it brings a lot of people to here, brings a lot of people back, I think more than anything, when you have a coach who you know is going to invest their whole heart, soul and being into making you a successful player. Is he going to be demanding? Absolutely. But are you going to learn? And then that’s doubled down on by that room. There’s a bunch of good dudes that really pull for each other and I think it can be a spot like that because everyone can play. Not everyone’s up on gameday but we rotate them through. My old coach [former NFL head coach] Rod Marinelli used to tell those guys run until your heart blows up and then run some more. Kris is very similar like go, go, go. And don’t be looking at the sidelines for us to take you out. We’ll take you out because we’ve got, not just depth, but real depth of guys who can play. And we’re excited about that group.”
Just after seeing the whole preseason work of OL Spencer Burford, what’s his NFL readiness, his potential? Is he everything you hoped he would be when you guys took him in the fourth round?
AP: “Yeah, he’s a guy who was a tackle, really, his last couple years in college and played a little bit of guard in college too. So, moving him inside, you never know how that’s going to go but I think he’s held pretty well there and playing right guard the whole time and he’ll have his wins, have his losses, good days and bad days, but you see the little incremental growth every single day and I think he’s got a really bright future. He’s got really long arms, he’s very strong, smart and a hard worker. So that’s all I can ask.”
CB Dontae Johnson never seems to go very far from the roster. What’s the plan with him and the free safety spot while DB Jimmie Ward is dealing with the hamstring injury?
JL: “Yeah, that’s one that… that’s the most brutal. Those conversations, they’re all brutal but talking to Dontae, it feels like it’s happened so many times, so I feel like it comes down to, Dontae, we value you and then it’s kind of, you feel like hollow words. Well, why do you keep doing this? And it’s because we trust him. He’s dependable. I think never was that more true than late last year when we played him in the same game at nickel and safety. He had played corner earlier in the year and these are at important times, deep in the playoffs, and he’s just always there for us. So, I hate that it comes down to that he didn’t make it, because for a large part of the offseason, right down to the end, really, we felt like he was, but when certain things break on your 53 that you feel like you need to go strong and heavy at other positions, well then there’s always a trickle down, and so you have to make tough calls but I’m really thankful and grateful that Dontae believes in this organization enough that he came back for us and he’s the type of guy that will come and I promise will be playing at some point for us and do a great job. That’s what he does. As for free safety, we’re going to let that play out. We’ve got options with, [S Talanoa Hufanga] Huf has been tremendous, and I think really asserted himself and I’m really excited to watch him play. I think he’s a football player who, year one, showed some flash and year two is showing a real consistency and grasp for the position and a comfortability. And now he’s got to go do it, but excited about him. [S] George Odum came over, we knew we had a Pro Bowl special teams player, but a guy we thought and had demonstrated last year for Indy could play safety at a high level. He gives a great option. [S Tashaun] Gipson has been a nice add although he didn’t come until I think our second or third day in Minnesota when we got him on board. But he’s a vet, kind of played in a version of this system with [safties coach] Daniel Bullocks down in Jacksonville so he took to it really quick. So, all of those guys will be in the equation, am I missing anyone? [DB Tarvarius Moore] T-Moore, of course, yeah.”
Is Dontae Johnson on the practice squad?
JL: “Yeah, he is.”
With the money you guys saved capwise with Garoppolo, do you plan on doing any extensions or contracts before the season in the next week?
JL: “I can tell you, I’m not going to tell you who, but we’re talking to a few players. I’ve been more focused on our roster. I’m leaving that to [executive vice president of football operations] Paraag [Marathe] and [vice president of football operations Brian Hampton] Hamp. But we will try to pursue that, see if it makes sense for them, for us. We’re always trying to lock up our good players.”