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What Kyle Shanahan, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Richard Hightower said ahead of 49ers-Cowboys

Jan 12, 2022 at 2:20 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers are preparing to play the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs 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

"Alright guys, injuries for today. [LB] Dre Greenlaw, groin, will be limited. [LB] Azeez [Al-Shaair], knee, limited. [S Talanoa] Hufanga, knee, limited. [QB Jimmy] Garoppolo, thumb, limited. [RB] Elijah Mitchell, won't practice, knee. [S Jaquiski] Tartt, groin, limited. Witch [P Mitch Wishnowsky], limited, with where he is at in the protocol. [T] Trent Williams, elbow, won't practice. [LB] Marcell Harris, achilles, limited. [TE] George [Kittle] will not practice, not injury related. And [RB] Trenton Cannon, we are opening up his practice window today. Go ahead."

Just on Elijah and Trent Williams, with Elijah is that just kind of maintenance and is there any chance he would have a problem playing in this game and then just any update on Trent Williams possible availability for Sunday?

"Yeah, Elijah's in the same boat he was in last week on this Wednesday and Trent is better today than he was on Sunday, but still I'm hoping he'll be ready for Sunday."

We got to see Jimmy thrive in another two-minute situation to come back and tie the game. It's something he's done a few times this year. He actually did it the first time he ever started a game for you against the Bears in 2017. I'm just curious what you think are the factors that go into him thriving in those situations?

"I think he's a real good quarterback. The way he can throw it, how quick he can get rid of it, despite the protection. And he's made good decisions. When you're in those situations, that's when pass rushes tee off. So that's when they become real hard. And sometimes you block them well, sometimes you don't and when you don't, if you get sacked, usually the drive is over. But Jimmy's done a real good job of being able to get rid of it. And then when we've blocked, he's always been able to hold onto it, which to me allows you to succeed in those situations."

After getting a chance to study the Cowboys, what are some of the things that stand out to you as maybe the biggest challenges going into this game?

"You can see why they're in this position. Just offensively, defensively, special teams, their numbers are off the charts on both phases. They've got very good talent. They've got very good schemes. Watching their defense, it looks so much to me like a [Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator] Dan Quinn defense. He's changed a lot schematically and coverages and everything, but the way those 11 guys play and attack the ball and go for the ball, he's got them going. And it's not a coincidence that they're leading the league in getting turnovers. Their offense, starting with their quarterback, he's a great player. [Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator] Kellen [Moore] does a real good job schematically, especially with the receivers that they have and the two running backs they have and the O-Line they have, so very talented team and it's very obvious why they're in this position."

Kind of blending those two things, in terms of just Jimmy Garoppolo, all the interceptions we've seen him over the years. I'd imagine one, you know him more, he's the quarterback you know better than any other quarterback you've coached. And then so when he throws an interception, what do you see that triggers him to rebound on that next drive?

"Honestly, no differences than when he throws an interception. When you let that ball rip and you're not scared of failing, things don't always go perfect. And you watch a lot of good quarterbacks in this league and some do a really good job of never having picks, which is very rare. But even look at some of the great ones, they're going to get some interceptions, they're aggressive with it. Sometimes when they're like that, you can keep both teams in the game, but usually they get you over the hump if you keep swinging. And that's how Jimmy's always been, sometimes it's better than others, but when you throw the ball like that and if you're not scared to fail, sometimes that stuff happens."

I know that WR Deebo Samuel's weight initially was a concern for you guys when he came in 2019 and wide receivers coach Wes Welker made that a pet project of his. Where are you now as far as how big he should be, because that weight seems to be a part of his game, throwing that weight around? What's your stance on that now?

"Oh, we're still the same. We challenge Deebo with it. Deebo is always going to be big and solid. The way he plays the game sometimes, it's harder for him to practice all week. And that's when you have to be careful. When you're too sore to practice, when you're naturally like him, you're going to put on some weight and then it's tough to play receiver when you're like that. So mainly, Deebo, he's been awesome here since the offseason to this season throughout watching his weight, in terms of how he eats, how he practices, everything. And he's kept it way under control, and I think it's helped him stay healthier and led him to more success."

How would you describe how Dre Greenlaw played on Sunday? It looked like he was pretty amped up, maybe a little rusty, maybe a little over amped. What does he bring to the table and just how important is it for him to just kind of get settled in and get his feet under him again?

"I thought him playing out there was like watching Mike Tyson with a uniform. First of all, I think he looks like him, his face a little bit. But he was so in the zone. Honestly, if I was a fan, I probably would've been wearing his Jersey in the stands that day because he plays a way that I love to watch. And we have to be careful with that. He got a couple personal fouls and it's a very fine line, but when you can play with that aggressiveness, that energy, the guy hasn't played all year and you can see how much he liked playing football. We didn't know how much he was going to be able to go and he went pretty much every play. And just to see it and you can see it in his eyes and the way he looks in his eyes is the way his actions are on the field. And he is very inspiring to us, as coaches and players, and I feel like he inspires our fans too. So having Dre out there is a huge difference and we really enjoyed it."

A lot of people, myself included, throughout the season had made the case that you should probably play QB Trey Lance more. And the results sort of spoke for themselves. What did we miss from your vantage point in terms of what did we miss about Jimmy that gave you unwavering belief throughout the entire season?

"I'm not sure. I think it's human nature, I guess. And I think it's when you trade up and everyone's real excited and you get a quarterback with the third pick of the draft, I think everyone's waiting to see and just very rarely do two quarterbacks play. We did a little bit of it at the beginning of the year, but that's just not something that happens much. So I think as soon as you have a bad record and things don't look right, regardless of whether you have a backup on the bench that everyone wants to see, or whether you don't, when you're 3-5 and you've lost four in a row, whether you're the coordinators, the head coach or the quarterback, that's just how it is. And when you have a rookie sitting there on the bench, it's what's expected. That's what I kind of like about our building that I don't think it's something that people missed. That's what you expect. That is what happens. And when you have an organization that, to me, we really don't splinter in here. Guys aren't going to just get caught up in that stuff and come and force anything like that. And it allows you to make the right decisions. And when you watch the tape, I didn't think Jimmy was playing that bad. I thought as a team there was a number of things we weren't doing well. And when we'd all go back and watch the tape every Sunday night, Monday, that isn't what we saw. And we did think Jimmy was still giving us the best chance and we wanted to give Trey more time, not only just for him, but also for our team. And so it wasn't a tough decision. We just stuck with it because that's what the right decision was based off of film and based off of what we are in our building and our practice. And I'm glad the guys have come through and got us to this point and I'm real glad we're still playing."

Dan Quinn spoke on Monday about what he respects about you most is how you've adjusted your scheme for each organization and the players that you've worked with. What do you see from him and what do you respect about how he's adjusted since you've coached together?

"It was cool watching him because I haven't gotten to play against him since '19. And they were very similar in '19 to how it was when I was there. But just watching him now, in Dallas, it's still his style. They play the exact same way and it's very obvious when you see them on tape and that's the coolest thing about Dan. But just coverage-wise and stuff, it's very different. Not as much cover-three and the type of man coverages that they're doing, that's impressive for Dan to do it a certain way his whole career and then to make the adjustments, mainly because of his personnel, just stuff that he wants to add, but it looks like his first time doing it, at least since I've known him. And it's definitely been very good and it's hard to deal with, but who he is doesn't change. He's a motivator and he gets those guys to rush the quarterback. He gets them to play hard and that team is very tough to beat."

When you're putting in a new play, especially this late in the season, for example the Deebo pass to the end zone, how do you get yourself to a point where you're comfortable with that play and you haven't run it all year, but you get to a point where you're pretty confident that it's going to work in the game?

"You're confident based off all the runs that you're doing. The play doesn't work because it's a cool play. The play works because of how good our O-Line blocks, how good our tight end blocks that gets Deebo to the edge. How good our receiver cracks on safeties, which Jauan usually does and how hard Deebo is to tackle for a corner coming around, outside the numbers. And when you can do that a bunch and our players have gotten to those spots, it kind of just sets it up to where it would be a pretty bad play if we weren't running the ball like that. And that's just a credit to our guys and what they do to the defensive players."

You had talked briefly early in this season about I guess you gained more of an appreciation for the run game when you were with the Texans. And obviously you had big numbers, but not maybe the team success. If I've got my story roughly straight, can you just talk about--? No?

"It's alright though."

Well, I'll go ahead with this. If I've got that partially right, did you have any sort of epiphany or just a moment where you began to develop an even greater appreciation for the run game in your career?

"Yeah, I think the more you do anything, to me you become on who you are based off of your life circumstances and experiences. And when you're a play caller, I think what you're trying to say is my first two years in Houston, we didn't run the ball at all. And we threw it all the time. I think we were 31st in rushing my last year there and first in passing and the year before, I think we were third in passing and I think 17th in rushing. So I had two years as a coordinator and the way our quarterback was, the way our receivers were, we were just built to throw. And so you knew how to do that. And then I went to Washington and you tried to do the same stuff and you realize you can't, you have to do different stuff with different players and you start to adjust and figure out what you need to do. And you learn the importance of everything and getting forced to do certain things based off your personnel, I do think helps you grow as a coach. So then when you feel like you can do both, you don't just abandon one because you understand through your experiences why you have to be able to throw the ball, you have to be able to run the ball. We ran the ball really well versus the Rams and I think that was only because we threw the ball well. In both of those games, if we didn't have two of our best third down games throwing the ball, you would not have seen those type of runs. So I think it all ties together. And I also think it helps you win games is what you learn the most. The more you run the ball, the less chance you have usually of penalties, usually of sacks and most importantly, interceptions."

I don't know if this is by accident or just kind of the way it worked out, but it seems like you and Deebo have a conversation before just about every practice, maybe before games too sometimes. What are you guys talking about? What do those conversations usually kind of consist of?

"Anything. Deebo is a really easy guy to talk to. And during that, he's not doing much on special teams at that time, so he usually just comes over and we chit-chat a little bit. And sometimes it's about how he's feeling, it's about the practice, sometimes it's about the team we're playing, sometimes it's about his family. He has a little boy, I think he's three weeks old and he's already holding his bottle by himself, so he's just convinced that means he's going to be a top pick in the draft. So he is very proud, but Deebo is an awesome guy to talk to. I'm his coach, I consider him a friend though also."

With WR Jauan Jennings, it's so obvious that he loves football and is just so happy to be in the position he's in. What does that bring to the locker room and to the huddle, just to have that kind of infectious enthusiasm?

"Oh, so much. You guys know how we felt about [New England Patriots WR Kendrick] Bourne around here his first few years, where I used to call him kind of our mascot, because his personality never changed and Jauan's similar. They're definitely different though, but he brings that same type of energy and Jauan, he's going so hard. He's always borderline, I'd say 95-percent blacked out, which makes you play at certain level, which is awesome. But that five-percent he knows how to play within the lines and be smart about it, but guys feed off of him. I remember Deebo saying to me, yesterday, he couldn't believe some of the stuff Jauan was doing out there during the game. When you see guys play that way and have that attitude, it's very inspiring. And it makes you enjoy football, just being around him. And I think that's why people like watching him too and he's helped us a ton."

Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower

A quick K Robbie Gould question. How much punting does he get in during a week, during an offseason? It seemed like he kind of picked that up very, or it was easy for him almost in that game.

"You can ask Robbie about offseason punting, but Robbie's an athlete and he can punt, he can throw, he can do all of those different things and he prides himself on being more than just a kicker. He prides himself on being a football player and knowing all facets of the game. So, it doesn't surprise me that he was able to go in and help us win the football game there. And he did a very nice job and really proud that he was awarded NFC Special Teams Player of the Week as a team. All of the guys are fired up about that. So that's definitely a good thing."

Another part of that equation was FB Kyle Juszczyk coming in there and holding. That's a lot of pressure on a guy in a game that's so big. How did he approach it? Did he come up and talk to you? Did he seem nervous or was he fine about everything?

"Juice is always in tune with every situation. He knows if someone goes down like Mitch, that he has to hold and Juice is a consummate pro. There's no nervousness in him at all because he's ready for that situation. I mean, just to kind of highlight what type of pro he is, Juice has worked on that. Every week, every Thursday, when everybody goes in after practice, he never complains about it. He's done it every Thursday for the last five years. So when he's in that situation, he's ready to go and he's confident. And he did a phenomenal job getting Robbie laces and [LS] Taybor Pepper stepped his game up to another level as well, giving him all great balls to put down. But that is a tremendously difficult situation for Juice to be in, Robbie and Pep as well. And those guys did what they needed to do to help the football team. And we're playing January ball is what we want to do."

I'm sure one of the things you like about P Mitch Wishnowsky is his willingness to kind of stick his nose in there in certain situations. Obviously the flip side of that is it can lead to things like what happened on Sunday. What is the fine line there in terms of what you want Mitch to be willing and able to do in those situations?

"We never want any player to put their self in harm's way by lowering their head. That's what we just coach. I'm not saying Mitch did on that particular play, but you just want to turn it back to the help to the pursuit. And if he can get him down, great, he can get him down. But really I'm not upset with Mitch on that play. In terms of his willingness to try to make a play there. Would love for him to not have to make a play and us to cover the field and not get stacked. Which is what we've been really good at here on punt coverage. So the guys are really upset that they finished in the top-10, when they should have finished in the top-five. They had a goal that they were chasing to beat the record that was set here in year one when those guys were top in the league. And I think someone told me they finished seventh in the history of the National Football League as many years as football's been played. So, they're upset about that play and they're upset that ball got to Mitch, but we've got it corrected and we are ready to move forward."

You said Taybor Pepper took his game to a different level. Can you just elaborate on what that means to a layman from a long snapper?

"So on field goal snaps, which some people call short snaps in particular you would like the laces to be between 10 and two if you were looking at a clock. The closer you can get them to 12, the more they're straight away facing the goal post, which is the way the kicker likes the ball, because if he can strike it there at the sweet spot of the ball then it has got a better chance of traveling and going through the uprights and Pep was right on, he was dead on for Juice. And he was between 10 and two, if not at 12 at near all five of those snaps. So just him taking it to that level, knowing the moment, feeling the moment and being excited for the moment. I'm so happy for Pepper and I'm happy for obviously Juice, Robbie and the whole rest of the field goal team."

Did you sign one of the two punters to the practice squad that tried out this week?

"Yeah, we did. We signed [P] Ryan Winslow as a precautionary because you guys, as you know, like [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] said, Mitch is in the protocol, so we'll see how that goes. But we did sign Ryan Winslow who's punted and has some experience this year punting and he's a good player."

QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Just seeing how you made it out of Sunday's game? How did you feel on Monday morning? And then as far as the fumble, did the thumb have anything to do with that or was that just, you were going to fumble in that situation and no matter what?

"Yeah, I think the D-Lineman made a nice play, reached out for it and just got a finger on it. But yeah, thumb held up pretty well. It is what it is. It was a little sore after the game, but it's feeling great right now."

You relayed a little story to Sports Illustrated reporter Albert Breer about you and FB Kyle Juszczyk before the game. How much have you, I mean, you play with such emotion, but how do you try to kind of remove that emotion of getting nostalgic in thinking about what the future holds for you here?

"You know, it's a fine line. You kind of tow it every day, really. At least I do. You know, there is a lot of emotion that goes into this game, but when those moments, those big moments happen at the end of the game, you really have to kind of just stay cool down the middle. And I think our team does a good job of that as a whole, but yeah, just me and Juice had a cool moment there. It's these guys on the team, I love this team, love the players, love everything about it. It's a good group to be around, fun group. And we want to keep this thing going for as long as we can now."

Kyle was just saying that WR Jauan Jennings, he thinks he plays 95-percent blacked out, and he obviously brings quite a bit of enthusiasm to the game. What does that do in the huddle, in the locker room and practice to just kind of keep it fun, even in the more serious moments?

"Yeah. That's where Jauan is special because there is a fine line between you want to be hyped up and everything, but in the big moments you want to be locked in and Jauan does a good job of that. He knows when to separate it in the locker room, he is the life of the parties. He's fun to be around. But then when you're in the huddle, I mean, I look into the guy's eyes and he's as locked in as anyone in that huddle. So he does a great job of towing that line. And those are the guys you want in the huddle with you, someone you could look at and know they're in it with you."

I know you're kind of focused on the game, but just the human side of it, how much does the idea that this could be the last ride, does it add any motivation and anything like that? How much does that weigh in your mind just throughout the course of a week, going into games like this?

"It's always in the back of your mind. It has been in mine, you know, really this whole season. Just I knew what type of season it was, knew everything that was going on behind the scenes and whatnot. So it was a little different. But, at the same time, it's like you're saying you've got to tow that line because you don't want to get too emotional in those moments. And you've just got to go play football when it comes down to it, but, the human side definitely comes into play. You feel it for a little bit after the game. And I think 24 hours after that, you've got to move on quickly and we've done that pretty well."

What kind of a hazard does Dallas Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs and the Cowboys offer you?

"A big one. He's talented, man. He's good in that back end. Trevon really just tracks the ball really well. I mean, you could tell that he used to play receiver. He could make some great plays on it. But, their whole defense, they're pretty skilled across the board, got some big time players and it'll be a good challenge for us."

The drive where you guys had 10 straight runs and then WR Deebo Samuel's pass, nine of those runs were up the middle, just right at them. Is that an area maybe you guys are special, just the physicality, sometimes you can unleash and exert your will or whatever on your opponent?

"I think, yeah. I think it shows in that aspect and another way I think it shows just the way that the O-Line sets the standard for us. You know, those guys played really well last week, just getting off the ball, moving the line of scrimmage. I mean, we had some guys playing positions they weren't used to. [OL] Colton [McKivitz] stepping in at tackle. Those guys really do set the tone for us up front. And then I think it plays off of that in the running backs finishing runs and the receivers finishing blocks. All that stuff tied together, it makes it hard on defenses to stay with us for 60 minutes."

I think in your first start with the 49ers, you got the ball and drove down the field and they kicked a field goal to beat the Bears. We just saw what you did against the Rams. You've had a lot of two-minute drills, a couple of them this year that didn't even work out, but were still impressive drives. I'm just curious as to your perspective on what it takes to thrive in those situations? Something or a knack you seem to have?

"I think it starts with just wanting to be in those situations. As a quarterback, those are the moments, the drives, that you live for. You want to have the ball at the end of the game. You don't want to leave it up to, as much as I trust the defense and special teams, you want it just as a quarterback, as a competitor. I don't know. I've always had that and I don't think I'll lose it anytime soon, but it's just we have guys in this huddle that you could tell they want the ball in their hands. You know, when the crunch time comes, I've said this a million times, but I just look in guys' eyes and I know whether they want it or they don't. And those big moments you want guys who want the ball in their hands. That's what it really comes down to."

Kyle said that there's never been any unwavering in the locker room and that no matter what's gone on outside the building it's been solid behind you and supporting you. What does that mean to you when you have gone through what you've gone through this season?

"You know, I think it's the type of locker room we have. We all put a lot into this. We all put, you check a lot of things and put them off to the side just because of the importance that we put into this football. And this team that we have, we know we have a chance to do something special and it's just you don't get that opportunity every year. And so I've been on a number of teams that went to the Super Bowl, and I'm not saying anything like that, but just there's a feeling and you want to make them count as long as you have them I guess."


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