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Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Saleh discusses Richard Sherman, Reuben Foster, Fred Warner’s intelligence, Malcolm Smith’s health

Nov 29, 2018 at 2:13 PM

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San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spoke with the media on Thursday as the team prepares for the Seattle Seahawks.

Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers Communications staff.

What's your favorite memory with CB Richard Sherman in Seattle?

"Well, there's plenty. I guess one of the last ones, the tip where [LB] Malcolm [Smith] intercepted it. Sorry Niner fans."

Do you guys ever talk about that now, how weird it is that you, Malcolm and Richard are all here?

"No. I guess it goes without saying, in this profession, you're going to see no location. It's very rare that you get to start and finish your career with one team. Coaches, players, everyone, it's quite the gift if you're able to."

What's your sense of Richard's mindset this week?

"Focused. He's always focused. He's really locked in and he's excited to get a chance to go up there and play."

Obviously, that was kind of a special place in time with what they had going on there. Do you think, just based on the way the league is trending towards offenses, with some of the rules and things like that, that it will ever be replicated again?

"Yeah. No, I do. Defenses always catch back up. There's something to be said with being able to play consistently. Obviously, I do believe defenses will catch up. We always do. Whatever the offense has been able to put on tape this year, the defenses will figure it out and make their adjustments. I do think it definitely can be replicated."

How much of a role do you think Richard had in sort of forming that defensive identity, not only for the Seahawks, but the scheme overall? Was the scheme, those fundamentals, were they in place as they are now before Richard got there or did the way he kind of played it sort of identify it for those guys?

"That we were talking about, Sherm and I. When coach [Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete] Carroll first got there that first year, they were 25th or something like that in defense. Then, the very next year, which was my first year, we got to the top half of the league in the 10 to 15 range. Then, that was Sherm's rookie year, also. Then, the very next year, we got to one in defense, fourth in yards. There was a progression. There was a bunch of guys playing together for a very long time. Then, that fourth season is when [Seattle Seahawks DE] Cliff Avril and [Philadelphia Eagles DE] Michael Bennett showed up. That was the 2013 year. There is something to be said with the way it was built and the way those guys grew together and all the different issues that teams tried to attack us with. Them being able to talk to each other and all that consistency is a big part of it. He was there for year two and on, and because of it there was such great continuity with that group that they were able to grow together and really master the entire scheme."

You mention that defenses are going to catch back up. Do you think that will require rule changes?

"No. I don't think you'll ever get to the old '85 Bears. Offenses can find yards very easily. But, in terms of playing good, sound, fundamental defense with all the different things, all the different motions, teams are moving, motioning, jet sweeps, more than they ever have. Once defenses rule out schemes to slow all that stuff down, this is just my opinion, that eventually it'll catch up. Will yards be elevated? Yes. Will the points be at the record pace they are? I don't think it can sustain. If it does, I don't know if that's very good for the league, personally."

What are your thoughts with LB Reuben Foster's arrest, his release and the fact it didn't work out here?

"It's unfortunate. I'll still stand by that Reuben, he's got tremendous talent. I do believe that [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and [general manager] John [Lynch] did everything possible to create an atmosphere where he can be successful. For one reason or another, it just didn't pan out. But, I do wish him the best and I hope he gets right because he is a special talent."

Was the dip in play this year because of that shoulder, because of those injuries?

"There was a bunch of things for Reuben. I don't know if he had so much a dip in play, but the consistency of, he was suspended for two games, had injuries, missed a couple games and then got things going on in life, it has been a rough year for him. I wish him the best of luck in terms of just getting right because when he gets right, he's a good football player, which we all saw his rookie year."

What went into the decision to give LB Fred Warner the green dot instead of Reuben this year?

"It goes back to what I had mentioned earlier about Fred. He's one of the smartest interviews I've ever had. He can take in information better than anyone I've been around. He's up there with [former NFL LB] Paul Posluszny to me, and Paul Posluszny was darn-near a rocket scientist. When you look at Reuben, Reuben's personality, he wants to run, hit and hurt. That's his personality, so just let him go do that. Not that he wasn't capable of playing the MIKE, because he's very, very capable. He's very intelligent, very smart. But, when it came to Fred, just his intelligence and his IQ is off the charts."

I understand there's more that goes into wearing the green dot than just parroting what you say in his microphone. Can you take us through his responsibilities from the whistle to the snap of the next play, what he has to do in between plays?



"First, he has to hear all my mumbo jumbo. Then, he's got to get the defense lined up. Then, from there, we strain the daylights out of him in terms of recognizing offense, recognizing indicators, recognizing receiver splits, to step back and recognize the formation. That is a very, very hard thing to do when you're busy trying to get the defense set. Then, to reset yourself and recognize what's happening while you're getting aligned. To be able to communicate all the checks. If there's motion, what do we get into? If they go to empty, what are we doing? If they go from empty to one-back, what are we doing? If we have a double-digit call where it could be based on formation, what are we doing? He's responsible for all that, not just by himself because we ask everyone to do that, but he's the trump card. So, what the MIKE says we play no matter what, even if he's wrong. Knock on wood, he's been getting so much better as the year goes and it's so much smoother. When you talk about the MIKE linebacker and having presence in front of the huddle, he's staring at a bunch of veterans. For them to have trust and belief in what is coming out of his mouth as truth, that's more important than anything. Because of what he's been able to do, his study habits and his work habits, he's got full trust of the huddle and because of it those guys can trust that their play will be right."

When the offense goes up-tempo, are there times where there's just not enough time for you to call a play and get it in and he has to actually has to call it himself?

"Yep. Yes, he'll call it himself."

Do you have an example of a time he's done it well?

"The Rams game. He was able to take control. We limit the calls, obviously, of what we want him to do. But, the Rams game, where they were shifting in and out of different tempos, going no-huddle and he couldn't hear me for one reason or another. If he can't hear me or the microphone goes out, the headset goes out, just take charge. Get us into our home defense and let's roll."

At the WILL spot, with Malcolm starting and kind of rotating with LB Elijah Lee, does it depend on Malcolm's health or is it matchup?

"Mainly Malcolm's health. We want him to play and when he plays he's pretty good. He's hurting with his foot, but he's fighting which we greatly appreciate."

Where is S Marcell Harris in his development and is he challenging, potentially, to start at strong safety?

"He's coming along, he is. I compare him to what happened to [Jacksonville Jaguars LB] Myles Jack when he came out, we had him in Jacksonville. Myles missed the entire season, missed all of OTAs because of the Big-12 rule. Then he came out and it was almost like Bambi trying to get his feet back. By the middle of the season, you could see him starting to get his bursts and all of that. That's what we're seeing out of Marcell. Missed all of last year, missed OTAs, missed part of training camp. He came back and his feet are slowly starting to get underneath him and he's showing some pretty cool explosiveness and all of that stuff. So, continue to work, continue to get better and his opportunity will come."

You mentioned that the points will eventually come back a little bit. But, in terms of edge rusher, obviously those guys have always been important. But, when you look around the league now and you see maybe a guy makes a play or two that can kind of turn a game, do you think there's even more emphasis on having those guys who can change a game from that position?

"It's always been a premium, in our minds anyway. Those guys change games. You look at that Chiefs-Rams game from a couple of weeks ago. The explosiveness of the playmakers to get the ball really swung the pendulum I think. In the fourth quarter, it's about closing the door, somehow on defense. Whether in the backend making a play, up front winning a one-on-one. As a coach, getting the right pressure or coverage called. So, it's all of us combined. But, especially in our scheme, it's never been a lack of importance. The premium has always been there."

Have you had any contact with Reuben? Were you surprised at all that Washington picked him up?

"I've talked to Reuben and I hope he does great."

I'm sure you're probably tired of talking about takeaways, but in light of this past week's game, are you changing your technique for how you address that week to week or what are you doing to try to make sure something changes?

"You don't change. There's an old saying that they come in bunches. It's like, water is stuck at the dam, but if we can get one log out, water will just flush through. It's all the same thing, pick the olive from the jar and all of the olives will come out. But, it's all the same. We've had so many opportunities. Fred had an opportunity in the game against Tampa. We've had the ball out. I made mention of it last week. We're in the middle of the pack in terms of forced fumbles. Eventually, the ball has got to bounce our way and I'm pretty excited for when it does because when it does, it's going to come in one big flurry of bunches. So, I'm excited about it."

People say the middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense. I see Fred studying a lot of film in the locker room on his off time. Does the middle linebacker have to study film like a quarterback? Is the level of preparation greater than other positions on defense?

"I think they all do, but for the MIKE linebacker, in my mind, absolutely because he's got 10 people in mind, 10 people are counting on him to get them lined up. Even though everyone's responsible for their own alignments and getting lined up, like I said, he's the trump card and his voice has to be the loudest to get people lined up and he's got to do it with great conviction. You can't have great conviction unless you know what you're doing. So, that's what makes him special."

You had alluded earlier about the memory of the game against the Niners and now that Malcolm and everybody, you guys were all together. Could you just peel back the onion just a little bit on that play? They kept going to Crabtree and what you saw, your emotions right before that play happened and the aftermath after it occurred?

"You know, it was the first time they tried Sherm all game and the most underrated part of that entire thing, because Sherm did his deal, was the fact that Malcolm was running to the football the way he was because he was supposed to be five yards from the line of scrimmage not doing anything. He hustled to the ball and when it happened and he caught it, I blacked out for a little bit. I think coach [Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan] Quinn punched me in the face by accident. So, there were a lot of things going on in the booth, but no it was a pretty cool moment."


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