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"Hope everybody had a great summer. I think I speak for the staff; we're excited to be back. We had a long break. Had a good start yesterday. I was really impressed with our player's ability to come back and retain all of the information that they were able to in our first practice. We threw a lot at them in the spring and we treated it like we were gone on a long weekend. We had about 20-25 calls up yesterday and we had very limited mental errors. So, it's a smart group and that's very positive for us. Good meeting this morning. Looking forward to get today's practice rolling and then pads tomorrow."
Jim O'Neil Talks 2016 Camp Competitions
What did you do during that time off as far as, did you guys kind of meet and figure out exactly what you saw during the offseason program and form how you would put guys out there during the early portion of camp?
"So, we had a personnel meeting at the very end of our mandatory mini-camp and we ranked all of our players, knowing that that's a ranking based off of not being in pads. We'll find out a lot more in the next week or two. Sometimes, there's two or three guys you love in shorts and they don't show up with the pads on and then there's two or three guys that don't necessarily you like with the shorts on and then you put pads on and you're like, 'Wow, where did he come from?' So, the next week or two will tell us a lot more, but the way we ended spring as far as how we ranked the guys is how we started training camp."
How did you rank it?
"How did we rank it? The guys that were first and second in the position groups when we go team today will be the guys out there first."
Are you still planning on, at inside linebacker next to LB NaVorro Bowman, is that still going to be a three-man battle for that starting spot?
"Yeah. Again, because we're not going to have a true evaluation on those guys until we put the pads on. Yesterday, Mike [LB Michael Wilhoite] ran with the first string. Today, it'll be [LB] Gerald [Hodges]. Tomorrow, it'll be [LB] Ray-Ray [Armstrong]."
You aren't going to have LB Aaron Lynch for the first four games. Does that alter how you look at some of the other guys in practice this spring? Are you going to have DT Tank Carradine solely at outside linebacker? Will you put DL Ronald Blair at that linebacker at all because of that suspension?
"Yeah, I mean, losing Aaron, he's the type of player that you build a defense around, just how dynamic he can be. But, it's an opportunity for some guys to step up. We're going to play the best 11. So, if it's two outside backers and three D-Linemen, if it's four D-Linemen, one outside backer, if it's three D-Linemen, an outside backer and an inside backer, we're going to get the best 11 out there. So, we're going to look at Ronnie Blair, we're going to look at Tank, we're going to look at [LB] Eli [Harold], we're going to look at [LB] Corey [Lemonier]. There's a lot of guys we're going to look at. So, we can do a lot of things package-wise going into the first quarter of the season to absorb some of the reps that we're going to lose from Aaron."
At this stage, do you consider, maybe in base downs, Tank Carradine an outside linebacker?
"Yeah. We're giving the outside linebacker group every opportunity to win that position."
How do you go about kind of finding that balance between getting the best guys on the field, but also putting in what you want to put in? Is it literally a day-to-day thing where you just have to be flexible and change as you go along?
"Yeah, I mean, that's part of the evaluation process. We'll be very different defensively this year than what I was last year just because we have different players. I think the thing that has been great about this scheme that we'll employ is it's built every year around our players. We don't force our players into the scheme. We try to build it around what we do best to complement them."
Some of the players have said that your scheme reminds them of what Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio did when he was here. Did you look at those defenses? Were you influenced at all by the success that this team had in the recent past?
"Yeah. I've seen a lot of that tape. Vic was in Baltimore with [Buffalo Bills head coach] Rex Ryan and [former Cleveland Browns head coach] Mike Pettine and he left to come here and then we went to go to New York. The system has kind of split. It's being run, probably, at four or five different places now. But, there's definitely elements of what Vic was doing to what we're doing now. It's a lot more get lined up and play fast. You know, call it and run it type defenses."
In the offseason program, you talked about DB Jimmie Ward being one of the top 11 guys. I'm assuming he's still there in that top 11.
Is he a cornerback? Is that how you see him lining up?
"He's practicing right now, he's our starting corner, right now, opposite [CB] Tramaine Brock and we are still training him inside at nickel. But again, our depth chart right now is written in sand. So, we're evaluating our guys every day. Our starters will be very different today than what they were yesterday. So, everybody's going to have a chance to go with the ones and we're going to find out what they can do."
Can your corners switch sides or is Jimmie always going to be on the right side?
"It'll be game plan specific. So, if we want to match a guy on a particular wide receiver, we can do that. If we want to play left-right, we can do that. If we want to go strong and weak, field-boundary. So, it'll all be based off of what we want to do game plan-wise with those guys."
Are there dangers in doing that? Try to be a master at everything and maybe a guy doesn't get fully comfortable in one spot?
"No. We've had a lot of success doing that in my years in the NFL with the corners that we've had. So, to me, it allows you to take advantage of a corner's ability. If a corner is better at playing against smaller, quicker receivers, match him up against smaller, quicker receivers. If you've got a bigger corner who's better against bigger wide outs, than match him up against him. So again, we're in that evaluation mode. Whoever are our two starting corners, they might just be better off going left-right. They might be better off matching. So, we're rolling it every day in practice."
Could Jimmie be your starting corner and then in nickel, move to slot or would you like to just have him out at corner?
"I would prefer our starting corner to stay outside. That's really hard on a guy to have to switch mentalities from being an outside corner to then come inside in the slot. It's a totally different game in there and there's a lot of new techniques that are involved in that position. If we have to, we will do that. I've done that in the past at some of the other teams I've been with, but you prefer to have your outside corners stay your outside corners and then when your nickel comes in the game, he plays in the slot."
Assuming Jimmie stays outside, who are you looking at for that nickel position?
"[CB] Will Redmond, [CB] Chris Davis, [CB] Keith Reaser are the other guys getting reps in the slot right now and then we'll also play [S] Eric Reid at nickel some versus some of the heavier packages."
Coming into training camp, Chris Davis' name wasn't really considered on the outside to be in the mix atop that depth chart. What has he done to earn so many reps in that nickel spot?
"He's smart, tough, makes plays. He does a good job executing the coverages. So, he had a really good spring. He's a guy that kind of popped off the tape. So, he's one of the guys I'm really looking forward to seeing how he progresses through training camp with the pads on."
When it comes to creating turnovers, I know there's a lot of variances from year to year, but this team didn't create very many last year. Is that a point of emphasis for you in this camp? Is there ways that you can ratchet that up or have guys rally to the ball?
"Yeah, we'll go through a turnover circuit and we rep it if you watch a lot of the coaches. At the end of individuals you'll see guys scooping balls, punching balls out, catching the ball. The biggest thing we're emphasizing right now is just getting 11 guys to the ball. When you get a lot of guys around the ball, good things happen."
What do you like about NT Mike Purcell? What does he do well?
"He's very solid at the point of attack in the run game. He's very smart and he's a great teammate. And when I say he's a great teammate, he's a guy that constantly takes two in the run game, so it allows guys like NaVorro and whoever is playing the other inside backer to run free to the ball."
You had Cleveland Browns DL Danny Shelton last year. Do you envision using him as a one and a three-technique because that's what Shelton was used at specifically?
"The way we teach our three guys inside is they learn all three positions. So, when we ramp up and we're ready for the season that will give us the ability to play with our best three. We don't have to say, 'This guy is our best nose.' No, if we have three really good ends, we're going to play with those three ends. So, we train them all to learn all three."
Purcell is obviously an undrafted guy, he was pretty much anonymous until preseason of last year. I realize this is your first year with him, but do you know enough about his background to understand why he went undrafted?
"I never watched the college tape. For whatever reason, everywhere I've been we've been able to find a big nose tackle that has gone undrafted and has found a way to make our team. When we were in New York we found [New York Giants NT] Damon Harrison who just went and got paid a lot of money by the New York Giants. For whatever reason, those big bodies, the 3-4 teams obviously value them a lot more than maybe 4-3 teams, so their ability to get drafted probably gets cut in half right off the bat, but those guys have found their niche in the NFL. Mike is one of those guys that's done a great job."
What kind of benefit do the edge rushers get having former 49ers DE Andre Carter here in camp and doing some individual sets with him?
"Dre's been great and anytime you have a player that's had so much success in the league and rushing the quarterback, it's good to have that guy, to be able to do some individual and watch tape with you. 'Hey, these were some of the tricks that I was able to have success with,' and just share that knowledge with some of the younger guys. He's been awesome for us."
When you watch tape of NaVorro in practice, throughout the offseason and yesterday, does he look different? Does his knee look a little bit more mobile than how it was last year on game film?
"Yeah, I thought last year towards the end of the year he was kind of back to what he was pre-injury. But, NaVorro's been great. I think he's really started to step into that leadership role and there's a lot of guys in the NFL who are lead-by-example guys. I think NaVorro has kind of taken that next step and he's a follow me or else guy, which are the kind of leaders you need to have to have a great unit in this league."
When DL Glenn Dorsey is ready to go, is he a candidate to possibly be a nose?
"Yeah, I liked watching him on the sled yesterday. I thought he was going to break it. He's a heck-of-a football player. He's a guy that we're excited to get back. He's able to go through individual right now, but we'll gradually get him involved in some of the team stuff as camp goes on, but he's a guy we're excited about, especially on early downs."
* Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers