Offensive Coordinator Geep Chryst
"This will be a brief statement about the Rams game and then there are probably some other questions. But, we got the ball to start the game. We thought that we had a chance to go down the field, get points on the board. We got three. We thought we had an opportunity to get seven. We didn't. And then at the end of the first half, again, you have a chance to make it a one-score game. 13-10 feels a little bit different than 20-6 going into the game. So, felt like we had some opportunities. Through the context of all that, guys started to go down. [RB] Reggie [Bush] went down. [RB] Mike Davis went down. So, guys had to step up. That affects what we're doing in terms of the game plan for this week and who we have playing. We've got the two running backs coming in, both [RB] Shaun [Draughn] and [RB] Pierre [Thomas]. They've done a nice job getting better. That's kind of where we're at with things, but I know we need to either visit the Rams game or kind of get to some of the other questions I'm sure you have. But, that's kind of where we're at as we sit here one practice and a couple of walk-thrus into Atlanta preparation."
Geep Chryst: 'We Have to Find a Formula'
Does Pierre's experience allow him to learn things quickly and be ready to--?
"Yeah. I think that, you know, you look back at what [RB] Carlos [Hyde] did and the production he had in the Minnesota game. And then he's been really tough trying to work through that injury, but I think it was the right thing to do last week and we knew early in the week, meaning that [RB] Kendall Gaskins was going to get some playing time, Mike was going to get some playing time. But, at the end of the day, with both Reggie and Mike getting injured, you just felt awful thin. And, we're fortunate that we had him earlier for a workout. I know that the personnel side's working really hard to get quality names. And Shaun Draughn's been a nice addition as well. He's been playing football and we'll see where they're at. But, when you have injuries, when you have to make adjustments, it's just, you just keep moving forward. And so, we're trying to get those guys ramped up. Pierre's played in that NFC South, has been productive, but we like Shaun too and they've really done a nice job with [running backs coach] Tom Rathman of learning the playbook, doing what's required to be ready to be active both hopefully on Sunday."
As you stand here today, do you have any idea how the playing time is going to be split up on Sunday?
"You know, that's what we love about practice is we like to figure that out. But, Shaun got in a day before so he's maybe a day ahead in terms of the learning curve. And they've been working in the morning and at night. So, he's a sharp, bright kid, which means I think he can learn and be ready and be available. Pierre came in a day later. I think he's probably where Shaun was, which means he's slightly behind in terms of where the playbook is. But, I would fully expect that they'll have command of the game plan. They don't need to know the training camp playbook, but command of the game plan. And probably have to see them on the field in practice and probably, hopefully, look forward to seeing them play on the field on Sunday. But, that's kind of the plan."
You're going to have a new running back then, probably, a new quarterback, a new tight end. Are you going to have new offensive linemen as well?
"Again, we're working through a lot of the practice stuff. We're valuing the practice reps. We're trying to give some of these young guys, like we talked last week, an opportunity to earn it. But, you still have to earn it within the community of the team. And that's where the practice reps are important. We've been giving them opportunities, but they also have to seize that opportunity and base that as much on merit as just change for change sake. But, there's that possibility too."
When you're backed up against your own goal line, how much autonomy does the quarterback have to get out of a certain call?
"You know, in that particular case, there is the availability to rise up and throw the ball out to [WR] Torrey [Smith], specifically. You know, you're backed up. I think that was the play that Reggie was hurt, sliding in. And then we had some extracurricular's which led to penalties. So, we were trying to figure out where were they going to spot the ball and we were also figuring out, you'd prefer to have the most veteran back in there. So, there was a lot going on into it. But, yes, as part of our standard operation, you have the opportunity to rise up and throw out to an open receiver. But, that's still at the discretion of the quarterback. You know, is there a threat of a ball being tipped? All those things are factored in. It's a window of opportunity, but it's not a mandate."
Obviously, you've been here ever since QB Colin Kaepernick got here. Why is it that it just didn't work through the first eight games and this move was--?
"That's a question that you ask yourself on the plane ride coming home when you're frustrated. But, you're a part of a team and we know that the 2012 team that he stepped into the huddle with had a lot of really nice characteristics. And it was, probably, I don't want to say years in the making, but he showed up in 2011 and walked into the huddle in 2012. But, some of those elements had been in place and been put in place in terms of the O-Line, in terms of the defense, in terms of the stability that he walked into. In 2015 here, we know that in the NFL the roster will churn, what, 30-percent every year it seems like. Well, here we are a couple of years down the road. We still have some core elements of that 2012 team, but there's a lot of pieces that are new. I think that the vision that we had of what this offense would be or maybe how we would contribute to a victory was what we saw in the Minnesota game. And then one by one, some of those elements, take Carlos Hyde for example which was a critical element, they're no longer out there. We still have to find a formula. And with the new line and with all the things that have been going on, Colin has had a high expectation for himself to win football games and when you're dealt challenges, it's harder to win that football game. You put not only pressure on yourself, you become frustrated when the games aren't wins. So, Colin's a hard worker. He hasn't worked any less hard. He's applied himself in the way that he plays the game in a lot of the same ways, but it's a team sport and I think it's important that we all understand that just because [QB] Blaine [Gabbert] happens to be in there, we're not trying to say, 'Lose QB, blame QB, tape at 11.' It's a more overarching thing that we've got to get things solved and we're willing to try anything, including a new quarterback at a position to try to get us going."
From what you said, it sounds like you reference that Minnesota game, Colin had 165 yards, threw 26 passes, you ran for 230 yards. Was he just, given the circumstances that changed around him, was he being asked to do too much this year with his arm?
"Well, first off, I think that you look at how Minnesota's defense has played or their team has played since we played them, I think they were a worthy opponent there and we had the upper hand. I think we were firing on all cylinders and operating on full strength. I think that any run game, no matter who your quarterback is, helps you to play the position. You get more single high coverage because you can now drop an extra individual into the box. Your play-action should come to life if you're running the ball. And so, there's been a consistent effort within the game plan and within the practice field to have the runs, but when you lose the productivity of a guy as talented as Carlos, it's hard to keep that efficiency. I thought that at times in games, including let's say the second half of the Giants game, we ran it effectively. But, in terms of a consistent run game, it puts a little more pressure on the quarterback when you don't have it. So, I would have to say that, again, if each game is a chapter in a season, what we saw that first chapter is what we hoped to see but through circumstance, we haven't replicated all of that success that we had in Minnesota."
Head coach Jim Tomsula has gotten up after practically every loss and said, "Blame me, it's my fault." I won't be impolite and rattle off numbers, but the offense has not been good.
How much responsibility do you bear?
"You feel like you bear it every call that you make. You feel that you bear it every practice that you do. And, you know, you try to get under the hood and say, 'OK. What is it that we're failing on?' And at the same time, as a coach, you know that the hand that you're dealt. You're also responsible for what's on tape, which is different than what the stats may bring. If you have, let's take the Pittsburgh game, Kap set a career attempts and completions record, but a lot of that was, in a coach's mind, some empty yards and empty completions after the game was out of reach. It's still a statistical fact, but you have to watch the tape. Just as I think the frustration for everybody is when you have an opportunity, and they may be more limited compared to other years that you've had for Kap. When you have an opportunity, let's take the throw to [FB] Bruce Miller right before the half. It feels like you have to hit that opportunity, because it's not an unlimited batch of opportunities. And in a game such as that, when at the end of the day, the Rams offense had three big plays that led to their three touchdowns, we really didn't match that with any big play. Yet, you watch the tape and you felt like, 'Hey, if we hit this pass to Bruce' or there was an example in the first half when we still had a 3-0 lead and really in the first quarter, Reggie crossed the face of a defender. We feel like that could be a big-play opportunity. Even with Torrey backed up at the one-yard line, that may or may not have been a big play opportunity. And when you're struggling on offense, it seems like the struggles lead to less opportunities, which puts more pressure on, you better hit this one otherwise you're going to have the statistical profile like we have."
Do you think Colin in 2012 played better because he might have been thinking he was competing with Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith to maintain that starting job and do you think going forward, maybe that same notion could spur something out of him this year?
"With regard to 2012, I think he was excited about playing football and was looking forward to contributing and making plays to win. And, it seemed like those plays, whether it was the Chicago game in his first start on Monday night, it seemed like there was all these ample opportunities to make plays. It seemed like almost every drive there were these opportunities to make plays. And, you get to 2015 here, it seems like the margins seem smaller because of just where we're at as an offense or where we're at as a team. And as a result, you have to feel like you've got to hit your mark a little bit more often. And when you don't, you become frustrated because you look at the scoreboard and you're behind, and that creates frustration too. So, competition is good. I think every NFL player knows that there is competition. In terms of bringing out the best, I think Colin wants to bring out the best independent of who's around him, which changes or who he's competing with, which in this particular case is Blaine."
Why do you think those margins are smaller?
"We're not blocking well at the point of attack in the run game. The opportunity to throw from a clean pocket, we did that an awful lot in 2012. And again, it's not unfamiliar to other quarterbacks that are challenged throughout the league from year to year. It's just, when you play more and more football from year to year, you're going to have good years, you're going to have years where you challenged to do so. So, from a football perspective when you watch the tape, independent of the stats or independent of the commentary, you see that and yet you try to have to figure out a way to effectively produce within those windows of opportunity."
Kaepernick talked a couple of weeks ago about being protective about throws, maybe explaining some of those. Did you find yourself maybe being protective about calls at some point and might that change with the quarterback change?
"First off, I think it's a valid point, right? You go through a four-interception game, two are returned for touchdowns, this concussion bomb goes off. You feel responsible that you've kind of contributed to a loss of a team. So, you come back the next week the one thing you're not going to do is miss it the same way twice. But, there are chances where you watch where Kap probably hasn't done that in year's past. And now all of a sudden we have an interesting flip. You're a young player, you come in, you're looking for opportunities to make plays to win. Now it's flipped a little bit and it's I don't want to make a mistake that provides an opportunity for the team to lose. It sounds semantics, but I think that there may be some of that going in. You don't want to hurt the team. It's a fundamental, any player, 'I don't want to miss a block or miss a tackle or miss a field goal.' But, maybe with perspective Kap can breathe a little bit and say I want to get back to what my core principles are which was I enjoyed this game and make it about the sport and not about all of the, whether it's outside expectations or outside criticisms or really your own expectations or your own criticisms. You don't want to fail in front of everybody. It's really that fundamentally simple. And so, you shift to 'I need to protect this throw. I need to protect my teammates.' And sometimes that's a hard way to play when your opportunities may be a little more limited."
I was referring particularly to your calls. An awful lot of short passes or handoffs on third-and-long. Were you protecting against some of the same things in your calls?
"It's a fact that we've had people injured. And it's a fact that you would never want to call a play that exposes anyone to just getting bolowed. So, what you're trying to say is, within these margins you want to make the best call available. And sometimes the best call, especially if it's third-and-long and you're struggling with the matchup, the best call is yeah we may catch it and carry it. Think about the call where we had the little pop to [WR] Quinton Patton in the Packers game. That's a very conservative call, but the player kind of made it right even though it was after an offensive penalty, second-and-18 or whatever it is. So, you want to think that there's still a call that protects the risk but you still have an opportunity to make a play. In that particular case Quinton did a really nice job and made a play. But, you have to factor in how's the game going. In the packed-up territory on the second and third-down calls, we were having trouble blocking their front four. They're a very talented front four. I don't think whether you called a run or a pass, if you're getting penetration up the middle it really matters because we're getting whipped at the point of attack and those are examples where whether you call something like a bomb, throw it downfield, or a quarterback sneak. If you're blown up and you're backed up in the interior it's not going to turn out alright. It just won't."
I had a question about Blaine. What have you seen from him in these practices that you like and particularly, can you talk about or evaluate his ability to just get the ball out quickly?
"So, when we got Blaine on board here, there were some similarities to what we felt Alex Smith went through. Alex came here, was very young and played, had to slug out a lot of tough situations. And we felt like Blaine had all this talent and as a young player maybe a change of scenery would be good for him. He's really applied himself well in the classroom learning it. He's engaged and active. He's a really bright guy. He probably didn't have some of the injury history that Alex did as well. Last year I thought he practiced well, but in the preseason games he got a little skittish, a little 'I'm not ready for this.' With another year within the system, another year within the organization which is always more comforting, I thought he had a really good preseason. His attributes are different. When he played well, whether it was at Missouri, whether he played well in Jacksonville or in our preseason games or on the practice field he does get the ball out differently. That's just his style of play. We'll see if that matches up with a spark that we want to get in terms of the pass game getting the ball out. But, our charge is to still get the run game going to get the play-action going and mix that in with some passes. And it'll be some quick passes as well as some down the field stuff. That's just what a game plan has in football. We have to let it play out. By no means are we saying this point moving forward this is anything of a permanent or etched into granite nature. But, where we are as an offense we've got to do something and we'll leave no stone unturned trying to come up with a plan to win on Sunday. And we're excited about it. We're excited about these young running backs. We're excited to see what Blaine will do given the opportunity and we're working hard to try to get that win on Sunday."
Defensive Coordinator Eric Mangini
"Getting ready for Atlanta, excited about it. I've known [Atlanta Falcons head coach] Dan Quinn for a long time. He was my D-Line coach in New York. I think he's doing a really great job and a really great guy. It's been fun to watch that progression and the things that he's done."
What's your cornerback situation right now with Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones on the other side?
"Oh, yeah, he's there. Well, we've got to see what happens with [CB Kenneth Acker] Ken. He's in the concussion protocol. Other than that, we'll work Keith [Reaser] out there, we've got [CB] Dontae [Johnson] out there, [DB] Jimmie's [Ward] worked out there in the past. He could go out there if we need him to, and [CB Tramaine Brock] T-Brock. So, really have to see what happens with Ken here towards the end of the week."
Eric Mangini Provides Defensive Update in Week 9
What about Reaser and his ankle? Do you think he'll be OK by Sunday?
"Yeah. It's really with both Keith and Ken, we'll have to see how it goes. We'll know more towards the end of the week and we'll prepare for all the different scenarios as they come up."
Do the Falcons rely on or utilize Julio Jones the way Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger did Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown or the Arizona Cardinals did Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald?
"Well, he's got a million catches. He's really good and he can hurt you in so many different ways, whether it's vertically down the field, whether it's some of the catch-and-run routes like the wide receiver screens. He does a good job on those. Some of the read-routes, they move him around so that you can't bank on him being in one spot. And they do a nice job with, he and [Atlanta Falcons QB] Matt [Ryan] obviously have a great chemistry and it's a challenge to find him being able to make sure you have the things that you needed to take care of in terms of dealing with him. But, you've got a running game that creates problems and you've got a quarterback that's really smart and that does a great job of pre-snap reads and gathering information. And if you push too much stuff over too consistently to one guy, he's going to hurt you in other places. And he's got that willingness to do that. Some guys are going to force it, force it, force it, no matter what you do. Where with Matt, in this offense, he does a nice job of saying, 'OK, I really don't have that, but I know that there's softness in the zone over here, or this matchup is good.' If you give him that information too quickly, it's tough. Matt's a guy I spent time with prior to the draft, really was impressed with him as a young guy. So, I'm sure now with time in the league and experience and all the things he's gone through he's developed really well."
What do you attribute Atlanta Falcons RB Devonte Freeman's emergence to? Is it a great fit schematically and it compliments a good passing game or is he just that talented? Where do you see that?
"Well, he's very talented. He has excellent vision and when he can run straight line, he can close ground quickly. He's got really good burst and he's got nice ability, even if the initial window is closed, jump-cut, get back in hole and accelerate through it. But, I think it's a good fit with the running scheme that they use and then when you've got passing threats that they have and the quarterback that they have, you can't always play eight man boxes, you can't always commit as many people as you'd want to, to the running game. So, now when you start creating lighter boxes, that creates some opportunities as well."
How would you half the way through this season for Kenneth Acker, look at him and evaluate him in his first NFL season?
"I think he's growing. I talked to Ken's dad after the game one night and Ken says his dad's been a longtime coach. His dad gave me his phone number or said tell him I can call him anytime I need to if Ken needs a little extra guidance. So, he comes from that background and it's so hard your first year in that role, especially in that position. A lot of times you're out there on your own. You're out there against guys that for some of these kids they were playing Madden. They were playing those players in Madden and there's getting over that initial awe. But, Ken's competed well, he's grown within the scheme, his technique is improving, his comfort level continues to improve and I thought a couple of his interceptions were like punt fair catches, but the one that he had, I forget who it was, where he had to lay out and go get the ball. I thought that was an indication of kind of the growth that he had, or has had."
How big of a, and if there is an advantage this week to have secondary coach Tim Lewis on your side with his knowledge of what's on the other team?
"Yeah, there's a lot of familiarity with coaches on the other side. There's a lot of familiarity with players. But, just playing against New England all the years when I was in New York and having crossover like that, sometimes that familiarity is a really good thing and sometimes it's not as good because just as you're familiar with them, they're familiar with you and things that you like or you know they like. It's just back and forth. They'll counter it, they'll expect you to expect this and so you're always trying to mix things up. But, it is good from a personnel standpoint. You get some insight that way. And then, the guys that are being used a little bit differently than they have been in the past. So, it doesn't always carry over as much as you'd like."
What was your evaluation of S Jaquiski Tartt in his first start on Sunday?
"I thought it was pretty good. With JT the challenge is slowing down. And, I don't mean be less aggressive. You want to hurry but you don't want to rush. It's making sure you take the time to see exactly how the play is unfolding and then have the fit that you need to have or be where you're supposed to be in the passing game. And, there were times where he was hurrying, and there were times where he was too quick to the ball. And, you can coach that. You can't coach guys that aren't aggressive. Typically, once they're not aggressive, you know, they don't bite when they're puppies, they don't bite when they are older. But, you can coach it the other way and get them to tempo it down. And there was some of that in the game, which was all in the right spirit of it. But, you'll see growth with him too as we move through the season."
Was one of those the 71-yard touchdown run, was too quick to--?
"Yeah, that's a good example of where he came down quickly. Now look, there were multiple things there that could have been better, but when you do come down that quickly and the ball hits that quickly, you saw the separation between he and [S] Eric [Reid] and then he tried to transition, couldn't get his feet underneath him. So, now you've got a, instead of those two levels of the funnel coming down, this level is here, this level is chasing, there's just too much field on the backside."
One more on him. You hear quarterbacks sometimes say that they go up to the line of scrimmage and they look for a tell and they usually look at the safety to tell them what's happening. Is that a concern with a rookie, especially when you've got a veteran quarterback that you don't want him to move too quickly to telegraph what defense you guys are in?
"Yeah, definitely. We preach that all the time and as we were talking about the other week with [former NFL head coach] Ted Marchibroda, you start with the young guy. So, there's a lot of guys they could look out at now and say, 'OK let me look at Acker. Let me look at Dontae. Let me look at Jimmie.' So, all of those guys as a group need to do the same thing where it's nobody is being the one that gives away that pre-snap information."
I think people look at Dontae's rookie year and he played a lot because of injuries and he played pretty well on a good defense and then this year it seems like his snap count is much lower than it was last year. Are Ken and Keith, did they progress that quickly that they took Dontae's job, that they surpassed him on the depth chart? Did he regress? Why isn't he playing as much?
"Well, he's playing more now and he'll continue to play more. And sometimes it's with Keith's role where he was playing in different packages, he was a good fit for that role that week against that group of wide receivers and the way that it was playing out. With Dontae, he's done a lot of good things, but Ken has done a lot of good things as well and that's why he got the opportunity that he did and then since he's been playing he's continued to grow. But, it's not an unhappiness with what Dontae's doing. I thought he did a really nice job last week in the reps that he got a chance to play in. That was a different role than he had been playing. Really that was Jaquiski's role that was Eric Reid's role and he fit in there. And, at any point his role could increase dramatically. It could increase dramatically this week and he'll get another opportunity to make a case for himself."
Have you spoken to Kenneth Acker's dad?
"Have I had to make that call? No. And I don't anticipate having to, but it's nice to have it there. I'd probably say the same thing if my boys were some place and talking to a coach. Whenever my kids talk about coaches, I'm like, woah, slow down, slow down. Just listen."
With where the record is, does that impact the conversations that you have with LB NaVorro Bowman about his playing time?
"No. That plan's really been in place, or the conversation's been in place since he first came back. It's not with the record being what it is we're going to change things dramatically. It's about finding the best balance to help him continue to play throughout the whole year and beyond. To continue to play as well as he possibly can, to help us defensively. [LB] Gerald [Hodges] has come in, he's gotten to know the system a lot better. He's getting more reps and part of that was figuring out what he could do and how he can contribute and now how do we fit that rotation. So, it changes a little bit during the course of the season as well."
How much of a push is DL Arik Armstead making for more playing time, especially in pass rushing situations?
"He's made a good push. There were some things early on that I wasn't excited about that he's worked on and he's improved upon. I thought last game, three or four really good examples of not just what he could do but really who the player is. He had the chase play, where he pressured on the sideline. To me, that's always going to be one of Arik's greatest assets. He's got tremendous size. He's got good ability. He's smart. He's got good players around him in his room that can help him grow and mentor him. And it's the motor, it's the motor. As he grows into, not just his role, but just in the NFL, he'll continue to make jumps because of how he's wired and who he is."