Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports


Robert Saleh talks Fred Warner, Javon Kinlaw, Jordan Willis, Russell Wilson, DK Metcalf ahead of 49ers-Seahawks

Oct 29, 2020 at 5:01 PM--


San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spoke with reporters after Thursday's practice as the team prepares to play the Seattle Seahawks. Here is everything he had to say.

Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers Communications staff.

With Seattle, the pass rate on early downs has just exploded. I think they were last in the NFL two years ago and now they pass more than anybody. I think they call it 'let Russ cook' and all that's going on over there. Have you ever prepared for a team with similar personnel that has so drastically changed their offensive approach?

"Off topic, I'm sure there has been. It's surprising. Usually [Seattle Seahawks head coach] Pete [Carroll] has been much more deliberate and letting the game roll. I don't know if it's called more controlled and managed or not, because they're still managing the game, but it's definitely a different approach than what we're used to seeing out of Seattle with control the clock, take care of the football, run, stay ahead of the chains and all that stuff. Russell's doing it, man. He's an unbelievable talent. They've got unbelievable wide receivers. Their O-Line's blocking at a very high rate and so with that comes a lot of yards, explosives and points. So, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

How do you feel about your guys' dime defense right now and the fact that DB Jimmie Ward and CB K'Waun Williams might be back? How will that help against Seattle?

"It goes week-to-week based on how we want to use personnel and who's available to us. So, we feel very good about that back end and being able to utilize all their different tools and what they're able to bring to the table. It's a week-to-week thing. We feel great about our linebackers, whether it's [LB] Kwon Alexander and [LB Dre] Greenlaw or [LB] Fred [Warner]. We feel like we match up with people in the back end better than anyone in the league. Based on week-to-week game plan, we can utilize every one of them."

What do you recall about when DL Jordan Willis came through before the 2017 Draft and what's your scouting report on him? Do you think that he'll get in for a few snaps on Sunday?

"We'll see how the rest of the week goes, to answer the last party question. Coming out of 2017, he was a very productive player in college. A lot of speed, explosiveness, length and all that stuff. Obviously, we weren't able to land him or anything. Just throughout his career so far, not to say that he hasn't been used properly, but he's such a versatile athlete than you can use him any which way. He's just going to have the opportunity to do something that he hasn't done. He's played outside linebacker. He's stood up. He's dropped in coverage. He's played some defensive end, different than the type of defensive end, it's a different technique than we'll teach him here, but he's going to get an opportunity to just let loose and get off the ball and rush the passer and set edges and play to the style that we play. You never know, hopefully it clicks for him, but he's going to get every opportunity. When we feel like he's ready to roll, he'll be ready to roll."

During the broadcast on Sunday, Tony Romo quoted you, or maybe paraphrased you as saying that as long as you had Fred Warner you feel like you always have a chance. What is it about him that makes you believe that to be the case?

"Fred is, a million times now I've said it, he is one of the smarter players in football, especially at the linebacker position in terms of being able to make different calls that puts a lot of stress on him to put us in the right call based on formations, based on different things that we see from a formation standpoint, all without disrupting his ability to recognize the formation, recognize the D and D, recognize the situation and still will be able to play at a very, very high level. There's always that fine balance. You could always go overboard. We've done it with Fred before where we put a lot on his plate. It was last year, Thursday Night Football versus Arizona. We put a ton on his plate and to this day, it was a tremendous learning experience on what that limit is for Fred. So, always communicating between the two of us and with the [inside linebackers coach] DeMeco [Ryans] to make sure that his plate is perfectly balanced. You can do a lot with Fred in terms of just getting people where they need to be. On top of it, him being able to use all his athleticism, because he is one of the more athletic linebackers in football, also along with being one of the smartest. It just makes for a player who's got a lot of range and a lot of ability to man the middle of the field."

You've lost so many key players, key starters from your defense, and yet you're still one of the best defenses in the league right now. Can you give a layman's response as to why or how that's happening?

"It goes back to the men in the room and by men in the room, I'm talking about the players. They work so hard. They're so deliberate in their approach. Every rep matters. Every clip they watch matters. Every practice rep matters. They're very, very talented. It is a very, very talented group. After the Miami game, I know there was a lot of heat going around for everybody and sat right at this table and said that the men in that room know they're a top 10, top five defense, and they're going to prove it. They're out there playing their tails off like they have always played. Aside from one hiccup, I feel like they've been playing some great football and the challenge is for them to continue to do it. So, it's hats off to them and the way that they've gone about their business every single day since the beginning of the year."

Have you seen a quarterback puts together a stretch throwing a deep ball like Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has so far this season? Also, when you have corners who aren't the biggest guys, what are the coaching points when you go up against a downfield threat the size of Seattle Seahawks WR DK Metcalf?

"To answer the first question on Russell, I've always felt that he's one of the better quarterbacks this league has ever had. That's my opinion. I do think he's going to end up in the Hall of Fame one day. I probably speak for a lot of people when I say that. The man is phenomenal. He gets better every year, believe it or not. His deep ball is the best in football. He's finally got the weapons to answer, I shouldn't say finally, he's had them before. I know there was some growing pains there in the last few years, but now he's got [Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler] Lockett playing at a high level. He's got a DK over there to relieve some stress off Tyler, so he can free up. Their tight ends are dynamic. [Seattle Seahawks RB Chris] Carson, we'll see if he plays this week, but he's an unbelievable back. So, they've got a tremendous amount of talent around them and their O-Line is the best it's been in a while, so they're tooled up and there's a reason why they're tops in football. Then of course, hats off to [Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] the OC, Shotty. He's built a system there that fits their style and they've got something going that's pretty good right now. To answer your question on DK, when you've got a big boy like that, you've just got to play with great technique. Can't panic at the catchpoint. Just know that he's going to try to muscle you and not necessarily go blow for blow, but if you play with great technique, great vision, and you don't panic at the catchpoint, we feel like we'll be okay."

You were there when Russell just got into the NFL. Obviously, very accomplished college quarterback and all that, so it's not like it's a huge surprise that he's had success, but did you have any inkling he'd become what he is right now his rookie or second season?

"So, I tell this story sometimes, I'll give it to you all, but we drafted him. Obviously, I was on the defensive side of the ball. Didn't know anything about anything, to be honest with you, but it was rookie mini-camp. I swear to you, the first time he threw the football, he was one of those guys that you just had to look at. No one was looking at the defense. No one was looking at the O-Line. Everyone was just looking at the quarterback. At that point, I was like, 'Man, this guy is going to be pretty damn good.' Fast forward, we go to training camp and he's just plugging away. Every time he's on the football field, everyone was watching, at least I know I am. I'm just watching the quarterback. Towards the middle of that first training camp, you just go to dinner and he's just sitting there and all the O-Linemen are around him. People are just gravitating to him and it was at that point, and coach Carroll started him that third preseason game and he puts up an astronomical number, for our standard at the time, the Seahawks standard at the time. It was at that point were like, 'Damn, we've got something special.' So, it happened fast, but it showed his growth from rookie mini-camp to the first game of the year and then even that first year. The guy is relentless in his studying. He's relentless in work ethic. He's relentless in trying to improve every single day. And he's got such a positive, aggressive mindset. There's a reason why he's had the success he's had and I'm not going to pretend like I ever thought he'd be a Hall of Famer, but knew he'd be pretty damn good."

When news came out last week that both of your starting safeties would miss the Patriots game, it seemed like that might cost you the game. Clearly it didn't. Your defense was great and it seemed like DB Tarvarius Moore and S Marcell Harris both made plays. How would you assess their play and did your defense fall off in ways that the layman would notice without your starting safety?

"I thought they did a really good job. They played within the scheme. They did their job. Obviously, there's always going to be things that they can clean up, but I'll give hats off over to coach [defensive backs/cornerbacks coach Tony] Oden and [safeties coach] Daniel Bullocks and [passing game specialist Mike Rutenberg] Ruty. I thought they did a really good job on such short notice because of the way Jimmie had to go out. It was Thursday night and so they had basically Friday, Saturday to really crash course with T-Moore and get him as many reps as he can. Saturday walkthrough was designed to get those guys as many of the looks that they'd get. It was really focused on those two safeties and to their credit, they did such a good job, the safeties talking about T-Moore and Marcell preparing for that game and making sure that they were on their job. Now that they've had another week, not making anything up, but continue to do what they're doing and stay within the scheme and do their job and trust that if they do their job, they'll show up and they'll make plays, because they are still gifted athletes."

We're almost halfway through this season. How has DT Javon Kinlaw developed and how much are you putting on his plate as he continues on through his first season?

"He's getting his normal, from a putting on his plate standpoint, he's getting a normal workload and all that stuff. He's progressing like I would expect a rookie to progress. He is grinding through every wall that you can possibly grind through. We feel like he's done a really nice job in the run game and obviously he still has a ways to go to improve and all that stuff, but he's just got to continue to get better. It's not always going to be clean, especially at this stage. He's learning something new every single game. I think it was a couple of games ago, he had some opportunities in pass rush and a couple of them, we talked about it and he knew exactly what happened. He's like, 'Man, I wish I would have,' but that all comes with time and experience. So, for Javon, it's continue to stay the course. Continue to find ways to get better, but what's encouraging about him is he's recognizing when he could have done better on a play and you're not seeing the same mistake twice. If you have a player who can recognize things that happen that quickly, he doesn't need to go to the film room. He just knows it happened. When they're able to recognize it on the fly like that and make a self in-game adjustment, you know that those players have a chance to be very special. For him, it's just continue to get better. Continue to focus on all those little details and he's going to be a good one. You can mark my words on that one."

I know that coaches hate comparing players, but Fred Warner has been open in saying that he watches Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner, he emulates Bobby Wagner. You have insight into both of those guys. When you look at Fred Warner, do you see aspects of Bobby Wagner's game? Can you kind of recognize the fact that Fred watches him closely?

"Yeah, B-Swag. He's still putting together a lot, a lot of good film. He's one of the better linebackers this league has had. Bobby coming out, his athleticism, his length, his speed was freakish. I thought [Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator] Kenny Norton [Jr.] and the relationship that they built to really help Bobby understand football and turn into the player that he turned into, his instincts, his command of the huddle, his run pass recognition and all that stuff. Bobby was just off the charts over his first few years and that's what you're seeing out of Fred. They're very, very similar in that they've got tremendous respect and command of the huddle. They've got tremendous instincts and fuel for plays and run key and pass recognition and all that stuff. They understand football and they understand, they have such a great feel for rush and coverage and routes and concepts and all that stuff and where the quarterback wants to go with the football. That's what makes those two so special. So, yeah, there's similarities for sure. They might be built a little bit differently, but the mental makeup of both of them is damn near identical."





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