This is the transcript of J0hn Lynch and Kyle Shanahan’s press conference from the NFL Scouting Combine, courtesy of the 49ers P.R. department.
You look at your draft, at 31, you don’t go again for a few rounds. People say to trade back and accumulate more picks. Easier said than done or how would you go about doing that?
“I think the important part right now is that we’re prepared for all scenarios. So, the best way to do that is to do our due diligence in terms of getting ready for the draft class, the free agent class and evaluating our own players. That’s where our mindset is. I think those things will take care of themselves as our plan and our vision for making our team better this year develops further. Right now, the most important part is that we work really hard in trying to assess the talents and the opportunities to improve our team.”
When you look at how WR Deebo Samuel was able to perform last year, do you feel like the learning curve is getting easier at receiver?
“I don’t know about that. I think coaches and our coaches are extremely talented at it. We saw a skill in Deebo, not only being a traditional receiver, but also just a guy who you want the ball in his hands. I think perhaps some of the trickle up that has come from the colleges and such has opened a lot of people’s minds up to being creative. [Head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and his group do a tremendous job. I thought they did a tremendous job with Deebo. You’ve got to give Deebo a ton of credit. That’s a tough transition and he made it as well as a lot of the guys that I’ve seen. We love everything about Deebo. You know, the other side, he’s got a spirit about him that I think is kind of infectious. He lifts a team with his youthful exuberance and enthusiasm, and he’s a really good football player. When you put those two things together, you’ve got an opportunity to be special.”
Obviously, last year you guys had higher picks, and now you have a lower pick. How tricky is that going to be for preparing for the draft?
“Well, you know, it’s fun this time of year having the lower picks and being able to look at the [DL Nick] Bosa’s of the world and those guys, but it’s a lot more fun playing deep into the year. So, you take the later pick. You know, we don’t have as much equity as we’ve had in years past, so we’ve got to figure out a way, we’ve got to be creative, we’ve got to be exhaustive in all the avenues we look at to improve our football team. We’re committed to doing that.”
How proud were you of QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s development?
“Extremely proud of Jimmy. I can’t speak enough about what a great teammate he is. From day one when he entered our building, he made everyone else around him better. I think he’s continued to do that. He had his first full season as a starter in the NFL and ended up in the Super Bowl. I know Jimmy feels the same way we all do. We left a little out there and that’s a shame. That’s something we’re going to have to deal with, really, for the rest of our lives, but nobody knows that more than him. I’m incredibly proud, as is our entire organization for the way he’s handled himself and the way he’s played and how he’s led our team.”
How much do you look at the fourth quarter when you’re evaluating him?
“Jimmy? I think we all have to take a hard look at the fourth quarter. We built this team to be finishers and we fell short of that. We’ve all got to live with that. You know the nature of that position, it’s probably going to get examined a little bit more, but I think we all have to own that. I think the guys have done a great job of doing just that, not running from it. The other side, you’ve got to give the Chiefs a ton of credit. They went out and earned that game and we fell short. We’ve got to live with that.”
It’s that time of year when there are a lot of rumors flying, especially different websites. One of the crazier rumors is that you might move on from QB Jimmy Garoppolo and go after someone else.
“We’re extremely proud of Jimmy and committed to Jimmy moving forward. He’s our guy. As I said, from the day he walked into our building, he made us better and we continue to feel that’s the case. That’s the most exciting thing about him is the room for growth. He’s not come close to hitting his ceiling. I think the room for growth, the more experience he gets in this system, the more experience he gets playing in general, we think the arrow’s up, and that’s a good thing.”
How surprising was it after you guys bring in RB Jerick McKinnon and RB Tevin Coleman and all these guys and all of a sudden it’s RB Raheem Mostert? What did you see out of him and are you expecting him to have a similar role moving forward?
“Yeah, well, what a tremendous story of a guy who’s been released numerous times from numerous teams and kept the dream alive. Kept himself in the league by being one of the better special teams players in football. I give a lot of credit to our coaching staff for seeing more, and Kyle specifically, for seeing more in Raheem. I think some of the things in the past that kept him from the success that we saw this year, injuries and then ball security. To his credit, and I think with the belief of our coaches with him and sticking with him when he did put the ball on the ground or when he did get injured, we got to see the fruition of that belief this year. Raheem exploded onto the scene. He earned that. We’re very proud of him, very happy for him. He made our team better.”
To follow up on that, are you expecting much turnover in the running back room?
“We like our group a lot. It’s obviously, the one characteristic when you see that group, you see a lot of speed and you see a lot of guys with the right makeup. You can’t ever speak because there are guys who are at certain points where we have to make decisions. We like that group a lot and we’d like to keep as much continuity there as possible.”
You talked about this being a little different of a feel picking so late in the draft. Does it change how you approach either just staying at your pick or maybe even getting aggressive with different guys who are boom or bust players that you’re trying to get high impact out of? How does that change?
“The ultimate goal, and I do think it gets more tricky, is how do you improve your team? We like where our team was this year. We’ve got the right kind of guys, we’re a very talented football team, but [Las Vegas Raiders head] coach [Jon] Gruden, Kyle, they all subscribe to it, I’ve heard it so many times, you never stay the same. You’re either getting better or getting worse. We’re into getting better. It becomes trickier with less draft equity and things of that nature, but we’ve got a lot of good players that are part of us moving forward as well. Being creative in the draft, free agency, via trade, whatever, how do we find a way to get ourselves better and that’s what we’re working each and every day to try to do.”
This draft looks to be strong at the wide receiver position. How do you see this draft class?
“We like our group, I think we like the core of our group. The draft class is incredibly strong, this is my fourth combine and it’s as good as I’ve ever seen. The depth of it, the top-end players, it’s a really good class. You kind of get whatever flavor you like. If you like a smaller quicker guy, those guys are there. If you like the big guys that can move, those guys are there. If you like speed, that’s there. If you like separators. And so, I think the whole league is smiling about that. We do in fact really like our group. We feel like one way of looking at it is that we’ve got some players coming back to us. [WR] Jalen Hurd was a third-round pick and we never got to see him so he’s got to show that he can do it but we think he’s got some talents. [WR] Dante Pettis is still a guy we have a lot of belied in and it’s incumbent on him to have a tremendous offseason so that he sets himself up for success and [WR] Trent Taylor was having a tremendous camp. So, we see some guys that can add to what we already had and then who knows whether we add to it through via the draft or any other avenue.”
Where do you guys feel most excited about?
“I just spoke about what I think is a very uniquely good class in the wide receiver group, but I think it’s a strong draft in general. I think all the positions really. When you’re here and you’re doing your work, you look at everything. One class is particularly strong and I think everyone shares that opinion, but we get excited about all these players.”
Three years ago, you mentioned that you were interested in playing in Mexico City, are you still interested?
“I’d love to go there, yeah. We’ll see where that goes. I’m not responsible for those things, but I’m always staying fresh on my Spanish so I’ll be ready to go.”
We asked general manager John Lynch about the wide receiver class. What has been your overall assessment of that class so far?
“I mean, I haven’t seen it yet, but from what I’ve been told it’s a very good one. I’m excited to see them here. Here it’s more about getting to know the guys. We interviewed a number of them last night. It’s a good group of guys. I think we’ve got a couple more today and then when we get back to the office next week, we can start grinding out and watching them.”
What’s so tricky about evaluating wide receivers?
“I think the way college football is a little bit, there’s not as much man-to-man coverage. There’s a lot of zone, it’s a lot more spaced out with the hashes, so you don’t get to see a lot of one-on-ones and how they beat man coverage. A lot of it is just spread out zones, so you can see guys run with the ball and their movements, but you don’t always get to see a developed receiver. It takes time to develop a guy, so you never know how long that is going to take. It depends on the guy, it depends on the skillset. It always helps when they go to the Senior Bowl and things like that, where you can see one-on-ones and things, but it’s always a guess.”
Why was WR Deebo Samuel able to make an impact and skip that whole development stage?
“Because of how good a football player he is. When I say that, I don’t in the receiver position. I mean, he’s a good receiver and can only get better, but Deebo is as fearless of a rookie as I’ve ever been around. He’s extremely tough, wants the ball in his hands, will fight for everything, he’ll play injured. The game was never too big for him. The moment was never too big for him and that’s why he helped us huge this year. He can get a lot better developing in his routes and things like that, and while he continues to do that, it’s nice that you don’t have to wait on all that. You can still use him because of how tough he is in every other aspect.”
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Peterson restructured his offensive coaching staff, much like you have, with a run game coordinator, pass game coordinator. What’s the benefit of that and why did you do it that way?
“My main thing was how long I had been around those two guys in particular. [Run game coordinator] Mike McDaniel, [passing game coordinator] Mike LaFleur, we’ve been together in a number of different places. They’re very important for me to bring here and help implement the offense. And then just how good they are at it. When you’re a head coach, you can’t do the exact same schedule as you do as a coordinator. You want to, but you can’t. So, you’ve got to have guys that you’ve worked with, guys that can help you, guys that you’re confident in who can do it and so you can catch up later in the week. It’s a lot easier said than done. You can’t just pick anyone to do that. I had the two perfect guys that I had been with for a long time. I have a ton of confidence in them and they get better and better each year. They were great this year and it really helped me out.”
It helps to keep the run game and the pass game separate?
“That’s the main thing. Everyone’s process as a coordinator is different. I know my process and what I went through Monday all the way up until kickoff, I couldn’t do as a head coach. My Mondays were a little different, my Tuesdays were. That’s extremely stressful if you can’t put that on some other people. You’ve still got to find time to do it, which has always been at the end of the week for me now, where it used to be at the beginning of the week.”
Will you guys go through the offense line options this week?
“Oh yeah. We’re looking at every option this week. There’s not a position we don’t look at.”
You mentioned a passing game coordinator. Philadelphia Eagles senior offensive assistant Rich Scangarello, why did you bring him with to San Francisco?
“Rich was with us in Atlanta. That’s where I got to meet him. He had worked with some other coaches and he came in. He was an offensive coordinator in college and he came in to learn our run game. He came in at an entry level for us just to have the opportunity. He left a coordinator job in college. He came in just to draw the runs and everything, learn the run game. I was also able to be around him for a whole year. I had a lot of confidence in him talking to the quarterbacks and things like that. He went away for a year my last year in Atlanta. When I got the job in San Fran, he was the first guy I called to be quarterback coach.”
How many times did you go back and watch that film and at what point did you make the transition from that to focusing on the offseason?
“You’ve got to watch it. You don’t want to watch it right away because it just doesn’t put you in the best mood. You want to get away for a little bit, but definitely have to watch it before I answer questions for you guys so it’s fresh in my head. I did that a number of times right after. I did a little bit a week ago. I’ll do it gradually as the year goes. I always mix it in. You can always get something out of it, but it’s not always fun to revisit.”
What kind of interaction have you had with the players since the season ended?
“Last couple of weeks I haven’t talked to many people at all. I’ve been a little bit off the grid. I saw a couple players. I was out in Cabo and saw a couple players out there randomly. I got to play golf with a few of those guys, which was fun. I think we broke a record because we played nine holes in five hours. Besides that, I think we’ve all been getting away. I just came back here on Monday, so just getting back into it and I’ll start catching up with people here in the next week or so.”
T Mike McGlinchey was obviously a high pick a couple years ago. After he came back from injury, he seemed to really come on. What have you seen from him?
“Mike was huge for us. His rookie year we threw him in right away. He battled throughout the whole year and was able to play and play through a number of injuries. Came in with some high expectations this year. Had a tough injury early on that did set him back, missing some games. Came back and had to play through getting healthy again and finished the year unbelievable. Mike just got better and better after that injury. He’s as detailed and focused of a player as I’ve been around. No matter what you give to him, he’s going to figure out how to get it right.”
John talked about not having as much draft equity this year. How much does that change things?
“I mean, it’s different, definitely. You’ve got to know, I mean you can eliminate a lot of people at number two. You don’t have to put as much time into everyone. You still do it, but when you’re at 31, you’ve got to be ready for anything. I also know long enough that you don’t just sit there and look at your draft and say, alright we’ve got to know 1-31, but then we can just chill until the fourth round or fifth round, whatever we are, take a day off because things change. There’s always trades, there’s always different draft picks so you’ve got to still go through the same process, but there’s not as much pressure on getting to know all the top guys in the draft.”
One of the top defensive prospects in the draft is LB prospect Isaiah Simmons. He can do so many things. He can play linebacker, safety, blitz. As an offensive coach, what’s the challenge playing against those kinds of players and going against them?
“There’s only five eligibles so you’re trying to find the best mismatch out of those five and usually it can be running backs versus linebackers or tight ends versus linebackers or safeties. That’s why you mix in personnel groups with fullbacks and 11 personnel with three receivers and that’s why the defense has to go dime sometimes and nickel just to cover people. Then it gives you a disadvantage to stop the run. When you can have some bigger guys in there who cover running backs, cover linebackers, make tackles, can still get away with covering receivers in the slot, it makes it a lot harder to know what coverages you’re getting.”
There’s no left-handed quarterbacks in the NFL. There hasn’t been one since 2017. Is there any reason why that would be?
“There’s not as many left handers in the world I guess so it’s a smaller percentage, I’m guessing. I’ve never looked at it as that guys left handed. I mean, a good thrower is a good thrower. I had a left-handed quarterback in college and then you go to the right-handed quarterback and it’d be a little bit different back and forth, but I’d say that’s just a coincidence, probably a less pool to choose from.”
You like to throw sometimes, demonstrate stuff for your quarterbacks. Would it be different if you had a left-handed quarterback, would you try to throw lefty?
“We’d be done. If I demonstrated as a lefty, I would lose all credibility. It would look so awkward.”
What would you do to improve the running game?
“We’ve got to catch Baltimore. We need to get [QB] Jimmy’s [Garoppolo] 40 up [laughter]. No, I mean you get better or worse. We had a pretty good year last year running the ball. So, we’ve got to make sure we do everything we can to keep the guys we have and make sure we add a couple more.”
What do you think was the key for your team to respond and fight for you last season?
“I think we were a good team, I think we had good people. We played hard, we battled through adversity, we battled through some injuries and it got us almost there.”
Last year a lot of people were wondering what you were going to do with all those running backs. How do you view that group going forward? Do you want to keep the depth that you have?
“I would love to keep it going forward. I think the group that we had last year showed where we could get with them, but it’s always hard to do that. I hope that we can. It’s not as simple as just tying all the running backs together, it’s how you compare them to the other positions and everything. It’s two years in a row that we’ve gone in with four backs and we’ve needed all four. It’s something that I used to look at as a luxury and now I’m almost feeling like it’s a necessity.”
The Super Bowl hangover is something that it’s not real, but it is a challenge to get back there. How do you guys go into this offseason to try to guard against the drop-off that sometimes happens?
“I mean, just deal with it. Anytime you have a tough loss I think there’s a grieving process you’ve got to go through. I think everyone goes through that individually. I mean, it is disappointing, especially how much you put on the line for that, but that’s life. You can deal with it, no one died. It is disappointing, we do have to grieve, but I’m doing a lot better now than I was three weeks ago and I plan on doing better three weeks from now than I am right now. I think our team is made of the right stuff. I think it’s very important to our team, individually to not just have a career in this league, but we’ve got guys who want to win and it’s very important to and those are the guys that we are going to continue to bring in our building.”
When it comes to quarterback footwork, starting in the shotgun, some quarterbacks start with their left foot, some start with right, I think Jimmy starts on his left. Is that something you teach? Are you dogmatic about which foot goes first?
“I have an opinion on what I think is better and stuff, but I’m also the one who doesn’t have to do it with defensive guys trying to hit me. I always try to coach a guy with the left foot up. I think it times out better. You lose a step, you lose time, because you don’t have the ball in your hand right away so I think you need to lose a step in your drop. When you’re in gun you have the left foot up, it’s more of two steps you take and when you’re under center it’s three. I think that’s an even timing. Some guys have been doing it with their right foot up or parallel their whole life and they just struggle with it. They try to coach it in the offseason and if they don’t get it you make sure to do what they’re comfortable with. Sometimes for handoffs and stuff you can’t have your feat staggered, you’ve got to put them parallel when you’re doing the zone read and things like that.”
Did you change Jimmy? I know New England Patriots QB Tom Brady does left foot first. Can he do that as well?
“I think he did, I can’t quite remember. Brady I’ve watched forever and he changes all the time. I like it when he goes with his left foot up, but yeah, it depends on the throw, depends on the quarter, the year. But, no, I think Jimmy was more left foot up.”
How were you able to keep Mike LaFleur? It looked like there was a possibility of him joining his brother in Green Bay.
“Mainly the first year, it wasn’t his choice, because he was under contract, but it would’ve happened eventually. Mike and I are close and [Green Bay Packer head coach] Matt [LaFleur] and I are very close, so it wasn’t like, it was something we all talked about for a while. I know the emotion of going to work with a family member is very high at first. I think the more we all talked about it, we thought it was a better situation for him to stay and I know Mike went into this year, just so we could make sure it was the right decision, without a contract. I obviously would’ve given him one and he would’ve taken one, but we just wanted to make sure to do it the right way and make sure that everybody wanted what we had. When we gave him a new one in January, he didn’t want to go somewhere else, he wanted to be here.”
The Browns swiped former defensive backs/passing game coordinator Joe Woods and another one of your defensive guys. What’s it like being on the side where a team is trying to take your coaches?
“I mean, last year we were 4-12 and I felt like every one of our offensive coaches tried to get raided, so that threw me off last year, because I didn’t expect it. I was a little more prepared for it this year. I had an idea it was coming. Those guys deserved it. Joe Woods has been a coordinator in this league, he deserves to be a coordinator. [Cleveland Browns defensive line coach] Chris Kiffin has been a coordinator in college and he just has to get his name out there more, because he’s going to be a coordinator in this league, also. Two guys I didn’t want to lose at all, but two guys I felt fortunate enough just to have, because I knew it was a matter of time before they got promoted somewhere.”
In terms of the interactions with the players, what is it like for teams just in the perspective of the combine?
“For me, it’s usually just the start. I just kind of soak it all in. From a coach’s perspective, it’s way too long. It’s dragged out a lot, but I don’t know how to organize it any better. For me, all the football stuff and everything, that’s all second, we’ll see that when we get back to our offices and we can actually study it. I just like being able to come down here, meet a couple players and things like that. You only get a certain amount of people to come visit you, you only can go visit a certain amount of people and it’s really hard to draft a guy that you’ve never even looked at or talked to. Also, I don’t want to put too much into it, too, because I’ve had guys that I’ve met that have been awesome and they completely tricked me. You just try to soak it all in and not go too strong on anything.”
Has your routine changed at all since you’ve gotten more experiences at the combine?
“Not really. My routine, it was the best when I was a position coach and I didn’t have to go to anything so I could just sit at the train station and actually talk to players one-on-one and not in such a big room. They usually didn’t know who I was, so they were probably more comfortable. Now, since I’ve become a coordinator and as a head coach, you sit in bigger rooms where they’re all more formal interviews, so you can’t connect with a guy as much. I kind of used to like it more when I was a position coach.”
I know that you were in Cabo, Mexico. Right now, there’s a new professional football team down there. Do you have a message for these guys, the first professional football team down in Cabo and some of them are 49ers fans?
“I just got back from there. There’s a lot of Niners fans down there and real diehard. I fully support Cabo. Hopefully we can talk to our owner and set up a scrimmage there or something in the offseason. If he takes us all down there, that would be awesome.”
Jimmy Garoppolo, after a year of not playing, what did you seen from him being back as the season progressed just in terms of the growth?
“Yeah, I think Jimmy deserves a ton of credit for what he did this year. I think people talk a little bit about how he was coming off an ACL, but I also think that people don’t realize that was his first year playing quarterback in this league. I think he got three games in New England and he got five games with us. This was his first time going through a full season. He had less games than [Cleveland Browns QB] Baker Mayfield going into his second year. To do that, with the pressure of, to me, everyone thinking you’ve already arrived and coming off an ACL, I thought there was much pressure on him at the beginning of the year as anyone I’ve been around. He just took it, handled it all year and got better throughout the year. I was very impressed with him.”
You mentioned Deebo Samuel earlier, and you got a chance to coach him at the Senior Bowl. Was there something during that week that you saw that made you think you had to have that guy?
“Just being around the guy. You can see most of the stuff on film, whether you’re there or not, but to be around a person for a week, they can usually trick you in a day. To be around a person for a week where you’re having to go to meetings, having to coach them every day, you get a good idea on who really, genuinely loves football and that was the thing that was most obvious about him there.”