Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Transcripts: What DeMeco Ryans, Mike McDaniel, and Richard Hightower said ahead of 49ers-Lions

Sep 9, 2021 at 5:16 PM--

San Francisco 49ers coordinators DeMeco Ryans, Mike McDaniel, and Richard Hightower spoke with reporters after today's practice. Here is everything they had to say.

Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers Communications staff.

Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower

How does this work as far as the guys who are up and down on gameday? Does head coach Kyle Shanahan ask you for a list of guys that you cannot go into a Sunday without? As far as the guys who aren't starters who may or may not be on kind of the bubble for being activated or deactivated?

"Yeah, that's a good question. I think when it comes to stuff like that, coach Shanahan and I meet on that and he meets with other position groups on that as well, but we'll talk through it and we'll see who gives us the best chance to win. Who we think will give us the best chance to win in terms of offense, defense and special teams. And he'll ask me specifically about special teams and what guy can you use and what role will he do for you and what are their tendencies? Where can we attack these guys? Okay. Why do we have this guy up versus this guy up? And we go through it that way. Some standard guys, or some of the top-level guys on teams are always up. And then they're always those few that we talk about towards the end of the week and what's going to give us the best chance to win."

At the beginning of camp, we asked you about WR Brandon Aiyuk returning punts. The depth chart we received has him as the starting punt returner. Is that official and if so, what did he do to win the job?

"Yeah, I think the depth chart you've always had has Brandon Aiyuk at punt returner. So the one you've always had has had him there and unfortunately we didn't see him in the preseason. And that doesn't matter in terms of if Brandon's out there or not. Our philosophy has never changed on punt returners. We're always going to play the guy we feel like gives us the best opportunity to win. And at this point, we have several guys that we feel like that are on the roster that we have confidence in, that'll give us an opportunity to win. So, we're always going to play the best guy. So whoever we think the best guy is on Sunday, that's the guy that'll start out there. I hope that answers your question."

P Mitch Wishnowsky against the Raiders had a pretty big game from a numbers perspective. What changes for a punter when they go from averaging a certain number of yards to a random game where they'll exceed that by 10 yards or whatever?

"Yeah. That's a really good question. I think when it comes to a punter, a lot of it has to do with where they're punting the ball from on the field. So, the field position on that is critically important. We always stress field position. What area of the field are you on? Obviously, if you're backed up a lot that's not good because we're not moving the ball a ton. But the punter can get big numbers that way. So those numbers get skewed at times. And then you have a punter that may be punting from the plus-50 and he's downing the ball inside the 10, inside the five, and it's helping the defense, you're playing great defense. And I thought Mitch did a wonderful job of that in '19. He doesn't get enough credit for it, but he did a phenomenal job of helping the defense in that year. And he did a good job with that, obviously, versus the Raiders. And a lot of that you need to look at how he's striking the ball. Some of that you can't see live, but some of that you can. How he's striking the ball, where he's striking the ball, where's his drop, how far is he dropping the ball down, does he have quick hands, does it have enough hangtime so that you could cover it or is it on an area on the field where you don't need hang time where you can shoot it? So those are some of the things where you can gain extra yardage on punts. And I think he did a really good job and we're hoping that carries forward because he has all the talent in the world and all of it in his body. And he did a good job, so all credit to him on that."

Going back to Brandon Aiyuk. When you're dealing with a starting player and having a prominent role on special teams, how much of a give and take is that? When you're dealing with a starting wide receiver, such as Brandon Aiyuk, having a role on special teams where he's going to put himself in harm's way more than once a game. Is that a conversation that has to be had too?

"I've got utmost respect for these players, because what they do on a daily basis is hard for anybody to do. So on every play to me they're in harm's way. Offense, defense or special teams. I think when you deal with any guy, you specifically are talking about Brandon, but I don't specifically think about it like Brandon. I think about which player gives us the best chance to win and what player do we have out there and what plays is he playing on defense and what plays is he playing on offense so that he has enough energy to help every phase. If that makes sense."

Have you seen the video of WR Mohamed Sanu Sr. launching the punts over his house?

"I have not seen that video."

Yeah, it's been circulating around the internet. I guess this offseason he set up a jugs machine to launch punts over his house to receive them. What's the craziest thing that you've seen a player do in their offseason training to be able to develop the skill of punt returning?

"Of the craziest thing I've seen on punt returning to develop skill? In the offseason, to tell you truth, I don't see a lot of videos of what guys do. But guys do a lot of different things. Guys catch tennis balls out of jug machines. Guys do various different things with having guys run at them. Guys do different things like blindfold. Guys do different things like catching a ball with one hand. I've also seen guys see how many balls they can catch at a time. And we did that in Washington when I was in Washington. And I think the [former NFL CB] DeAngelo Hall probably caught, I think it was seven, seven balls at one time. So that was kind of cool, he had one in his leg, one in between his legs, two under his arms. So that's probably the craziest thing that I've seen a guy do. But I do know Mohamed Sanu can do a lot of different things because he can throw the ball, he can do a lot, he can punt. I don't know if you guys know that, but he can do a ton of different things.
He's talented. So yeah, it doesn't surprise me."

With the seven, was that coming down on punt returns? So that was coming from far? From 40 yards away and he's catching seven?

"Yeah. Yeah. It was pretty amazing. He had six balls and caught the seventh. The guys, they had fun with it. They tried to do it a lot and then he got five balls in the hand, the ball hits, and then all the balls fall on the ground. So, it's pretty neat deal. That's the craziest thing I've seen."

So, is Sanu your backup punter?

"Is Sanu my back up punter? I would love to tell you that, but I can't tell you that. But he is in the mix, but good question. We've got a lot of guys who can punt. You know [K] Robbie [Gould] can punt too. Yeah so, he's done it before."

We talked to RB Elijah Mitchell early on and he said that he didn't do any special teams when he was in college. And it seems like he's going to have a pretty substantial role in that. Does that speak to how far he's come over this offseason in those areas?

"Yeah, that's a good question. I will say this, I love Elijah Mitchell to death. The type of man he is, the way he works, where he's come from in terms of where he is now. What I would say about him is it's a one game sample, but it was a hell of a sample. He did a really nice job in that game. Obviously, you guys saw, he had to the big kick return that game and he had a tackle inside the 20-yard line to open the game. And he has honed in on his craft. He is trying to do everything we're asking him to do. He's detailed. He asks really really good questions in the meeting. He'll come in afterward. And if he doesn't understand something, he's not afraid to ask a question. And he wants to know the why's, why are we doing it this way? Or why would I use this technique versus this guy? And what would help me win this matchup? So that's what I like about Elijah. And just to speak to the way his mind works is he wants to be great. And I think that is what has helped him to get to where you're saying right now with a guy that hasn't done it at all. And obviously, I love Elijah. I can't say enough great things about him."

Offensive Coordinator Mike McDaniel

Opening comments:

"It's good to be in the regular season again and coaching football and getting ready to play games."

We've been asking head coach Kyle Shanahan a lot over the last couple weeks who's going to be the starting quarterback. Did you get a sense behind the scenes how he was really amused by those questions?

"Yeah, I'd watch the press conferences, not in person, but I'd watch it after the fact. And I think it came across the same to me. We didn't really talk about it, but it is funny the little banter you guys have going on. But that's normal I think."

How do you, when you start to gameplan for an opponent when you talk about the use of the quarterbacks, how much is it what QB Trey Lance is ready for and how much of it is just the specific matchup against the defense?

"Yeah, I think that's really all of it in terms of you're balancing all of that. You want players to go out there when they're ready and able to perform well, but you're also putting players in. One week we might run two tight ends, a fullback and one receiver on the field a bunch. You're trying to create a competitive advantage with your team and quarterback like running back, like offensive line, we look at it all the same. We just happen to have depth at multiple positions including quarterback on this team. So you're always looking at what's the best thing for the team and approaching it through that lens and both player and the defensive scheme are incorporated in that."

How do you start that process of passing along your thoughts to Kyle? How much do you need to know about the condition of the finger and what he can and can't do?

"You try to approach it like both things can happen. Just like today we have to approach tomorrow like 'hey, you might have an injury setback', so you can't pigeonhole yourself in one direction or the other. You just make yourself really available to do whatever it takes with whatever is available to you. You don't have a crystal ball to look at injuries. You're one hit away, one snap away from not being able to play. So you can't really pigeonhole yourself in any direction. You just try to give the play caller tools in his toolbox and go from there."

Is it challenging having a player Trey's ability and your role in sort of drawing up a play or a run scheme based around what he can do?

"Oh, for sure. I think it's really cool for our entire offensive staff. We all have a lot of history together. And we've been on multiple different teams together. Offensive line coach, running back coach, it goes down the line. And it is exciting and fun when you can approach things with more of an open lens and you're really not hamstrung in one direction or the other. It's a challenge too because there's only so many reps for everything. So you kind of have to be smart with what direction you go and how much you commit to one thing or the other. But it's a challenge for the defense, it's challenge for the offense, it's whoever does it better."

You were a part of that group in 2012 in Washington with former NFL QB Robert Griffin III. Do you go back to that?

"Oh, for sure. That was a big transition in all of our careers because, at that point in time, none of us on our staff had any experience with any quarterback zone-read stuff. At the time of the league, I think we were studying [former NFL QB] Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos that was about the only team that was doing it. And nobody was doing out of the pistol. So at a very cool part of my career, you learned, 'okay, well let's think outside the box and do things that make sense and are sound'. And [offensive line coach] Chris Foerster, our offensive line coach, was a big part of that. [running backs coach] Bobby Turner [Jr.], a lot of guys on the staff now were back in Washington in 2012 in that process."

There are so many more options if you have both Trey and QB Jimmy Garoppolo. How important and how valuable has it been to have C Alex Mack at that center position with his knowledge being able to lock down the offensive line?

"I just love people that appreciate the O-Line and what really goes down there. You're exactly right. It's a great benefit to have an experienced and established, quality player at the center position, like any other position. And when you have multiple schemes, the center is the quarterback of the offensive line, dictating all the calls. So when you have confidence in your calls you can get everyone on the same page. And that's really all you're trying to do is have 11 people work together in a direction as they best can."

I think RB Trey Sermon got behind the eight ball just a little bit, he had an injury thing earlier on in camp. How has he come on in the last few weeks and how do you expect to be able to use him?

"He's been practicing well. And you take rookies one day at a time, across the board. You try not to get ahead of yourself because you want to put them out there with their teammates when they're ready. So every day we're evaluating Trey. And Bobby Turner does not let him slip an inch if he's wrong on a track or whatever. He's getting coached up and if he's doing well, we try to give him more opportunities and continue that momentum."

What do you like about his skillset?

"Really like his vision, he's a big dude that has good cutting ability, rare cutting ability for a guy that size and I really like him as a human being. The way he approaches professional football as a professional, he's working on his craft day in, day out. And his goal is the same as ours. We want the final product to be as good as it can be and the only way you do that is if you're always hungry for him to get better and better and coach him up and see how good he can get."

One more Lance question. How did he look today in practice? Was he still limited, Lance?

"He's still limited. He looked good, but we're very hesitant to get ahead of ourselves, because, like I said, you're one snap away. You just have to let the week progress and see how it plays out. He looked good throwing the ball today and moving around, but what does that mean for Sunday? We still have a practice to go before that. And hopefully there's no setbacks and then we'll move from there."

The rest of the offense is pretty darn healthy. Might be the most healthy you've been since maybe back to 2019. Does that give you all the options possible including assuming Trey is healthy too?

"Oh, for sure. It's a credit to our medical staff, our organization, and it's credit to the players because we have been training hard. But we've tried to learn from any mistakes we've had in the past. There's a lot of science involved, but [head of health and performance] Ben Peterson leads all this data that he throws at us on bar graphs that we try to absorb, but we take that serious and do our best because you can't control injuries full tilt, but you can be smart about things. And it has really helped us going into the season having everyone work together."

There's been a lot of external chatter about what having Trey involved could mean in terms of your opponents preparing for both guys. Is that something that you guys actively think about? Like in the preseason we use Trey this way and so the Lions Week 1 will have to figure that out? Is that something you guys account for?

"Well, I think as a football coach you're aware that more scheme makes people prepare for more. But that's not necessarily why we do whatever. In the preseason we're trying to get reps and see if people can get better at things. You're trying to do schemes and give a taste to your team and see how they react. Our biggest motivating factor is simply just trying to do the best football in a cohesive way and making sure that on gameday on one of our 17 ops that we get, that we're putting our best foot forward and we're not missing any opportunity to do well."

Kyle said yesterday, just as far as having a rotation and making sure QB Jimmy Garoppolo can stay in a rhythm as much as possible, but Kyle doesn't want him surprised during a game? Is that kind of just like, 'Hey, maybe you tell him before the game, this is our plan. This is the package for Trey?' Without revealing secrets, can you kind of spell that out as much as possible?

"He's being flat honest with you. We use the preseason to prepare so that we have every option open to us. Hey, if a guy's playing well and we can do X, Y, or Z, we're going to put him in. We don't want, in the regular season, for that to be the first time that ever happens. Does that mean that's going to happen this game or X amount, we're not really thinking of it that way. We're all contributing and thinking about what's the best thing for our football team and doing nothing out of sight or out of mind away from that. It's just all about, 'okay, how do we win a game?' Because we're playing the Detroit Lions this week and guess what? They have good players, play really hard, and want to beat us so we better bring our best foot forward and nothing else really matters to us."

Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans

How much of what we saw in the three preseason games is what your defense is going to look like in the regular season?

"I think the first thing about our defense is the way our guys play with effort. The physicality of our defense that's who we are, no matter preseason, regular season, that's just who we are. And that's what you saw in the preseason and that's what I expect to continue from our guys in the regular season. Just playing hard, playing for each other, playing fast, attacking the ball, swarming to the ball, that's who we are. And that's what I expect from our guys."

That's kind of a theme that we've heard from you since we've been talking to you. Do you kind of feel like as a former player that sometimes coaches kind of muddy things up? That the best tools you can give your players is just to go out and play fast?

"Yeah, that's it. Yeah, that's everything about this game. Guys playing fast, but also playing smart. Understanding tendencies, formations, things teams are giving you, but can you decipher that information, digest it, and go play fast. Not have to continue to think about what you have to do, but now you can focus on the opponent and what are they giving you? Can you tee off on some of the formations? Some of the indicators that offenses give you, can you tee off on those things and play fast? That's what I feel, I believe that defense is all about. Guys understanding what to do and being able to do it at a very fast pace."

What have you seen from CB Josh Norman so far? Where is he sort of at right now?

"Yeah, Josh has been working well and we've had him in for a couple of days. He's been learning and he's been doing a really good job. You can tell he's a vet who's been around for a while and knows a lot of ball. Very smart player. Instinctive player, has made plays in his league since he first came into the league. So, excited to add some veteran depth there to our corner position."

He didn't get a training camp. Is he in good enough physical condition right now to be able to play Sunday if you do need him?

"Yeah, one thing about Josh is, like I said, he's a veteran who's done it for a while, a smart player. So, we still working through all those things, but Josh he's in a really good place right now."

Why has this defense, just in general, had so much success against Detroit Lions QB Jared Goff particularly the last two years?

"I think when you talk about our defense and how we approach things it's just all about us. It's not about a particular person or a particular team. It's about us owning the fundamentals of our scheme and what we do. If our guys just own what we do and go out and play fast, that's what it's all about. It's not about who we go against."

What have you seen from DL Nick in these couple of weeks of practice and does he look like the player he was before injury?

"Yeah, Bosa is looking great. He's done a phenomenal job. It's just a testament to him. The work that he's put in throughout this whole entire process of rehabbing. He's worked extremely hard and I'm very proud of the work that he's put in to put himself in a position to be ready to go here Week 1. I'm very excited, very fired up. And he's just been a true pro. Even though he's still a young player in this league, he really does a lot to take care of his body. He's in shape, he's looking fast and explosive. So, I'm excited to have him out there."

How was he in terms of technique? When he came into the league, he was very savvy for a rookie. Some of the guys said it in terms of his technique. Has he been able to work on that when he's been away?

"Yeah. He's been able to work on his technique and I think Bosa has actually come back and he hopped right back in. He's actually done better than he first started. So, I'm excited to see him against live competition on Sunday. I'm excited to watch him and I'm happy for him. Guys that battle through injuries and all of the things you have to go through, the mental strain that it puts on you and the physical strain. I'm just proud of guys who are able to bounce back and be able to go back out there and play on Sunday. So, it's a really big day for him."

LB Fred Warner said yesterday that the new all gas no brakes is S.W.A.R.M. He said you came up with S.W.A.R.M. Can you talk about the genesis of that?

"S.W.A.R.M for us means it's all about the people that I want on our defense. S.W.A.R.M is, I want special people with special work ethic and a relentless mindset. That's what S.W.A.R.M means to me. So it's all about the people. It's all about the mindset that you come in every day, you're attacking the day, you're attacking the daily process. Dominating not only on the football field, your one-on-one, but you're dominating the little things. Whether it's taking care of your body, nutrition, weightlifting, the way you practice, being deliberate, it's all about having a relentless mindset in your pursuit of being successful and being the best that you can be."

If CB Emmanuel Moseley can't go on Sunday, who do you expect would fill his spot?

"We have a lot of options. We have a lot of options with guys that have been here and played in our scheme and have done it. We've added Josh, so we have a lot of options there."

Can you talk about CB Dontae Johnson? He's been up, he's down, he's been cut, he's been brought back, he's been 53, practice squad. What is it about him that you appreciate just as a player?

"Yeah, Dontae is just a consummate pro. You can always count on Dontae to be ready. And I know he's been through a lot of ups and downs, like you said, on the roster, off the roster, practice squad, but Dontae the man has never wavered. He's the same every day. He's always there leading the younger guys, helping those guys out. When we put him in there, he's able to perform the techniques that we asked him to do. So, just very appreciative of Dontae and his role, what he's meant to this organization. He's an important piece and I'm happy that we were able to get him back. But I love Dontae, love his spirit, love his energy, and I really love his leadership that he provides for our young guys."

What are the challenges for you going into, not only Week 1, but facing a first-time head coach, a new offensive coordinator. Do you go and look at Los Angeles Chargers film from the last couple of years for what Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn might do on Sunday?

"We understand who they are. Anthony Lynn's perspective, former running back who's played in the league. So we understand that they want to be a physical, run the ball, smash-mouth team from the head coach to the running backs coach in [assistant head coach/running backs coach] Duce Staley and Anthony Lynn. We understand their mentality. So we've been looking at a lot of different things from these guys, from all the places that they've been. With the first game, it's always kind of a toss-up for everyone, but you can't really get focused in new coordinator, new team. There's not a lot of things that we have on tape versus these guys, so that's why I say it has to always be about us and what we're doing defensively. Are we on our job? Are we doing what we're supposed to do? And are we able to do it at a very fast pace?"

What is it that led to DB Jimmie Ward getting named a captain for the first time in your opinion?

"Jimmie has outstanding since he's been here. Jimmie, he's grown into that leadership role back there. You've always had Jimmie and [S Jaquiski] Tartt here for the past few years. With Jimmie, he's really stepped up and done a great job of leading. And I'm excited for Jimmie to be a captain. The guys love it, everybody loves it when Jimmie brings the team up and he talks to the team. He always has a positive message, always has an encouraging message to the team and our guys feed off of Jimmie's energy that he brings. And you also know the playmaker and the style of play that Jimmie plays with. So, I'm very happy for him to be named captain for the first time. He's very deserving and Jimmie is a special player, special talent, but also a great man."

What is your leadership style and what qualities do you look for in players to be leaders?

"Yeah, I think my leadership style, first and foremost, it's all about being honest with guys. With players, the biggest thing you have to be is just honest and direct with players. That's what players appreciate the most in this league is being honest and straightforward with them. And it's always about encouraging, being positive, and uplifting. So that's my leadership style. And from a player standpoint, I think players, first and foremost, lead by what you do on the field. When you're out there, you're doing what you're supposed to be, you're where you're supposed to be, you're accountable to your teammates, and guys look at you as a leader and guys are looking to follow you."

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