San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil met with the media today prior to practice. O'Neil started by talking about how impressed he has been with the team's coaching staff. "I'm so fired up to coach with the group of guys we have on the defensive side of the ball," he said.
He also noted that the starting rotation in practice for the individual defensive units is up to the positional coaches.
Below are some notes on what he had to say about the defense.
SS Jaquiski Tartt (leg) passed his conditioning test and will practice with the team today. He may get a third of the reps that he would normally get if he was 100 percent, but he will be out there with his teammates. "Obviously we're excited about getting him back," said O'Neil. "He brings a lot of versatility to our defense and he's going to be part of our plans."
"We started that a few years ago when the NFL put in the new rule about all of the holding downfield and it seemed like every pass play in the preseason there was a flag," said O'Neil. "So when we were in Cleveland, we started using them with those DBs and they liked them and we felt like it really allowed our guys to get better and stop grabbing downfield so we just brought it here to San Fran with us."
Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner
O'Neil feels that Arik Armstead has done a good job and that the coaching staff just wants him to keep getting better every day.
O'Neil feels that DeForest Buckner has done a nice job as well. He has worked his way up from the third-team unit. The players know that they are not given anything and the coaching staff doesn't care where you were drafted.
He is excited to see them in preseason games.
O'Neil said that the coaching staff probably discusses this training camp battle more than anything else. He feels that they have three really good players in the competition. "If al three of them deserve to play, then they all will," said O'Neil. If someone clearly separates himself, then that's who they will go with.
"I think you're looking for a guy that you can trust out there to execute the scheme," said O'Neil. "A guy with playmaking ability. Can he cover? Can he blitz? How stout is he in the run game? How is he as a communicator next to NaVorro (Bowman) and with the safeties behind him?"
There is currently no timetable on picking a starter next to NaVorro Bowman.
"His versatility will allow him to play everywhere across the front," said O'Neil of Ronald Blair. "You can't ignore his playmaking ability out here in practice so far. He makes plays wherever he is aligned along the front, whether it is at the nose, the three, end. He's a guy that you can move around and do some things with him from a pressure standpoint."
"I think he's been awesome," said O'Neil of CB Rashard Robinson. "As a player, I watched him two years ago at LSU. In my eight years in the NFL, I thought he had some of the best skills at what we call level ones – so press technique – of anybody I've ever watched on college tape. Now he was very raw when he got here and I think coach (Jeff) Hafley has done an unbelievable job with him."
He went on to say that he has been very competitive and great in the meeting room. O'Neil doesn't see any of the off-the-field issues at all with Robinson.
O'Neil has been impressed with Jimmie Ward and his ability to play inside and outside, something that is difficult for anybody in the NFL to do. "He's done a good job in there," he said. "When he's inside, you can really take advantage of his ability to blitz. You can take advantage of his ability to play in short spaces because he's got unbelievable short area quickness and that's what you need when you play in the slot."