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Transcripts: What Kyle Shanahan, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Richard Hightower said ahead of 49ers-Rams

Jan 5, 2022 at 1:26 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers are preparing to play the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. Head coach Kyle Shanahan, special teams coordinator Richard Hightower, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo spoke with reporters before today's practice. Here is everything they had to say.

Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers Communications staff.

Head Coach Kyle Shanahan

Opening comments:

"We got [DL Maurice] Mo Hurst, calf, he will be limited. [LB Dre] Greenlaw, limited. [LB] Azeez [Al-Shaair] will not practice. [S Talanoa] Hufanga will be limited. [QB Jimmy] Garoppolo will be limited. [RB] Elijah Mitchell will not practice. [S Jaquiski] Tartt, limited. And [T] Trent Williams will not practice. Go ahead."

Has Jimmy thrown since the last time we talked to you and how did that session go?

"Yes, he threw yesterday and it's made him good enough to be limited today."

Is Mitchell hurt or just being rested?

"He still has the same stuff he's had the last few weeks, so that's why he's not going today. I think we're listing knee as the injury."

With some of the guys going on the COVID list today, I'm just curious where things stand with the booster shot and how have you guys communicated that issue potentially with the playoffs ahead?

"The booster shot, I don't know what that does for the players, except just getting it, as far as rules and everything. We have the guys that I think that you guys know that are on it. Right now, we've got [CB] Dontae [Johnson], [DB] Jimmie Ward, [CB] Ambry Thomas and [CB] K'Waun [Williams]. With the new protocols, they all do have a chance to test back in before Sunday. So I'm just hoping that goes well with them and hopefully they're symptom-free."

With Jimmy, how do you kind of go about, you said he is limited, but how do you go about divvying up the reps? What's your approach knowing that, obviously, these guys both need the work, but in a big game, how do you divvy that up?

"We'll put Jimmy in on what he feels comfortable with doing with where he is at today and [QB] Trey [Lance] will get the rest. I'm sure Trey will get the majority, but we'll see how it is when he's out there. Mainly just communicating with him through the practice, through the individuals, through everything. Today won't be a full-speed practice, so it's not as challenging."

Do you have a feel for the guys on the COVID list about, are you optimistic from what you've observed or how they tested since then that they will be removed by Sunday's game?

"Yeah, I'm optimistic. Just watching how it worked for a number of teams around the NFL last week. Guys who got it on Monday and were able to come back, I think some guys got it on Tuesday, they were able to come back, so I am optimistic, but I think your guess is as good as mine."

As far as T Trent Williams injury, do you feel like his status is in question at all for Sunday?

"I don't think so just knowing Trent, being around him. I know it's hurting too much to go today. But no, I know this is a big game and if Trent can be out there, he'll be out there. I don't think he's looking at it in any other way right now."

As far as Jimmy's thumb and sort of the relatch scenario, will you try to keep it light with him this week so that has more time to heal and relatch a bit?

"Yeah, I think we have to be careful. I think waiting until where we did definitely helped getting him to this point, but I think each day is a new experience with it. So it's going to be mainly at Jimmy's pace and just talking to him and making sure he doesn't push it too hard to give him a chance for Sunday."

I assume that your guys on the COVID list get to attend virtually. How big of a deal is it to have that many guys in your secondary not be able to actually practice this week?

"It is a big deal, but it's part of the league now, guys have been dealing with it throughout the year. We've been very fortunate this year. We haven't had it hit us like we did last year. We got it all in one position right now, pretty heavy. Finding it early in the week gives us a chance. Anytime guys miss practice it doesn't help. But the main thing is it's late in the year and our guys have a good idea what they're doing, so the goal is just to get them to Sunday and hopefully that'll be a possibility."

You guys have had a lot of success against the Rams. Is there anything that you can pinpoint why you guys have been so successful against them in the last few years?

"Not in particular. I think it's two teams that respect each other a lot. We go hard. I would guess we've won the turnover battle the majority of the times, but each one is kind of its own game. And so I never really tied those together when we went into it and especially being this one right now, it really has no bearing on what's happened in the past. It's all about these four quarters."

Obviously, the stakes for this game are big. Do you feel like you have to address anything about what this game means for the team or does it kind of speak for itself and if so, how do you address it?

"I think we've been addressing that the last few weeks. I truly believed going into the game versus Houston that if we lost that we wouldn't be able to get in the playoffs. And I think it went that way, based off all the other games that day. So our team's fully been playing and acting like that for a little bit and the way we started out this year, it's been that way for a while."

With the way you guys move WR Deebo Samuel around and you know they've got a chess piece so to speak with Los Angeles Rams CB Jalen Ramsey like that, is it easier to kind of find out what they're trying to do with the way you can align Deebo in certain ways?

"They mix it up so much, just like we do too. Whenever you get a beat on what someone's doing, then it changes. So it's just about adjusting and trying to stay ahead of the curve on it. And it's a chess match in that way. And they've got some really good players out there, especially ones like Jalen, ones like [Los Angeles Rams DL] Aaron [Donald] and a number of others and so do we. So you're always trying to move all those guys around on both sides, trying to give your players advantages and they do as good of a job at it on defense as anyone does on offense also."

With seeding in the NFC, and I know you guys are focused on yourselves and this week, but just overall in the NFC, the playoff picture, maybe the teams might be bunched up a little bit more closely without that one or two elite teams that there seems to be every year. Do you agree with that? And with COVID and everything as potentially being an equalizer, do you think even a lower seed might have as good a shot as any this year, given all those circumstances?

"Yeah, I do. I really don't see it much different every year. It's always hard to go in other people's stadiums, especially in the playoffs, especially versus some of these quarterbacks. That's usually the challenge. I always feel like every team's got a chance if you can get in the tournament. That's why you always want homefield advantage, you always want one less game that you have to play. But the goal to me is always just to get in, because if you get in, you got the shot. And I've always felt like that and it seems pretty strong this year too."

There obviously can be some sort of competitive advantage because your quarterbacks have pretty dramatically different skill sets. Might you keep the decision about who's going to start hidden as late as possible, even if you have made that determination earlier in the week, if that makes any sense?

"Yeah, it makes total sense. I haven't made it now, which is the truth and I probably will make it before the game starts. And I will not tell you guys when I do that. For all the reasons you just asked."

There is some video of TE George Kittle where he was sort of running up and down the field, attacking Trey Lance after the play, just being really encouraging. What's the importance of him just sort of being a big brother to Trey and encouraging him in that way? And also, how did that hit he gave you on the sideline feel?

"I would rather Trey avoid Kittle after plays. I appreciate the encouragement, but Kittle for some reason can't control his aggressiveness. Trey definitely can handle it better than me, but I run from Kittle after good things because he will not change how he hits people no matter what. Whether they have pads on or not, whether they're on your team, he just gets too excited. So best thing is to avoid Kittle in those moments because he is an injury waiting to happen."

Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower

What are kind of the points of emphasis this week as you guys get ready to face the Rams?

"Yeah, I think the points of emphasis this week is really always the same week-in and week-out. Try to play fundamentally sound, smart, relentless and make sure we play fundamentally sound football. Going against a good unit in the Rams. They are playing good football here lately and really been playing good for most of the year, but they've come on here lately and they're doing a nice job. So our guys are well aware of that and we need to make sure that we play fundamentally sound so we can help the offense and help the defense and put together a good product for this week. It'll be exciting."

You got kind of an old friend back with LB Mark Nzeocha last week. How much of a difference did he make in some of the coverage units last week and what's it like just kind of having him back around?

"It's been awesome having him back around. He's a pros pro, familiar face, familiar with our system. Still a guy that's got really good speed. A really smart, really physical player. He helped free up a lot of guys last week. So that's kudos to the guys in the personnel department keeping an eye on Zeoch and they always do a good job of getting guys in and mixing all those different puzzle pieces. But he was definitely really helpful last week. He had two tackles and an assist and freed up a lot of other guys as well. So it's good for him to be able to come off the street and make two tackles and an assist in the game. That's pretty darn good. And he helped free up some other guys like [WR] River [Cracraft] and [TE] Charlie Woerner and [LB] Curtis [Robinson]. Those guys looked like they were having fun out there. So that was fun to see."

Nzeocha has been such a stalwart for you. Why is it Week 17 that he's being added? What kind of kept him from being on the team prior to that?

"Yeah, I think guys always have eyes on guys and we believe in the guys that we have here as well. And it was good to add him to the mix. I think when guys get a chance and get their opportunities, real pros take advantage of their opportunities. And Mark did a hell of a job taking advantage of his opportunity last week."

I think WR Travis Benjamin returned a punt just before halftime. Obviously he has a history of returning punts for touchdowns. Was that just because of that? I mean, that was a situation where, hey, maybe he can break one?

"Yeah, situationally you always want to try to go with the best situation for the football team. It's kind of what we've always tried to do week-in and week-out. And Travis did a really good job there, got an 11-yard return and I know he would want to break it a little bit more. [WR Brandon] Aiyuk had an 18-yard return in the game and also almost a nine or 10-yard return in the game. So those guys, when we catch it and get vertical, good stuff has happened and we've got to do more of that. Catch it first and then make the first guy miss and get vertical. And our guys are doing a great job blocking outside, and guys are doing a good job inside. So we need to keep doing that going forward if we want to try to string together some more good punt returns and help this football team try to get in the playoffs."

QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Just how did yesterday go and how does the thumb feel today?

"It's sore. It was a pretty good throwing session yesterday. Just trying to get the motion back and everything and get it feeling where I want it to feel."

You mentioned that in the second half in the Tennessee game, after you hurt it that you had to adjust the way you were gripping it or throwing it. Is that going to be kind of what you have to do moving forward and is that kind of what you're trying to get back yesterday too?

"Yeah. Kind of just feeling that out, feeling the new tape job that we're working with. Yeah, really, I'm trying to get it back to my old motion where it's just fluid and everything like that, but it'll just take some time. It's a process, but we're working in the right direction."

How frustrating was it to sit on the sidelines in that last game? And then what did you see from QB Trey Lance throughout the game?

"It was frustrating because you want to be out there with the guys. But whenever we could get a win, especially in the situation we're in where every one matters, it's playoff time now. And so in that aspect I was ecstatic. We got the win and move on to the next. But Trey, I thought, did really well. He was calm out there, did well on the sideline, tried to help him out as much as I could, but he did well."

Head coach Kyle Shanahan has said he's not going to announce who's going to be started publicly before Sunday. Do you have to be careful about how you're answering our questions?

"I don't think so. You asking me any tricky questions or something?"

Do you have to not reveal too much, give anything away? For all we know a decision has already been made.

"I mean, I don't know. I feel like we have a good relationship, just me being truthful with you guys and everything. So, I'm really not trying to trick you guys or anything. I don't know. Just no, just answering the questions like normal, going about my business. I'm just trying to get this thumb right. I know it's cliche, but yeah, it's really all I'm worried about right now."

You said it's sore, it might take some time to get it back. It sounds like it's a little tentative, that you're not 100-percent or you're not throwing how you usually throw. Is that a fair assessment? And I guess, do you feel like you're going to get back to where you usually were by the end of this week?

"Well, yeah. I mean any injury, you're definitely not 100-percent, but I don't know. It's one of those things that it's hard to explain this to people, but it's literally a day by day thing. Yesterday felt good, woke up this morning after throwing, didn't feel so hot. So it's just, each day will be different. It's just about rehabbing it, getting the swelling down, getting the motion back, all those little things."

Given the stakes of this game and the situation that you're in, how much do you kind of have to battle internally with being honest with yourself about how the thumb feels versus wanting to of course be out there for such a big game?

"It's definitely a fine line. It is. A lot of just thinking during the day, at night, about everything that really has gone into this whole season to get us to this point. It's just a long season. A lot of things happen, a lot of different players play, the ups and downs and you go through all that stuff just to get an opportunity that we have this Sunday. So, I mean, that's all you could ask for. As far as playing, I'm going to do everything I can to be out there with the guys. It's a big one and so whatever I can do to be out there, I'm going to be out there. But, at the same time you've got to be smart and think about what's going to be best for the team to win. And so you've just got to be smart with all the decisions you make."

And kind of along those same line lines, do you have to consider the long term and the short term? I mean, if you push this thing too much, could it lead to more difficulty down the road? Do you anticipate having offseason surgery? How are you approaching that kind of area in this whole situation?

"I mean, all those things you take into account to a certain degree. But it's football. You want to be out there. I don't know. I'm a big believer of living in the moment and whatever happens in the future happens in the future. So, I'm trying to be out there whatever degree that is. But yeah, I'm trying to get to 100-percent. There's just, I know I keep talking out of both sides of my mouth here, but there's just so many variables that go into these decisions. You're trying to be out there. I want everything in my body to be out there, but you've got to be smart at the same time."

When RB Elijah Mitchell came in, sixth-round draft pick, he had the reputation ever since high school and college of being this incredibly hardworking, super humble, quiet guy. I'm curious as the season's gone, has he come out of his shell at all? Or is he still the same guy you saw that came to the first practice?

"He's become more talkative. Yeah, definitely. E was very quiet when he first got here. Like all rookies are, but E was like, you described it pretty well right there. He was quiet. He was humble, hardworking, and he really hasn't, I mean, he's become more open, talkative, but as far as the humble and hardworking stuff, that hasn't changed a bit. For a rookie to have as much success as he's had and still remain the same, that's a rare combo right there. And so that's why you love him as a teammate, love him as a friend. He's everything you could want."

Kyle used the verb when he was describing your thumb, relatch, like the more time you have away that the firmer it becomes. Have you felt that over the last 13 days and is 13 days enough to kind of have any sort of relatching going on in that hand?

"I mean, that's a tough one to call. Basically what we're trying to do is let the bone reattach to the other bone. So it's just a process. It takes time. I don't know. We've been doing everything we can to speed it up, but yeah, you've got to let nature do its thing and let your bones heal up. But, at the end of the day, I know it's not going to be 100-percent. I'm realistic about that, but we're doing everything we can to get it as close as we can to that."

What does it feel like to throw with the torn ligament in your thumb? Is it a combination of pain and a lack of control? What does it feel like?

"It hurts. I don't know how else to describe it. It feels like the web in your hand is kind of tearing a little bit. Yeah, that's probably the best way I could describe it, but yeah it's all good."

With the success that you guys have had against the Rams the last several games and obviously this game meaning so much, especially with the younger guys, do you have to talk at all about overconfidence versus confidence?

"I don't even know if we talk about it. I think it's just understood in our locker room. Guys are, we have a good group, a good group of leaders who kind of set the tone for everybody, and then everyone else just follows suit. It's a confident locker room, no doubt about it, but I would not say we're cocky by any means. I think we're confident in the right way to go on that field and we've proved it in the past and we've just got to go do it again on Sunday, the style of football that we play."


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