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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ Robert Saleh breaks down day four of training camp

Jul 29, 2018 at 2:08 PM

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The San Francisco 49ers finished their fourth day of training camp practices, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spoke to the media about the day's defensive action.

Richard [Sherman] was going every three plays today. Is that part of the progress and the game plan coming back from that [Achilles] injury?

"Yeah, to get him back to speed. He missed all of OTAs, although he's been working with the trainers, so he's trying to get his football legs back. He doesn't have anything to prove. He has to just get back in shape and get his legs back."

Where do you see him in that process? How close is he to being Richard Sherman?"

"He looks really good. You know, Sherman will tell you. But his mindset, all the things that make Sherman great are all there, and it's just a matter of him getting his legs underneath him and all that stuff. So, he's doing a good job. He looks good."

As one of the guys who's had a long relationship with him, has known him for a while, is there anything you've noticed since he got back that he's grown in or changed since your time [in Seattle] with him before?

"No, you know, Sherman has always been a great leader, and I think he gets misunderstood sometimes outside the building that he's in. But he's an unbelievable teammate. His heart is always in the right spot and his teammates love him. That's probably the most important thing, is that people who are close to him, people who know him... truly know him, love him. Obviously, he's four or five years removed now [from our time together with the Seahawks], so he's a grown man. He's still the same to me.

How do you think he's been misunderstood?

"He's so smart, he's just a vocal guy. It's all well-thought. He's incredibly smart, he takes everything, he just doesn't 'blurt.' Everything is well thought out, and that's what makes him a great leader. It's why his teammates love him. There's a lot of honesty, a lot of truth. So that has not changed."

For him and the coaching staff, this part of training camp is about kind of figuring out his new reality. He's 30 and is coming off a significant injury. Do you have to figure out if he can still do the same things he's done in the past or if he has to make minor tweaks here and there to compensate for those very natural issues that he's going through?

"You know, how do I answer that one? With the guys who are always approaching it, it doesn't just apply to him. It applies to everybody. At this point in their careers, they're so far ahead of the game. That's why we talk about our scheme all the time. How can you get a rookie whose got young, fresh... fresh of his 4.30 40 [yard time] at the combine and play with all of that 4.30 without thinking so much? And that's why we love our scheme. It accelerates their learning curve, so that they can play as fast as their God-given abilities allow them. And as they get older, usually the veterans are able to stick around because they're smarter than the rookies.

"And Sherm, the other element to that is they understand how to play football. They know the tricks, the game within the game and all the tricks to the trade. There are so many things that a coach can't teach that you just learn as you roll, so Sherm obviously has a plethora of knowledge and tricks to his trade. I mean, I've played receiver against him as a little scout-team guy, and he did stuff to me. I was like, 'I know I'm not an athlete, or anything.' But it's the little things he does. Like, 'how did he do that?' They figure it out. As they get older, they understand the tricks. They figure it out, and they prolong their careers."

With [Sherman] on the field, it means you need to find another way to get Jimmie [Ward] out there. Is putting him in on a dime package or maybe a blitzing guy from the slot a really good option for him?

"Jimmie is versatile. He is a special athlete, and he can do anything we want him to do. As an option? Sure. Dime, all that stuff. As we get closer to the season, we'll start addressing all of that. But, right now, it's about giving him the best chance possible to go compete at that corner spot just like everybody else. Compete at nickel, compete at safety, compete on the football field and be one of our best 11."

Did he take any reps at free safety in camp?

"I said in OTAs, and it won't change, give him every single opportunity there is. He's learning corner all over again. [And we're] going to give him every opportunity to be the best corner he can possibly be, because we know what he can do as a free safety, and we know what he can do as a corner or a nickel."

It's really early, obviously, but it seems like the defensive line has gotten a little more pressure on the quarterback the last couple days with the pads on. Can you talk about their progress?

"Today felt good. I haven't watched the tape, we all do. But it felt very fast today. You can always watch tape, but sacks are probably the most overrated stat to me. It's about pressuring the quarterback and making him feel very uncomfortable and increasing our pressure rate. Usually when you're a team that's got a high pressure rate, you feel that on tape. Just watching tape, it just feels fast. And today on the practice field, they felt very fast. So that part I'm encouraged about.

"We've still got to go back and watch tape, but it did feel a lot faster today."

What did you see out of [Jeremiah] Attaochu?

"Attaochu is... he's relentless, he's very, very businesslike. He's a lot more nimble, if that's the word, than I'd thought he'd be. I mean, he's very athletic and he's very determined. So we're excited to have him. He comes with the right mindset, so having him here and adding him to the group has been cool."

Can you detail to us a bit what you guys are trying to do with Reuben [Foster], technique-wise, and why it's important and how he's picking it up?

"With Reuben, it's no different than what we teach all players at every level -- D-line, linebacker, nickel. It doesn't matter. We play with our hands, keep people off you, keep your extension and create space, so you can get on and off blocks. So, with Reuben, it's just trying to teach him how to create extension and space so guys can't just latch onto him. Utilizing his hands, getting his shoulders and upper body out of there, that's just base fundamental teaching for all our guys. And he's really working hard to show that he's mastered that, so that he can not only get more effective as a run defender and as a blitzer and even in coverage, for that matter. It will save his shoulders, it will save his upper body and it will help him.

"With the way he played a year ago, sometimes he would get into a position where it would be awkward to go make a tackle. By him being able to create separation and get off blocks properly and clear traffic, he'll be able to put himself in a better football position to go make a nice clean tackle like a linebacker usually does. Just piecing all that together for him, that's a work in progress and he's working hard at it."

You mentioned the defensive line was flying around out there today. Looked like the secondary was pretty much doing the same. They had a couple dropped picks, though. So what's your message to them when they do get into the right spots like that but don't necessarily come up with the turnover?"

"We talked about it yesterday. One of our three principles of our style of play is attacking the ball. And there's a difference between being a 'good' and 'great' defense. And good defenses play pass breakup and tackle football. Other defenses get the ball and score. So when you do get those opportunities, you've got to come down with it. They're getting it, they understand it. They're not dropping them on purpose, but there's a mindfulness and a relentlessness to take the ball, and when the opportunity actually gives it to you, you've got to come down with it. That message hasn't changed. We actually talked about it yesterday. A couple times yesterday."

They seemed like they were pretty upset with themselves too.

"Yeah, they should be. In our room, they're not PBUs, they're missed opportunities. So you don't get the little points."

How has [D.J.] Reed been in his conversion to free safety?

"He's another guy. He's relentless. I eluded to it last week that we've got a bunch of guys who just love ball and want to be here and want to work, and he's one of them. He's doing very well as a free safety. Again, I'm not going to crown him. None of us will. But he's learning. Every day, he learns something now and he just plays extremely hard. It's the same message we give our guys, every single day, that if they adhere to our style of ball, which is attack the ball with extreme violence and 'all gas, no brake,' you can hide a lot of the mistakes. He exemplifies all of it. So as he learns and as he grows, those are the things he can take with him, and he'll just get better and better. But D.J. is doing a good job. I'm very pleased at this point with him at free safety. He'll just continue to grow. He's got a long way."

Same thing with [Tarvarius] Moore, going from safety to corner.

"Same thing. Same thing. He's got the skill set. He's got ridiculous top-end speed. And as soon as he understands that he's a lot faster than everybody else on the football field, he starts trusting and gaining a little more patience as a corner... like we preach, he'll continue to grow. So it's a learning curve for him. But he's got a chance and he's got the right mindset, too. So he's got to continue to work on his technique and effort and the scheme. He'll come along."

Can you talk a little about how Fred Warner is coming along in camp? I think he had one interception on one-on-ones today and another pass breakup on some other drills. How do you think he's coming along so far?

"He's doing very well. It doesn't change from a few days ago. He's extremely smart, he's got a full command of the huddle. He makes his mistakes, here and there, but it was great to see him get pads on and show his great physicality, so that's very exciting. It's the same thing. The next step for him is to show the consistency that we're looking for, with regards to scheme and recognizing things before they happen. He's progressing very well. So we're excited where Fred is. But just like all these young men, he's got a long way to go."

Korey Toomer got some first-team reps there at the end. Is that part of the plan to work some of these guys in with the first team?

"For sure it is. We've got to get a look, to sprinkle it in... you'll see it on the D-line, you'll see it along the secondary. We always talk about the best 11 to play, but the reality is you've got 16 players playing on game day. You've got different guys coming in and out of the game in different personnel groups, different D-line packages. So giving those guys a chance to get in there and work together, so they get comfortable communicating with each other, that will happen on all three levels.
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.
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