This is the transcript of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s Week 1 conference, courtesy of the 49ers P.R. staff.
Where do things stand with LB Malcolm Smith?
“He’s going through practice today and everything looks good for game day.”
What point during the training camp did you realize you had a keeper in a guy who can make an impact Week 1 in LB Fred Warner?
“For us, I think it was the first game that he actually got to go hit somebody. Felt like he had great hand placement. Didn’t think physicality would be an issue, but being able to actually go through the game and go through it and actually be able to use all that physicality and bring people down. It pretty much sealed the deal on what we felt like we already knew.”
Did you go into the draft process anticipating that he could be a physical guy after not showing it too much in college?
“That was the big question on him. No different than it was for [CB] Ahkello [Witherspoon]. But, that’s where I think [general manager] John [Lynch], [vice president of player personnel] Adam [Peters], [senior personnel executive] Martin Mayhew, [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and our staff did an unbelievable job digging to see, ‘Is it because they are unwilling or because they just don’t know any better?’ Fred’s circumstance was he was never in position to be able to play physical. So, we had to go dig and find some Senior Bowl tape and all the different examples of where he would and where he wouldn’t shy from contact. So for us, the physicality part was never an issue.”
Do you expect him to play MIKE?
He was saying yesterday that he’ll do the communication. How easy was it to kind of gain that trust in him to be able to do that in his first NFL game?
“It’s very easy. I said it before, he was one of, if not the smartest interviews I’ve ever had personally at the combine for a linebacker. He’s picked it up well. He’s got great command of it. He’s got a long way to go. I don’t want to crown him quite yet, but he’s a rookie, he’s going to have his peaks and valleys, but we have great confidence in him.”
Is it all systems go with CB Richard Sherman, we’re assuming?
Throughout this last month and on the practice field and the exhibitions, were you paying extra attention to his footwork to see how that Achilles has responded?
“You know, I guess you look at it. You’re looking at the footwork to see where he is at and all that stuff, and he looks great. He does. The speed, I know there was a lot of talk about the go-ball in his very first rep and all that stuff, but I haven’t seen speed deficiency. We haven’t seen speed deficiency. But, his communication, his instincts, his quickness, all of it looks fantastic. He’s ready to go and we’re excited to have him.”
Does he spend extra time with you? I’m sure he’s giving a lot of communication with some of the younger guys, just to make sure he’s giving them the right answers, does he spend a lot of time talking with you about the scheme?
“The cool thing with a vet, and really it’s just vets in general, I can imagine being on offense, special teams, whatever it is, the great ones do a great job communicating with the coach so everybody is on the same page. I think sometimes with young teams where you get lost, it’s always coach to player and there’s no dialogue so that way we can find the best way to put players in the position they need to be. Sherm does a great job with communication and being able to get on the sideline like that Indianapolis game, like, ‘This is what I saw.’ He’s speaking to you because he was on the football field, he saw it. So that dialogue is always great. Him being able to do that and having that veteran presence and all that stuff is always beneficial.”
Can you talk about what went into the decision, I know John has talked about releasing DL Jeremiah Attaochu, but just the composition of that group, having only those three guys and then it seems like you have an abundance of inside guys. What went into the thinking of constructing it that way?
“You know, with Attaochu, he did flash. It always comes back down to dependability and whether or not you can be available for game day. That defensive line is filled with NFL talent all the way, whether you’re an edge rusher or an inside guy, it doesn’t matter. We feel like we’ve got the best group of D-Line that we could’ve possibly had with the men that were in our training camp. The decision on that will always come back to dependability.”
What did it for DL Ronald Blair III? Was it his versatility that he’s able to line up basically anywhere?
“He does have versatility. I always mess with the staff. I always say, ‘If you like winning, then you like Ronnie.’ He just always wins. He always finishes on the block. He does what he’s supposed to do. He’s got great versatility. We love Ronnie. We love his work ethic. He stands for everything we believe in. He gets the job done. So, for Ronnie, it was very easy.”
What do you think is going to be the most challenging aspect that the Vikings present?
“They’re very talented. Their skill guys are very talented. They’ve got a good scheme. I know [Minnesota Vikings QB] Kirk [Cousins], obviously the quarterback is special. From a talent standpoint, they’re very good. So, from that standpoint, just the challenge of it all is being able to execute on our end. Guys are on it. Guys have been communicating great in practice. They’re really locked into the game plan. We’re excited about the opportunity to go against them.”
When you study them and then you know what Kirk brings to the table, how do you think he maybe can elevate them from where they were a year ago?
“With Kirk, whenever you get a quarterback like Kirk, just the precision and the efficiency at which they operate, their timing, he elevates everyone just by making things go more efficiently, being pinpoint with his accuracy. He’s an elite quarterback. Them having him is going to be beneficial for them. Again, it’s really no different for us. For us, every week we’re going to play great quarterbacks and we’re going to play great players. I know our guys are ready for the challenge.”
Have you spent more time with Kyle this week in devising your own game plan, what you want to do, just because of his history with the quarterback and kind of the knowledge he has on Kirk Cousins?
“Kyle’s always involved, every week. Kyle’s very, very good at trying to formulate a plan for the entire team, to understand what it’s going to take as a team to win. It’s not offense, defense, special teams. It’s a team effort and what we’ve got to do collectively as a group. He’s involved with special teams, he’s involved obviously with the offense and he’s involved with defense to make sure that we’re all on the same page and we’re all trying to achieve one goal and how we’re going to do that within the parameters of our scheme. He’s involved with everything.”
What’s been your experience with Week 1? Is that an oddball week for teams because you haven’t really seen what the opponent is going to do? It seems like there’s always a few upsets in Week 1.
“There’s always the unknown. Two years ago when we were in Jacksonville, we played Green Bay. After the game in Jacksonville, we felt like we played a pretty good game against them. He had a quote. His quote was, ‘You see 75 percent of what they’re going to do. You’re prepared for 75 percent and the other 25 percent is the unknown. We feel really good about what we have. I’m sure they’re going to throw some wrenches in their scheme. I’m sure they’re going to have some trick plays or something that we haven’t seen, but we feel really good about our scheme and the way we do things. We feel like we’ll be prepared for whatever they try to throw at us.”
You and John Lynch mentioned dependability with Attaochu. Did he suffer another injury after the Colts game or what was his injury history when he was here?
“I’ll leave that one alone for the training staff and everybody on how they could answer that one. I’m sorry.”
Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo ran a lot of RPOs last year, sort of famously in the Super Bowl. There are a lot of trends in this league and a lot of things don’t always carry over year to year in terms of success rate because defenses can make adjustments. Do you think RPOs are something that have legitimate staying power or do you think maybe it’s another wayward trend in the NFL where it doesn’t necessarily last?
“I know the RPO system got a lot of media attention over the offseason. Is it a part of what they do? I’m sure. Is it why they’re going to win or lose football games? I don’t think so. It is a cool little wrinkle that offenses can put into their system, but like anything else, if you do it too much, defenses, that’s all we do is watch tape, we’re going to figure it out. So, we feel good about our plan. I’m sure they’ll have some RPOs, but that’s definitely not make or break for them. It’s a good wrinkle, I’ll just say that. Eventually defenses always catch up and we feel good about what we have going for our offseason studies.”
Does that mainly fall on Malcolm? Is he the guy that the quarterback is mainly reading for those RPOs?
“They’re reading, every down it’s somebody different. So, without getting into too much scheme in what we’re seeing, I believe that all 11 are always exposed. So, it’s just a matter of us being on our details in exactly what we’re trying to accomplish defensively.”