Robert Saleh on the run defense: “There’s some new things that guys aren’t used to seeing.”

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh at the team’s NFL football training camp in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, July 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Here is Robert Saleh’s Week 10 Friday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers P.R. department.


CB Richard Sherman was talking last week about how you kind of put your own stamp on this defense. I’m just curious how has your defense evolved in your eyes in the time that you’ve been here to where you are now?

“I think it’s more of a credit to the players. [Head coach] coach Kyle, coach Shanahan, obviously [general manager] John Lynch being a part of this, too, the standard that they talk about every single day, what it’s supposed to look like, the vision that they’ve had and how it’s trickled down all the way to the players is obviously everything. When it comes to defense, it’s all about effort, it’s all about technique, it’s all about playing with violence and all that. The players have taken the message and they’ve really, really bought in and those guys have really made this thing come to life. As far as a stamp and all that stuff, we always talk about it’s the players that make that call come to life, regardless of what happens. To their credit, they’ve been working at it for three years now and they’re doing a really nice job making it come to life, if that makes sense.”


From a schematic standpoint, when you’re looking for new wrinkles and things to add, are you getting ideas just from watching tape of your guys and understanding better what they do or where do you kind of get your inspiration from?

“You know what, it’s a combination of both. You always want to work to maximize the player’s ability, but also what teams are doing to you, what you’ve seen from other teams, trying to exploit what they do, trying to exploit what you think they might do. So, there’s a lot of different things that go into game planning and every week presents its own different challenges.”


Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson’s been playing at a high level for a long time, but it seems like this season he’s elevated his play to maybe that elite tier. What do you think the difference is in what he’s doing from a production standpoint?

“Russell, I’ll be honest, I used to love Russell when I was on his team, but he’s been creating a lot of nightmares lately. His support group, Russell’s always been fantastic and the early years he had a fantastic support group and the group he has working with him now, [Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler] Lockett, [Seattle Seahawks WR] DK Metcalf, the back, there’s, obviously, I’m missing somebody, but they’re doing a really, really nice job and it’s really cool the way those guys work together, because a lot of it is Russell starts scrambling. His throws on the run and all that stuff, his stuff out of the pocket and the way they’re married together, and I know they practice it all, it’s almost a play and then a play when he starts scrambling, which they work on. The way they’ve got that thing dialed in is what makes it very unique and what makes it special. They’re just so tied together that it’s very hard to defend.”


What are the coaching points for you when you’re going against a quarterback that works outside of the structure as often as he does?

“It’s the same for us every week. I won’t reveal game plan and how we teach things, but we do have a plan in place and it’s just a matter of going out and executing it.”


What has Richard Sherman meant to the growth of this defense, especially this season and the way he’s been able to perform on the field?

“Sherm, dating back to last year, his leadership qualities are unmatched in my opinion. No matter the situation, whether he’s at his ultimate high, whether he gets angry, whatever it is, he’s able to bring himself to a level where he’s always trying to teach, trying to get better, working with players, working with coaches, just all of us all together. He’s really taken that step from just being the wisest guy in the room, just being the oldest and understanding all the different things that have happened, not only from a schematic standpoint, but helping these guys learn and understand the pro game and how to be a pro and how to practice and approach that. You can’t put a price on what he’s meant to this defense.”


Do you think he’s going to be particularly amped up for this game?

“You know what, you try to keep it as internal as possible, it’s just another Championship game. If you think otherwise, that’s where you can get kind of screwed up. And it’s a very, very hard thing to do to keep yourself within the moment, day-to-day, to make sure that you focus on every team as a Championship team and every moment as a Championship moment. If you allow the external factors of the team, the lights, the game, Monday night, all that different stuff, you allow those external factors to seep into what you’re trying to do internally, you can get out of whack. So, the message for Sherm is stay internal, stay focused, day-to-day, moment-to-moment. He’s wired the right way, so I think he’ll be able to stay in the moment.”


Is that something you have to remind him right before the game because it is former team?

“You remind everybody, every day, no matter what. If you wait until game day to remind them, then it’s too late. It’s a life commitment to be able to stay focused day in and day out at the task at hand, to stay in the moment and not allow things to get too big for yourself just because it’s a different set of circumstances. The circumstances are always the same, it’s a Championship game. And for Sherm, and for everybody in general, you’re always talking that way so that way they can stay focused on the task at hand.”


You mention the pieces around Russell Wilson and now Seattle Seahawks WR Josh Gordon potentially being in the mix. What layer does he add to that Seahawks offense?

“We’ll see. I know he’s a very dynamic receiver. He’s fantastic. It’ll be interesting to see how they use him if they get a chance to use him this week. He’s always been a fantastic playmaker. It’s just a matter of getting on the field and finding his role and niche. I’m sure they’ll find a way if they can.”


What will you guys miss most about not having LB Kwon Alexander out there?

“His energy, his juice, obviously his playmaking ability. There’s going to be a lot to miss, but we’ve got tremendous faith in [LB] Dre Greenlaw and the guys that are going to step up in his place. Not really, obviously it’s a loss, but at the same time this is like I’ve always said before it’s the NFL, they’re not going to wait, no one’s going to feel sorry for you. They never ask how, they ask how many and Dre’s got to step in and make sure that there’s not misstep once he steps in there.”


You run a strict left cornerback, right cornerback scheme and I think they did that in Seattle when you were there too. What do you see as the benefit of that and are there ever times when you’re tempted to move Richard around on somebody?

“There are philosophies. Our philosophy has always been that, the best way I can explain is it takes 10,000 hours to master a task that’s the old saying in the books that have been coming out. It takes thousands and thousands and thousands of reps to get really, really good at one thing. If you are able to replicate what you are being asked to do day-in and day-out play-in and play-out, all these practice reps, all your individual reps, all your game reps, every single rep that you could possibly, all your mental reps, you can get a lot better than if you were jumping left, right and moving all over the place. For us, it’s always been in that philosophy that we’re going to get so good at what we’re being asked to do that regardless of what we’re being asked to do that regardless of what you try to do we’re going to out execute you and by doing that it’s all about the development of the player and understanding that through time you will get better as long as you stay deliberate in your approach and you take every rep like it’s a Championship rep and you just trust through the process of time you’ll always get better.”


In the preseason you talked about how Dre was almost too instinctive at times and LB Azeez Al-Shaair needed to work on his alignment. How much growth have you seen from them since the preseason to this point?

“They’ve had really good growth. Dre’s done a really nice job because he’s had reps, he’s had game reps, he’s been able to go through it. He’s got to continue to stay consistent and go through all of it. There are going to be some new things that happen to him. He’s a rookie, he’s seeing real life, game action. I mean he did it in Tampa, but he’s going to get tested and how he bounces back from that, how he responds to it, how he plays those moments are going to be all learning experiences. Even if he does well, it’s going to be a learning experience. He’s got to stay focused, stay on this task, execute the techniques, make sure that this thing doesn’t get too big for him and go execute and I think he will.”


Richard Sherman was pretty upset about the way things went in the second half of that Arizona game. Do you share a similar sentiment and what was your takeaway just from how things ended after halftime?

“I do. We’ve kind of spoiled ourselves over the first seven games, the defense that we’ve been playing. If you really look at that game, it wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t up to our standard. Anytime you can hold an offense under 300 yards and 20 points, that’s a good day of defense in this league. Consistently, you’d be top-five across the board if you were able to do that week-in and week-out. The 90-yard play is the one that just made me so darn upset because it’s just a combination of things that happened and that’s the one that just makes everything look like it was a really bad day. Were we our best? Absolutely not. Can we be a lot better? Absolutely. Is it easy to fix? I do think so and it’s stuff that we’ve been working on this week and we’ve just got to go execute.”


Because you guys have been able to jump to big leads, a lot of teams haven’t been able to stick with the run but they’ve had success. Are you concerned about the run defense and if so what are the things that you’re seeing that are causing problems?

“For us and the run game, we’ve had a couple of misfits where the ball has been squeaking out on us. To me, they are fixable. It’s not anything from a schematic or execution standpoint, for that matter. It’s just being a little bit more decisive with how we play things and I think we’ll get better because to be honest with you there’s some new things that we’ve been getting, run-game wise, that guys aren’t used to seeing. As the year goes, as we learn, as we see the way teams are attacking us, we’ll get better and better in the run game. So, I’m not hitting their panic button on it, but obviously it is an area of emphasis to make sure that we are still stout against the run because to be a good defense you’ve got to be able to stop the run first to make teams one dimensional.”


Are you able to say an example of something that they’re giving you that you haven’t seen?



Just checking.

“Appreciate you, though.”


Was Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray good preparation for Russell Wilson, and if so, from that game, are there points you could make about “this cannot happen?”

“Always, when we are going with a mobile quarterback, but it doesn’t change anything. You still have your fundamentals, you still have your rules. They are obviously at different stages in their career. Russell’s going to be, not Russell, Kyler is going to be a fantastic football player, he really is, and Russell is obviously already there. So, there is carryover, but they are still very different in how they approach things. Their styles are a little bit, there’s little nuances to their styles that make them different. Just Russell is so far advanced because he’s been in the league, he’s seen so many things. Not that Kyler can’t get there, but Russell is just playing at a different level right now.”


What’s CB Ahkello Witherspoon’s status?

“He’s working through stuff with the performance staff and that’s going to go all the way up until game day.”


You were in Seattle during the peak of this rivalry between, obviously, Seattle and San Francisco. What do you remember from that time and how big is this game re-sparking this rivalry once again?

“I remember it. I’m going to be honest with you, the message has always been that it’s just another Championship moment. I know it’s cliché and I get for the fans and the media and everyone around it, it gets very exciting, but in-house, and even in this building, not to disregard the team because they are a very good football team, but they are another Championship team just like Arizona was, just like Carolina was, Pittsburgh and everybody else we’ve played and just like whoever we play next week will be. So, approaching it that way, you close your mind off to the media and the fans and all the hype because if you allow yourself to succumb to it, bad things happen. So, they are another championship team that we’ve got to go play against.”


Do you use the outside chatter, you know, people saying that you guys haven’t played a good quarterback yet, do you use that in motivational terms to your guys?

“No. Same thing. It’s an external motivator that doesn’t do anybody any good. It’s not about what people say, it’s about the person that’s got the ball in his hand and it’s about focusing on your job and staying within the moment so you can play at your absolute best.”


This article has 57 Comments

  1. I would like to take a moment and let my fans know I am not gone, but merely biding my time, and getting my affairs in order.
    I am using the same avatar, but I wish to change this soon.
    Hint: A former 49er with 5 Super Bowl rings comes to mind.
    GO NINERS!!!

  2. Hey Razor and NinerMD,

    I sent you both trade offers in the PD fantasy league, and also emails through the league as well. Check em out!

  3. The way Arizona ran the ball with a rookie QB and a RB in town for only 4 days, Saleh’s Defense will need to take a giant leap forward to neutralize an excellent Seahawk running game and a QB who makes it almost impossible to force into one dimensional with his ability to scramble, run or throw to some of the best weapons in the league.

    If the Niner defense can hold down Wilson and company to a TD and a bunch of FG’s they should win decisively. If not, it’s a shoot out and advantage going to Seattle with a run game and and MVP level QB, dropping dimes to a strong receiving corps.. It will take Garoppolo’s/Kyle’s best game to match Wilson and company in a shoot out. Let’s hope the Defense rises to the occasion..

  4. Any idea on the Ref crew for this game? Ref crew could have a huge impact on who wins this one. Seahawks o-line will need to hold to protect Wilson because their o-lineman are inferior players to the 49ers d-line. When Wilson moves out of the pocket it’s very easy for DBs to hold to keep track of the WR in the scramble drill. If the Ref crew swallows their flag on offensive holding but throws flags on defensive holding then that’s going to be a major advantage for the Seahawks. And the Seahawks seem to always end up on the same side as the Refs.

    1. Not a 4th rounder! Look how much Davis helped the team, instead of a wasted pick on a…like, I don’t know, help me out here….

  5. Not good.

    Follow Follow @MaioccoNBCS
    #49ers TE George Kittle misses another practice with knee and ankle issues, suggesting his status is iffy for Monday night vs. #Seahawks.

    1. not good at all….any chance we see “Celek Time” …. ????? If Kittle is out the plan will be= run run run and run some more= but for the love of god these WR’s not named Sanders need to step to the plate and catch the dadgum ball.

      1. Celek needs to practice 3 weeks before he is eligible to suit up… what I remember reading.

        Dwelley and Toilolo will have to step up.

    1. I’m thinking it’ll be a game time decision–he’ll be in uniform, barring a huge setback. The return of Juszczyk provides some positive flexibility should Kittle not play.

    2. He’s now listed as doubtful and Shanny doesn’t sound optimistic. I think at this stage, if its bad enough to not practice all week and be doubtful for the game, even if on Monday they determine he could play the team is better off in the long run keeping him out of the game to give it another week of rest. You don’t win championships in week 10 and at 8-0 the team has a bit of a buffer.

  6. Kittle should not play, and let his knee heal fully. We all saw the backward flex, that put a lot of strain on his knee. His adrenaline allowed him to stay and compete, but the Niners should be conservative, and save him from injuring it further with rest, instead of playing in this game. If the Niners lose Kittle, it may doom their season.
    Instead, the Niners should spread them wide with 3 WR sets, and attack the Seahawk secondary. Maybe put Dwelley in at FB, to help pass protect,
    The Niners should target the rookie Marquise Blair, or the Corner Tre Flowers, who has only had 3 pd this season.

    1. This is my catfish.
      Please ignore.
      Seems like I am made to come on here to patrol this invasive species of catfish in lieu of my poignant observations on the undefeated Niners.

      1. This catfish is a pyscho and should be banned. Can you change your avatar or do a sublte change on your posts that he might not pick up, don’t know but he’s an idiot. I’m sure you’ve asked Grant about it. I do notice some of his punctuation is different from yours, writing style a little different too. Don’t listen to the trolls like PT.

        1. Finally someone has shut Seb up and I think it’s poetic justice.

          The blog has improved 50% without that big mouth!

        2. Nick, thank you, for defending me against this onslaught. I actually think he must have hacked my computer some how.
          Usually, I have not let the trolls bother me, because they, by their insults and actions, are just confirming the fact that they think I am so important, they have to attack me. I dominate their thoughts. It also says a lot more about them, than it does about me. However, this latest catfish seem especially obstreperous.
          I am anticipating the idea that I will have to delete this account, and start a new one, with a new name. Hopefully, my son can solve my problems. He is pretty computer savvy. We will see.
          It is sad to see this turmoil, especially with the Niners on an 8 game win streak. Guess they like to waste time, being obnoxious.
          I am just a die hard faithful Niner fan, who likes to write about a team I love. Somehow, that leaves me open to be the object of insults invective and scurrilous attacks. They even attack my wife. It is no wonder that the blog count has decreased, because any new poster just realizes that they will be the object of scorn and ridicule, if they have the temerity to post, if even a long term poster becomes fair game to the intolerant, mean, vindictive few, who consider themselves superior to others.
          However, I am not going to leave, and I hope others, who not have posted before, can participate in discussing the Niners in a calm civil manner. I invite any person who has any thoughts, ideas or hopes about the Niners to post, and I promise not to engage, unless addressed. This is the time to jump on the bandwagon, because the Niners seem to be playoff bound.
          The Niners are undefeated, so I hope to chronicle this journey.
          Some think I know nothing about football. I had attended games at the Stick since 1979, and remember that dreadful 2-14 season. I had been fortunate to see the Niners come back from being down 35-7 to the Saints, to eventually pull out a 38-35 win, which started the Montana magic. I had season tickets in Section 10, and witnessed those Glory Years. I know what good football looks like. I also know what bad football looks like, with 2 and 4 win seasons.
          Very few can claim to have been eye witness to ‘The Catch’ and ‘The Play’, along with the ‘Miracle Game’, in 1971, when UCD scored 16 points in 20 seconds. I was in the stands when Bill Walsh attended a game at UCD to watch his son, but only recently found out my future wife sat behind him.
          Hopefully the Niners defense can rebound from this last game. I have just watched Grant’s periscope, and he explicitly detailed all the defensive mistakes, with cogent analysis. He also showed many highlights, so I hope the Niners can defeat the Seahawks, and wrap up the division.

          1. Yet, across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes…and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us.

          2. Sebs, all you gotta do is upload a private picture to Gravatar, link it to your email address that you use to post, and the catfish will be left outta water….

  7. With news that Trent Taylor is likely out for the year, I hope we do get to see Hurd activated and get some playing time from the slot. He would add a very different dimension to the receiving group.

    1. Hurd would be a nice addition if Kittle is out. I didn’t see Juice on the injury report. It would be great to have him back too. Would we see a roster move in Hurd was coming off IR?

        1. FRM yes .. and lets hope Dwelley shows up in a big way… be honest the WR core minus Sanders needs to show up…

  8. Monday nite will be an interesting game especially if Kittle doesn’t play and Robbie is also on the sidelines.

      1. CM exactly……this guy obviously has mental problems….anybody ANYBODY that sides with him is just as stupid as him

        1. If you really think he has mental problems, have some empathy, and just let him be. If you want to be mean and try to create a nasty atmosphere, keep criticizing. So what if his posts are too long for short attention span readers. Skip them and move on!

  9. A little off-topic, but why not…

    Watched a few NCAA games yesterday–including Alabama/LSU–and noticed what seemed to be an inordinate number of frantic attempts to strip the ball from ball carriers (without tackling). Many of the attempted (and failed) strips resulted in the ball carriers gaining many more yards than they would have–had they been tackled properly. There were even a couple scores and key first downs made. Just a bunch of bad strip attempts.

      1. I’m in awe how well they (usually) protect the ball, no matter how bad the weather and how big the guy trying to rip your arms and the ball away from your chest. I used to wonder why teams seem not to go for the forced fumbles more, but (a) obviously they try! and (b) it’s a bad strategy, on average, if you end up missing tackles.

    1. Love seeing the Saints getting the snot beat out of them. Statue Brees is going to get slobbered by the Goldmen Sacks. Who knows, maybe Dee Dee will be back behind center for the Aints by then.

  10. My God NFL officiating is straight up trash. That was not Roughing against Aaron Rodgers. Sending Ryan Fitzpatrick off for a concussion check after the refs missed the helmet to helmet contact actually gave the Colts a huge advantage because Of ref incompetence. NFL football is hard to watch.

    1. Replay slows the game down, frame by frame, and they still get it wrong. The game happens in real time and the plays should be reviewed the same way, if they have to review them at all. Some “fans” actually want every play reviewed! You are right, it is getting harder and harder to watch.

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