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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Saleh discusses rookies Fred Warner and Jullian Taylor, DeForest Buckner, defending Jerick McKinnon

Aug 2, 2018 at 1:51 PM--

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Today was supposed to be a no-contact day for LB Fred Warner?

"Yeah. Close quarters, a bang-bang play. I know his intent and where his heart is at. That was an accident."

How hard is that for a rookie coming in and you've got pads on for the first few times and you're there to make your play? Does he have to learn that mindset of protecting your teammate?

"It's one of those that happen so quick for him to bounce out of it, I guess. There's a lot of plays in there where Fred actually did avoid contact where he was supposed to. But, that one was just so quick and so fast that it was almost like he was bracing for contact. It was completely accidental and thankfully [FB Kyle Juszczyk] Juice is alright."

A week into camp, he has been in a lot of places where he could make that contact. What kind of assurance does that give you on how well he is doing?

"That play withstanding, he's shown physicality. He's got the right mindset. So, he's checking off all the concerns. For him, now it's time to go show it in preseason games and continue to grow and become more consistent in understanding the scheme and getting people lined up and doing all of those things. Again, he's got a long way to go but he's doing a good job checking off every box."

People look at the role that he played when he was in coverage a lot in college and things like that and maybe assume that the physicality wasn't there. Have you been surprised at all by how physical he is or did you kind of know that?

"Again, it goes back to [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan], [general manager] John [Lynch], [vice president of player personnel] Adam Peters and [senior personnel executive] Martin Mayhew. There's an extreme amount of studying that goes into each and every single one of the players. When we had Fred here on his official visit or whatever those things are, you could tell. You learn about a person's mindset. So for us, the physicality part and him being a willing guy was never an issue. That part, no. There's a lot of studying that went into that one."

What did Fred say after the bang-bang play that you called it with Juice? Did you talk to him?

"Yeah. I mean, he was quick. He popped up. The offense was getting after him a little bit and he was just apologetic. He said, 'My fault, it was unintentional.' So, completely unintentional. It happened and fortunately everyone is alright."

Do you know if they reconciled?

"Oh, yeah. They're fine."

With a guy like RB Jerick McKinnon who has got the ability that he does as a pass-catcher, how much stress does that put on a defensive play-caller? Him in particular, what have you seen from him from the other side of things?

"For us, we feel really good about our linebackers and being able to cover him and all that stuff, but as a play-caller you're almost looking at another wide receiver on the football field. A wide receiver who can carry the ball and carry it with power the way he does. So, he is. He's another dynamic football player that's got to be accounted for. It's hard when you've got corners on receivers and safeties on tight ends and you've got a nickel on a receiver. Here comes another one and you've got a backer on the field. So, it does. It creates an issue. If you try to go small, now he can go run the football. He's a dynamic football player. He's a good football player. It's been awesome to get the work against him. Same with [RB] Matt Breida. It's been good experience for all our guys."

What has stood out to you as far as DT Jullian Taylor and why is he kind of pushing himself up there on the depth chart?

"You know, he brings an awesome mindset of physicality, violence and effort. The guy's got unbelievable strain in his game. He's got a very, very long way to go. I know there's a lot of love out there for him. He's doing a great job, but he's got a long way to go to learn how to use his hands, to keep separation while maintaining his violence. He does a very good job playing with that relentlessness that we look for. He embodies the style of play that we're trying to represent. Big men who play as relentless as he does and as violent as he does, they're hard to block no matter what their technique is. We're excited to see him grow from a technique standpoint because when he can piece together the technique along with the tenacity and the violence that he plays with, we're excited about what it could be. Until he gets to that level of technique, it's still a work in progress. But, we're excited about where it's going."

How nice does DL DeForest Buckner make your life when you have the best player on your defense who gets a would-be sack on a play, the pass still goes off and he's sprinting down the field to sprint to the ball, even though technically he finished the play?

"Buck is doing everything right. He is doing everything right. He's big, he's violent, he's agile. He's special. As long as Buck keeps going in the way he's going, he'll make noise. He can disrupt an entire practice if he wants to. Fortunately for us, he always wants to. He's a problem in there for offenses and we're fortunate to have him."

When you're going over film and teaching the young guys, 'This is what I expect in terms of effort, running to the football every snap,' when he's doing it on plays where he gets a sack, dominates the play and is still sprinting downfield after the football as well?

"Yeah, he leads by example. [NT] Earl Mitchell. There's a lot of guys. Again, going back to Kyle, John, Adam and Martin, the mindset of men that have been brought into this building with their willingness to work and do all of those things. There's examples all the way across the board. So, these young guys that are coming in, they can see how it is supposed to look. Aside from Buck, you've got [CB Richard Sherman] Sherm is a guy who does that. [LB] Brock [Coyle], [LB] Malcolm [Smith]. The list goes on and on and same thing on the offensive side of the ball. It is great to have especially when it's one of your better players. "

You said Jullian Taylor has a ways to go. He's playing with the starters now and if DL Arik Armstead doesn't make it back by Week 1 he might be playing with the starters Week 1. Would you feel comfortable with that? Has he shown enough to do that?

"I'm going to hold on to that one. He's still got to go through games. He's still got to go through the preseason games and show all that stuff. His trajectory is up. But, as long as he maintains that violence and all that stuff, he's going in the right direction. We can revisit it in another couple of weeks. He still has to make the team, so we'll start with that one first. There's still a lot of games before he shows that he's ready to make this team, too."

DB Jimmie Ward missed OTAs with an ankle injury. Now, he's out with a hamstring injury again after missing training camp last year. What's your level of concern? I know he's maybe more familiar with this system now having been in it for a year, but he's also changing positions. Where are you at with Jimmie?

"Still very excited about Jimmie. He's a very, very good football player. Fortunately, I think he's going tomorrow. The injury was more almost like precaution more than anything. He's definitely got a role on this team and it's going to be pretty cool. I'm excited about Jimmie, because he is one of our more violent, he's one of our most smartest players. Everybody in the organization loves him so I'm not overly concerned, especially when you're dealing in camp and he's always been a soft tissue guy. Once we start getting in the preseason games and things slow down just a little bit, really not concerned about him getting injured as much as excited about what he can bring to our defense."

What about DL Arik? How valuable is camp for him at this point just because, like Jimmy, he's been in the system for a second season.

"It's valuable for everybody. Anyone who's missing reps right now is missing valuable time. So, I don't want to confuse that part. Even for Jimmie, if you're not getting your practice reps, someone's going to pass you up. But, at the same time, those guys are doing a great job in walk through and meetings and making sure they're getting all of their mental reps so that when they do come back, they won't skip a beat. But, being on the football field and getting those reps are priceless, especially this time of the year where we can play with all that speed and violence in practice against one another. Because when the games start, it starts slowing down just a little bit and you can't replicate the reps that you're able to get right now."

I saw you give Jimmie a couple of reps a few days ago at linebacker, dime back. Do you think he has some potential at that spot?

"You know, to get him on the field as a coverage guy in dime and all of that, yeah it could be a possibility. I really love our linebackers too with Fred, Malcolm, Brock [Coyle], all those guys, Elijah [Lee]. I'm sure I forgot somebody, but they're all very athletic so they can all cover. But, we're excited about what we've got on that back end, the different combinations we can put and Jimmie is one of them. It still goes back to what we preach and what Kyle preaches every single day, the best 11 players will play no matter what and that's what we're striving for. So, we're experimenting with different things all across the board to see the best way to deploy our best 11 so we can get off the field and get the ball back to our offense."

From a defensive standpoint, what makes WR Dante Pettis difficult, unorthodox, to cover?

"For Dante, from a receiver's standpoint, he's almost like a basketball player. He gets his feet in the ground, he gets outside his frame, it's like he's crossover dribbling all of the time. He's very dynamic in the way his body moves and the athleticism that he has where he just gets you off your leverage, he can beat you with leverage, and he's dynamic and quick in that sense. So, he's able to create separation because of his route running ability and that's kind of what's gotten him where he is right now. I'm sure Kyle and those guys will tell you that he's still got so much to learn about receiver play, especially in our offense, but I know everybody's excited about what he's capable of."

WR Pierre Garçon the other day said Kyle seemed a little less stressed this year. Maybe it's because he's not having to explain to everyone the new offense and everything. But, just from your perspective, in his second year as the head coach, has he changed in any way, whether he's less stressed or does different stuff?

"I don't know if he was stressed. He's very methodical, Kyle. He's always got his thoughts together. But, he still has the same tenacity, to me, that he had a year ago. He still expects great detail in the way everyone coaches and the way everyone plays and I'm talking to the finest line. So, that part has not changed. So, if the players noticed it, maybe it's a little more controlled in their eye, but from a coach's perspective, there's tremendous accountability going on from both player and coach. So, for me and our coaching staff and players, it really hasn't changed. It's the same. He's still the same. He's vicious when it comes to film work and all that, it's awesome, because there's no stone left unturned with him."

* Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers

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