Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Transcripts: What Mike McDaniel and DeMeco Ryans said ahead of 49ers-Cardinals

Nov 4, 2021 at 4:39 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers are preparing to play the Arizona Cardinals this weekend. Offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel and defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans spoke with reporters after today's practice. Here is everything they had to say.

Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers Communications staff.

Offensive Coordinator Mike McDaniel

How has RB Jeff Wilson Jr. looked the last couple of days?

"It's just been awesome to have Jeff back in terms of being able to see him at all. He has been working hard and he's a big part of the energy that our team has. You can see it every game he brings the juice. So that's been exciting. I think the guys are excited that he's able to be outside with us and in a helmet and whatever, but you try not to get, especially with the guy that hasn't played since May, you try not to get ahead of yourself at all. So, just every time we see him, we're just making sure that he looks like the Jeff we know and hoping there's no setbacks, so we can get him on the field as soon as possible."

What elements does he bring to the run game?

"I think you guys can see it, early and often, we call it shoulder punch, but when a defender is trying to tackle him, you can see extra energy and juice that the rest of the offense feels. He's a running back that when you give him a carry, not only is he getting yards, but he's also breathing life into to the offense and defense and the special teams. So that's what's unique about him, his style and his energy and passion for the game. He's a guy that was undrafted and wears that on his sleeve. It's really what's made him who he is, is that he's not comfortable at all. He's always trying to work and get better. He's come a long way from that 195-pound skinny kid in North Texas that we worked out back in, whenever that was, 2018. And that's a testament to him specifically and who he is as a person and a man."

How has RB Elijah Mitchell earned your trust so quickly? I mean, he gets a healthy workload.

"He does. Generally, and this is pretty revolutionary, but good players, you know. No, what's interesting about him is you don't know that going into the season. You start in training camp and you're like, 'wow, there's some stuff in practice when he's not getting tackled.' I remember talking to you guys about it over the summer, and you're like, 'man, there might be something there' and then getting in games. 'Wow, he hit the right hole. again.' I think [T] Trent Williams said something to us this week, there was a play, it was probably the third run of the game in the first quarter, inside zone to the right. And it wasn't blocked premierly so, he had to just get downhill and he ran into Trent's back. And Trent was like, 'I haven't been hit that hard by a running back since [Tennessee Titans RB] Adrian Peterson. So, there's some stuff to his game that the more he plays, the more you realize that he's a special young player and there's a reason why he's having productivity. You'd have no way of knowing. Even grainy Louisiana-Lafayette tape wouldn't tell you that."

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said you don't really manage tight ends. Like that's not something that's typically done, but TE George Kittle is averaging, when he's playing, the most snaps in the league and blocks more than some of the guys like Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce and Las Vegas Raiders TE Darren Waller. Do you guys think there's a risk and having to protect George from himself and just letting him block and play as much as he does given his injury history?

"Well, I think there's two different conversations when someone is dealing with an ailment that's something that we've, over history, have done multiple times with George with limiting his snaps and whatever. But just as far as a healthy player, trying to protect him from himself that'd be a tough, almost impossible task because you'd be picking arbitrary plays and say, 'hey, okay. Yeah, we're not going to use you here because you might get hurt.' I mean, that's every play for a player. So we make sure, it's a testament to George Kittle and how in shape he is really that we're able to use him. But it's kind of a hard thing to kind of say, 'hey, this really good player, that's really good with the ball in his hands, that our team depends on, we're not going to give him the ball.' Now, if defenses say, 'hey, we're not going to let you throw to him.' That's a different story. And that happens from game to game. But in terms of using him, when a guy is healthy it's football, so you play your players. He plays a physical type game and he will continue to learn how to keep himself out of harm's way as best he can. But, it's like an offensive lineman. Should we tell Trent to take half the game off? So, it's a tough deal. We've never really approached it that way and I don't really see players being substituted for reasons other than you might not be good on this play or you're tired and you can't perform at the best of your ability."

How has he looked this week?

"It's been cool to have him back. He brings such energy and juice, every time he's on the football field his will you feel like, 'okay, this guy's in premier form, best shape, whatever.' But because he's so tough, you just don't really know what's going on until he gets inside and he talks to the trainers, position [tight ends] coach Jon Embree, talks to Kyle. So, from my standpoint, it's been great to have him back and he looks great. But in terms of, because of his toughness, I don't really know what that means or how far he is from being on the football field. So, we're just preparing. I think [TE] Charlie [Woerner] and [TE] Ross Dwelley have put together some great games these last couple of games. We're prepared to move forward that way and hope to get Kittle back as soon as we can really."

WR Deebo Samuel has such a high percentage of your receiving yards, it's the highest figure in the league, basically percentage for one receiver, having the teams receiving yards. As Kittle gets back and then WR Brandon Aiyuk being more involved last week, would you expect that number to come down as a per game average? And would that be more healthy for the offense?

"You're at your healthiest as an offense when you can equally distribute the ball. And I think all the players understand that as well. Because when one person's getting the ball, if there's a threat of them getting the ball, there's more space for the other guy. So, I think that's always the goal for us, but then at the same time, you're trying to win football games and get the ball into really good players hands. It doesn't always happen that way. We've had years as an offense where with [Tennessee Titans WR] Julio Jones, I think in 2015, he might of had 1,800 yards, but we were are our best selves in Atlanta the next year when he had 1,500 yards. So that is the goal, but you're never saying, 'hey, we're getting the guy the ball too much as much as, 'Wow. Well, if he can do this, if he can get an 83-yarder on third-and-19, what if we through screens to other people? How much space would he have then?' So, it does play a part. In an ideal world we'll distribute the ball as best we can everywhere, but beggars can't be choosers. We're just trying to move the ball, score points and win games."

At 3-4, obviously, you need all the wins you can get. And you'll take them however you can get them. The more you give Deebo the ball, the more likely you are to win, but at the same time, it's a long season and he has a calf injury. So, is it hard to find the balance of like, what is the right workload for your best player on offense or Deebo in particular?

"Well, with injuries, it's a little easier because you're managing their rep count when they're not fully able to go. They can't play as much. I don't think Deebo played as many snaps as Brandon Aiyuk, which was the first time the season. So, that for sure. In terms of how many targets and touches he gets, we put plays together and if the defense presents itself where he's open, or he does an unbelievable job of separating and wills himself to. We didn't go into the game thinking that, I don't even know what his rep count was, but it'd probably work out to be a fifth of his plays, he had a reception. We didn't go in thinking that way, but there's a couple of coverages that [QB] Jimmy [Garoppolo] trusted him, kind of threw him open. He stepped back to the ball and you're like, 'wow.' So, in terms of injuries, it is easier but you let the game play out, you try your best to get everyone involved. But, when the lights are on and it's game time, you're just trying to win a game. And our whole team supports and understands that."

When you and Kyle talk about Brandon Aiyuk having good weeks of practice, even his teammates are saying it. What does that mean to you, like generally or even specifically, what is a good week of practice?

"It's an interesting question for a receiver, in particular, because it's layered. It's not, 'okay yeah. He caught 10 balls today.' Well, your job is to catch balls. It's how you go about everything. And it takes a while for rookies to really understand, 'okay, why are we irritated at this play that I just caught a six-yard hitch? I was open,' We're looking through the lens of like, 'okay, how's this going to look against their starting corner? What is the standard with which how you do things? And how successful is that going to be over time?' So, you're looking at concretely how they're doing things, the approach, the urgency, if they're getting-- so really adhering to the timing of plays and separating and being where you're supposed to be and doing everything we emphasize, that's a good practice. You may not get any catches in that. You may just run, but in that process, the quarterback is watching the tape intently and saying, 'wow, I can rely on this guy.' So for Brandon, it's been really, especially these last couple of weeks, he's looked like the player that we envisioned when we drafted him. In terms of he's got a lot of physical tools, but he also has a mindset and he's a young guy that's finally starting to understand what it means to be a pro and approach every practice like, 'hey I'm determining the game on Wednesday. I'm winning the game on Thursday.' That's been the difference and I think it's that gray, but it's that obvious to the whole offense. That's why you keep hearing it from every facet, whether it's a player, a coach or whatever. You can feel that. It's hard to say exactly what it is. It's the entirety. It's the sum of the parts and just how he goes about his day-to-day practice. Every assignment, blocking, route, catch, all of it."

With Elijah, it seems that the past two weeks especially, he's really fitting through and hitting those small creases on outside. Is that a matter of him, as a rookie, getting a step faster, a step more confident as he's kind of gotten used to the NFL?

"For sure, that's what was really funny about or interesting about him early in the season. It was I think his second carry was the 38-yard touchdown. So, you saw it, but then you see it more on a play-in, play-out basis where there's certain times where at the beginning of the season, he was a hair indecisive. He sees it, you coach him on it, and then you see each and every play, 'okay. Incrementally, we're getting more efficient and better.' You're seeing more explosive runs but also more yards per carry because each week he's getting a little bit more decisive, which is a real thing. The NFL game is a lot faster, the holes are smaller and I know there's a lot of plays that one of the reasons he's having success is because he looks at his tape and says, 'wow, I've left a lot of yards out there.' That's the way he looks at it. And with that approach, you can continue to get better and be more productive in tight areas and whatnot."

Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans

LB Fred Warner said you're still preparing for Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray to be the quarterback on Sunday?

"Yes, for sure. We are still preparing for Kyler to be the quarterback and until we hear anything else different. That guy's been a competitor all his career throughout college and in the NFL. So, fully expecting him to play."

Is there any advantage or disadvantage when you just played them just a few weeks ago? Would you rather have more time, kind of get more film or is it kind of an advantage to have them so close?

"I don't think it's an advantage or disadvantage one way or another. It's an opponent that we know pretty well. We play against them twice a year, every year. So pretty familiar with what they do schematically. So, it's not an advantage one way or the other. We are excited to get back and play these guys. Didn't like the outcome of the last game. So, it's good to try to get that bad taste out of your mouth as quickly as possible. Excited to go against them again. We know they're great team. We're up for the challenge."

It looked like on at least a few key plays your cornerbacks we're definitely playing a little softer. Was that a result of the D.P.I.s? Was that part of like, maybe you're trying to stay away from that a little bit?

"No, that's not a result of that. With the corners playing off there, that's not exactly what we want there from where we teach these guys. I want them to be competitive. I want them to be aggressive in everything that we do and not let penalties stop our guys from being aggressive. We just have to play smarter with the penalties, it's not from a lack of aggression. We want our guys to always compete and be aggressive."

Technique-wise, when you're emphasizing to avoid the D.P.I., generally, what are you telling them?

"At the end of the day, when you're trying to avoid a D.P.I., it's about playing smart at the top of the route. Just can't pull guys' jersey. That's the only thing where we get in trouble, where you get at the top of the route and you're pulling guys and restricting them, that's where you're going to get the penalty. So, we just have to play cleaner, win at the line of scrimmage, be in a position where we're on top of the route and if we don't put ourselves in bad positions then we can eliminate the D.P.I.'s."

Did they surprise you by not going deep very often, I think there were only two deep balls? It seemed like you guys were anticipating a little bit more than that.

"Yeah. We anticipated them throwing deep for sure, because they had the highest percentage of deep balls going into that game. The Bears had the highest percentage of deep balls in the NFL, so we assumed they would go deep and they didn't."

How big of a step was that for S Talanoa Hufanga to play all 70 snaps and what was your evaluation of how he did?

"Yeah, his first start. I thought Huf did good. First start, getting that extensive amount of time in there. I thought he communicated really well. He flew around, made some plays for us and Huf is just going to continue to get better and better. He's a great communicator, really smart player, and he plays the game with a passion and energy that's contagious to others."

Because of the assumption that they would go deep more, did that leave a little bit more underneath for them?

"No, at the end of the day, they may complete some underneath, but for me, all our philosophy is about eliminating the explosive, eliminate the big play and make teams drive the field on you. Now, of course we would have liked to get off the field on third down. I thought there were some situations there on third down, we should've played tighter and better and got off the field and we didn't. And that's where they continue to drive on us. We didn't execute on third down as well as we should have."

In your first game against the Cardinals, Murray didn't really try to run very much. I don't know if that was a function of stellar defense or just the way they were calling it. They didn't have any like designed runs or scrambles. What went into that? Was it a combination of both?

"Well, I'm not sure we know what went into it with his decisions. Kyler is a guy who can pull the ball at any time, so if he wants to run, he'll run it. I thought our guys did a really good job up front, started with our defensive line. Last time we played these guys, our defensive line, with [DL] D.J. [Jones] and [DL] Arik [Armstead] and those guys did a great job inside of owning the line of scrimmage. And Kyler didn't run as much, but he's a guy who can run it anytime he wants to."

You guys did such a good job of containing him and Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson a few weeks ago. Why do you think you struggled containing Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields just as a runner?

"Yeah, he got out on us a couple of times. We can be better in the pass rush up front, D-Line and got a little too loose in coverage a couple of times where we could have eyes back on him and he got out and made some plays on us."

What's the difference, they obviously lost Arizona Cardinals TE Maxx Williams and brought in Arizona Cardinals TE Zach Ertz. What's the difference between those two guys and have you seen their offense change a little bit with Ertz?

"Yeah, Maxx is a really great player, really good blocker. It kind of goes unnoticed, but he was really, I felt like he was one of the keys to that offense, the way he blocks in the run game, he's really good there. Now getting Ertz, a guy who's more of a pass threat. Whether it's the RPO-type game, he's not as much of a blocker, but he can be effective in the pass game."

Do you look at Armstead mostly as a defensive tackle now? I know he's always moved in on pass downs, but is he mostly going to be a defensive tackle?

"Yeah, Armstead has moved inside. He started last week, moving inside, that's still fluid. We'll see, what do we need for each particular week. We'll see in what area Arik can help us."

How can your newest defensive lineman, DL Charles Omenihu, help the team?

"Yeah, Charles, we're excited to have him. Excited to add a guy with his talent. I think it's a great player to add to our room. Very long player, instinctive guy who can make plays for us. So, Charles has been coming along, learning the scheme, picking up on everything pretty well. We'll see how much he advances, but I'm really happy and excited to be able to add a player of his quality at this point in the season."

Is he an edge guy for you?

"He's played on the edge. He's played inside. We'll see where he thrives best for us and where he fits the best for us and wherever he can excel the most and showcases his talent that's where we'll put him."

Is keeping Armstead inside somewhat a function of DT Javon Kinlaw not being available?

"Yeah, moving Armstead inside, the thing about him is he's done it before and he's very good inside as well. And we know his dominance on the edge. Nobody really wants to run the ball to Arik's side when he's on the edge and now putting him inside, I think Arik was able to make a lot more plays inside this past week, putting him inside. So, he can be a productive playmaker for us inside. And with Kinlaw, I think not having Kinlaw does attribute to that, putting Arik inside. But Arik has done fantastic. He did a good job last week and he'll continue to get better the more reps he gets inside."

Can you explain the challenge that defensive tackles in a wide-nine scheme have when it is stretched out a little bit with the ends? I know one of the reasons you guys like Kinlaw so much is because how big and strong he was in that situation. But what is the challenge for those guys behind him and for Armstead on the inside in the wide-nine?

"Yeah. For the guys inside, it's all about penetrating. It's about our guys just playing as best we can, playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage. So you want quick guys, like D.J. Jones who can penetrate or you get longer guys like, Kinlaw, Arik who can play inside, can stretch out and make plays sideline to sideline."

How about their running game, what do you see? They have a couple of different running backs that they like. They also have Arizona Cardinals WR Rondale Moore, but it seems like Arizona Cardinals RB James Connor is their biggest scoring threat.

"Yeah, the running game is really good. I think Connor comes to life more in the red zone when he's attacking. He's a physical runner, he can punch it in running it downhill. But you can see Rondale Moore, they're trying to get the ball to him anyway they can. And he's a dynamic playmaker on offense, on special teams. You can tell, you want to get the ball in his hands. And we have to have heightened awareness for when he's in the game and wherever he's aligned on the field, we have to anticipate that the ball is going to him in some shape or fashion."

Yesterday Fred mentioned that you told them it needs to mean something for them to play at Levi's Stadium. In a defensive perspective, how important is it to get that home field advantage back?

"I think it is everything, for me. Playing at home, it has to mean something to us. We haven't won here in a long time and we owe that to our fans to go out and play well and get a win here in Levi's Stadium. And when we get that support from our fans, the fans are rocking and when the defense is out there being loud, disrupting their offense, I think it's a special environment when you have that when you're at home. But it really needs to make it a home field advantage for us especially on the defensive side. But we have to go out and we have to play well. We have to earn that homefield advantage by showing our fans that we can play well at home."

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