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

Jan 18, 2022 at 6:09 PM

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The San Francisco 49ers are preparing to play the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the playoffs on Saturday. 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] Azeez [Al-Shaair] with knee, will be limited. [S Talanoa] Hufanga, knee, limited. [DL] Jordan Willis, ankle, will not practice. [LB] Marcell Harris, achilles, limited. [CB] Ambry Thomas has a knee, limited. [LB Dre] Greenlaw, groin, limited. [QB Jimmy] Garoppolo, shoulder and thumb, limited. [RB] Elijah Mitchell, knee, limited. [DL] Nick Bosa is still in the protocol and [LB] Fred Warner, ankle, limited. Go ahead."

How serious is the issue with Ambry Thomas' knee and do you know where that happened?

"We're not sure what play that happened on. It happened sometime in the game. Just a bone bruise. We think he'll be alright, but just not alright for a Tuesday."

Jimmy's performance, his accuracy, was remarkably different in the second half. It looked like he got hurt on his last throw of the first half. Could you attribute any of that to his shoulder injury?

"You can ask him, but no, I don't. I think he did it earlier than his last throw. I think he did it earlier in the second quarter, I think. But he had two throws that were off and I personally don't think it had to do with his shoulder."

Obviously, it's been a long time since you played Green Bay back in Week 3. How do you think your team is different from then and how different do you think Green Bay is and in what way?

"I think both teams are a lot better. It was early in the year for both of us, I think we hadn't lost a game yet. I think they were .500 at the time. I don't think either of us were executing as good as we are now, on both sides. We've both been through a lot versus then. And I think on both sides of the ball and in special teams both teams are better in all of the phases."

Is there anything that you guys can do to fully prepare for the weather conditions that you're likely to face Saturday night?

"No. Prepare to dress warm and prepare to get your mind right and if you do then it's usually not a factor. I think we'll be alright. I don't do well in cold, but I'll be alright in a football game and I think everyone else will be the same."

Just wondering what the confidence level is like and what the vibe in the locker room is like right now?

"Our guys are real confident. I think they've been that way for a while. It took us a while to earn that the way this year started out. We went into the year confident, had some rough patches, but we've believed in our team for a while and we've always felt we could play with anyone. And we've been doing that at some times, especially this last month or so, but we feel real good about ourselves and we're up for this challenge this week."

I think in the first Green Bay game you had, I think there was 81 yards in pass interference penalties and that was kind of an issue earlier in the year that you rectified. And I'm curious as to your take on what changed in the secondary? Was it a gradual improvement? What do you attribute the improvement in that area?

"Yeah, I think it was 116 yards, so it definitely wasn't good. And we had another game like that too with Indy, but we had a number of guys playing in that game who've been in and out throughout the year. And that's kind of how the whole year's gone for our whole group, but I think just everybody, not just individuals, but the whole, everyone who's gone back there has gotten better each week as it's gone. We had some young guys play early. Now we are having some young guys play late. We've had some veterans play early, some different veterans play late. We've had guys come in for injuries, guys out and back in. So it's been a number of guys and I just think whatever it is just collectively, we've all gotten a lot better. And we've limited some of those penalties and done a better job of eliminating the big plays too."

I was trying to do some sign language with you to ask you if it's all in the head, like when it comes to the weather?

"Oh. I thought you were asking if I was wearing a hat."

Your team is so, you guys appear to have so many really tough guys. So is that kind of part of it that they just have to kind of a mind over matter type of thing?

"To a degree. I think each person looks at it individually, however people deal with it. Some people aren't going to wear sleeves and it's going to be mind over matter and it's going to work for them. Me personally, I understand how cold it is. I'm going to dress as warm as possible and prepare for that so I'm not cold. But, whatever guys need you to do, just understand that it is a real deal. The weather is cold out there, but that's no reason to affect a game. Wind is a much bigger factor. Rain is a bigger factor. But the cold weather, you could do something about that and I believe it also helps when you're out there playing football because when you're running and hitting you don't stay too cold."

Now that we've afforded the opportunity to talk to offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel this year, obviously he's serious quite a bit, but he might lead the NFL in sarcastic humor and dry wit. Is he much the same with you guys or just behind the scenes? Is kind of what we're seeing what you get?

"Yeah, I think so. I haven't watched his press conferences, I don't study them, but I have an idea of how they are, that's Mike. He's an acquired taste and you guys are getting it. So Mike's a good dude, he's really good at what he does and he's himself. He's one of the smartest coaches I've been around and he's been huge to our team and huge for me throughout my entire career."

Fred told us earlier this year that he pulled QB Trey Lance aside and asked him to challenge the defense more in practices as the scout-team quarterback. What do you want to see from Trey this week in that role with Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers on tap for the weekend?

"Exactly that. Aaron does a real good job of not making bad decisions and not turning the ball over. But he also makes all the plays down the field wherever you're off just a hair. So we need Trey to be very aggressive, let it rip. Hopefully or if he does make some mistakes in practice, our defense will catch it and make him pay. But we need him to be aggressive in everything he does because Aaron doesn't miss many of those opportunities when they're presented to him."

Having faced Aaron before and having been in the playoffs, how much are you guys able to draw on that past experience?

"Not much. Every game is its own game and each year and each situation, each team is different. He's the same quarterback that we've played, which makes it a huge challenge. Everyone knows Aaron's the man. But this doesn't have to do with the last time we met in the playoffs and it doesn't have to do with our game earlier this year. It's one game, it's going to be on Saturday, it's three and a half hours and it's this team right now versus their team. And it's going to be as simple as that."

You obviously don't want to start the season 3-5 and go through a four-game losing streak, but is there any benefit to it in terms of your team having to play with its back against the wall maybe earlier in the season and sort of being accustomed to that sense of urgency as you get to this point?

"Yeah, definitely. I think your experiences are what make you who you are. In life and definitely as a team. Being 3-5, I don't wish that on anyone, but when you can fight through it and I always feel when bad things happen or things you would label a bad thing, they can be such a good thing if you can get through them. And if you get through them, you always can do it individually, but when you have to do it as a team and when you get through it with a group of people, it makes you stronger as an individual. It makes your whole team so much stronger. And we got through a lot of stuff this year and I feel that struggle has made us who we are and that's why I feel like there's not a situation we're going to ever panic in. We feel like we've been in it and we believe that we have a chance to win any game we play in until there's zero on the clock. That's the only time we can accept it."

This is a follow-up to that and hopefully not too similar, but I think you have 25 or 26 guys on your roster that were on the team in 2019. When you have guys who have been through it, particularly in the playoffs, how much can that help you when you get into situations like Sunday and you have a close game coming down to it, guys who have not only been in tough games, but on that big stage like that?

"I think it's good to have your team mixed up of everything because when you've been there before, sometimes you know how hard it is to get there. So sometimes those guys are the most uptight ones, sometimes, not always. Sometimes they've been there before and they're used to it. But sometimes you've got a new guy who's never been involved in it and he thinks that this happens every single year and it's just like any other game, so you've got tons of situations with each individual. And I just love that we have the experience on our team that's done it. We have some other guys who have been in the league a ton and haven't gotten this experience. Being able to hear people like [T] Trent Williams talk to our team last week or guys like [C] Alex Mack. Alex Mack told our rookies before the Rams game, it took him until his eighth year to win more than six games. Trent just won his first playoff game last week and he had only been in two. So you want guys to realize because at the end of this year, everyone's tired. And when everyone gets to break, it's not as hard. It's hard to get up each week and keep doing this grind. But when you're doing it for something special, like the playoffs and trying to get it to the ultimate goal of the last game, you don't let that pass by. You don't get in these situations very much. You can't guarantee it every year and guys are going to look back and hope they gave their all in these moments. And I think we've got a team filled with different leaders, filled with different experience and I think collectively that's why our team really understands what this moment is."

A quick one on Fred Warner. He said he expects to play, basically. Is that your expectation? And then also you said you can't glean too much from a Week 3 game. What's your process? How far back do you go? Like how useful is it? How far back do you watch Packers?

"You always go back and watch it, unless you change coaches. So you always watch the schemes and what you do against each other. And you watch every game throughout the year, but I just mean in terms of what happens. You never want to say, 'Hey, it was this way, that time, so it's going be this way now.' That's for people to talk about and if I wasn't coaching, I'd be watching that game and I'd be talking about it all week based off of that game, but it really doesn't matter in here. Once that game starts, it's just all about that first play. And when that's over, it's about the second play and that's really all that matters. So you've just got to keep your guys focused on that, preparing for that. You watch the last game, you prepare for situations, but you've mixed that in with everything else and you what's going to go down on Saturday and you get ready to adjust."

When Trent Williams talked to the guys the other night, can you share what his message was and what he said?

"He talked to the special teams just about how important it was. Really trying to motivate those guys and tell them when he watches them, get 10 yards on it, he knows that's one less first down that the offense has to get. When you hear a guy like Trent say that and Trent, like I've said before, he genuinely loves football. And when you have a guy get up in a special teams meeting who probably hasn't played special teams, probably ever. I would be very surprised if he has. But he says how much he enjoys it and how much it inspires him. I think that inspires our guys. And to know when you have a player like that who's played such good football, but had never won a playoff game and only got an opportunity to play in two, you realize how tough this is to get. And I think when you hear a guy like that talk that everyone respects so much, it wakes everybody up a lot."

I'm not looking for a percentage, but obviously your run game has evolved quite a bit over the years. How much of that is Mike McDaniel?

"Mike does a ton of it. We all do it in here, but we all have our separate areas that we work on. Then we try to bring it together and patch it all together to make an offense as a whole. And then we distribute it to all our position coaches, so Mike gets as much credit as anyone in this building. [Offensive line coach] Chris Foerster gets a lot of credit, our O-Line, all the assistants, all the guys who draw it, the position coaches, but Mike's in charge of that. And Mike's been unbelievable, not just here, he did the same thing for me in Atlanta, Cleveland and was a big part in Washington too."

As far as the linebackers and Dre, it seemed like he was the weakside linebacker to start the game against Dallas, but then Azeez came in at some point and was playing that role too. Was that the plan to begin with or is Dre still sort of working through that core injury?

"Yeah, they're both working through stuff. Both of those guys just to get back these last two weeks, it's been extremely impressive. But yeah, we wanted to get both of them out there, but neither of them have got to play or practice a ton of football, so it kind of takes care of itself throughout the game."

Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower

Can we get to the fake punt and just kind of explain what happened there and why CB Josh Norman wasn't in position for that?

"Yeah, we had D stay on the field and the guy just ran a good route. We were expecting the fake. The defense was out there. We had D stay on the field. The guy just ran a good route."

As you mentioned, your defense did stay on the field, but why was Norman? Obviously Norman hasn't been playing corner. Why was he on the field?

"Norman is playing special teams with us now and he's in on defense stay. So in defense stay, when you put your defense stay out there, you put two fresh corners out there, because they've got fresh gunners. And obviously you sub your punt returner for a safety or interior player. Those guys are fresher and those guys are out there and the guy just ran a good route on him. But, excited about the opportunity that we have this week to go in to Lambeau and compete, I could tell you that. And Josh can't wait to get back out there."

How does the potential elements in Lambeau Field impact the way not only you prepare, but think about some of the differences versus I guess normal conditions?

"The elements, especially in the cold, the ball doesn't travel as well. The ball's usually harder, usually harder to kick. But it's nothing like playing in the rain. It's nothing like playing in windy games. Cold you can handle. The balls just don't travel as far in the cold and you've just got to make sure your guys keep their hands warm and have the right type of cleats on and have the proper layers on and then just get ready to go out there and play football. At the end of the day, however you deal with it, you've just got to get ready to play football and understand that you may cover more kicks. You may return more kicks because the ball's not going to travel as well. It's not going to travel as far as it would in a normal condition."

On the penalty, on the attempt to block the punt there, what is the coaching point in terms of kind of finding that line between being aggressive and getting after it and making sure you don't run into a guy in a fourth and 20 like that?

"The coaching point always is to stay off the punter. You never want to run into the punter. Guys got free there. Probably got a little bit too excited because they were so free in there. And he had a guy, two guys that really have been doing a great job for us helping us turn this thing around in [LB] Mark Nzeocha and [WR] River Cracraft here the last month or so. These guys have been really playing really good football. Just got too excited and had a guy leave his feet and got a little bit too excited, which we never want a guy to do. You just want to run right off to the side of the punter, right off to the side of the block point at 10 yards. So they'll learn from that."

I don't expect you're going to drag your opponent, but the Packers by various measurements rank near the bottom in a lot that special teams categories. Do you see some opportunities maybe for you guys to have a big game?

"Well, I just look at the tape. I don't really look at any of that stuff that you're referring to. I just look at tape and I see some really good players on tape. I see [Green Bay Packers LB] Oren Burks who I think's a good player on tape and [Green Bay Packers WR] Amari Rodgers is a good returner. I mean, he's a young kid he's learning. I see [Green Bay Packers LB] Ty Summers, who's been a good player in this league for a while. They've got [Green Bay Packers K] Mason, Crosby. This is the NFL. And on any given Sunday, anybody can get beat. So you never want to go into any game with any preconceived notions. You want to go into every game, it's its own game. And we're going in with full respect for our opponent just like any other game. We're excited for the challenge. We're up for the challenge. Can't wait to get down there, can't wait to get to practice today. It's exciting. We've got a chance to be in the Divisional Round and have a chance to help our football team. And we want to do that. We want to help the offense. We want to help the defense out this game."

Can you touch on just how impressive K Robbie Gould is in the postseason and just how he kind of locks in mentally differently?

"Yeah, I mean, I've been really pleased with the trajectory of the unit, the field goal unit and really the whole special teams unit this last month. We feel like we're on a good trajectory right now. We had a couple bumps in the road last game, but nothing major to where you feel down about what the guys have done. These guys are busting their tail and [LS Tabor] Pepper's snapping the ball really well. [P] Mitch [Wishnowsky] has been holding well. Heck [FB Kyle Juszczyk] Juice got in there and held when he needed to. And Robbie is just a consummate pro. I mean, to be so locked in, I could have told you that he was going to do what he did in the L.A. game by the way he looked at us the night before that game and the way he was all week. And he punted when we needed him to, he's kicked a couple 50 yard field goals, winning that game by six points the other day in Dallas, that was phenomenal by him. He's been kicking off really well with good direction. His mindset in the way he's locked in with good direction, good hang time, been getting some good key contributions from guys like River Cracraft, Mark, [RB] Jeff Wilson [Jr.] helped out a ton in that area. [TE] Charlie Woerner has helped out a ton in that area. [LB] Curtis [Robinson] made, these guys have been making some good plays, good tackles inside the 20 yard line, inside the 21 yard line. And a lot of that has to do with Robbie's mindset and his focus and his direction and his location on his kicks. Usually December and January re Robbie Gould's month. His birthday's in December, so he's locked and loaded. And I can tell you what, he was fired up in meetings today. So I can't wait to see him later on."

Another weather question for you. The 49ers played a playoff game in Green Bay in 2013 and the field was just different to put it lightly. How important is the Friday practice that you're going to have? I don't know whether it'll be in Green Bay or Appleton, but how important is it to get out there and do some kicking off of that frozen surface somewhere in Wisconsin the day before the game?

"We typically don't kick the day before game, just so the guys have rest with their legs and they're as fresh as they can go, as fresh as they can be before game time. But feel good about it. Mitch has played in that type of weather before. Robbie's played obviously on that field in that type of weather before. It's interesting that you bring that game up because we actually watched a little bit of that game in our meeting today. So yeah, we're well aware of it. And we watched that with the specialists today. Obviously [former 49ers K] Phil [Dawson] had the big game-winning kick in that game. It was good game for him. Good game for the Niners."

Kyle just told us that last week before the game T Trent Williams addressed your group which maybe seems a little bit unusual, but clearly it meant a lot to him going into that game. What was your perspective on what Trent had to say to your guys?

"Trent is always locked in when it comes to field goal pro. He obviously is in all the meetings on field goal pro because that's what he's involved in. And yeah, he just got up and addressed the group as well as a couple other guys. And I just thought it meant a lot to the guys to hear from Trent because they know how much he loves football. And I've been with Trent for a long time. We drafted Trent when I was in Washington, so I've seen him grow and I'm just proud of him and proud that he got a chance to experience this here with the Niners and win his first playoff game. It was special to him. I mean, he talked about how fired up he is to see guys like [RB] Trent Cannon when he broke that return or [WR Brandon] Aiyuk or [WR] Travis [Benjamin] when they get a good punt return and it's a first down for them and they already feel like they got a first down on offense. He just is a pros pro and Trent just, I mean, it's hard to put into words to be honest with you, but you could hear a pin drop in that room, and it was awesome. Maybe you can ask Trent a little more about it. My perspective is that it was like, wow, he really cares."

Just curious why Travis Benjamin is a better option to return punts these last few weeks than Brandon Aiyuk?

"Not necessarily anybody better than the other. Everything is situational. And Travis has been doing a really good job. I mean, I think his last three punt returns have all been over 11 or 12 yards a pop. So that's been outstanding. He's trying to carve him a roll out there and Brandon's still in the mix and can't wait to see him get out there as well. So, it's just situational, no one way or the other."

QB Jimmy Garoppolo

You have a couple injuries now, so I'm wondering with the temperature in Green Bay supposed to be so cold, how have you handled the injuries in extreme cold in your career? I guess, would that be at Arlington Heights and Eastern Illinois rather than anything in the NFL?

"Yeah. I mean, I've played in the cold my whole life, so I don't think it'll be anything too crazy with that. But yeah just learning to adjust, changing whatever you have to change, but that's what this week of practice is for. You kind of get used to those things, so we're in a good spot though."

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said you hurt the shoulder in the second quarter. There was a hit where it looked like you were kind of falling to the side and you started to use your hand to try to brace yourself and then pulled it back. How much are you thinking about that in the moment of like, 'oh, if I try to use my hand, it's going to hurt the thumb worse.' And is that kind of what led to the issue there?

"Yeah, I just got thrown down, went to put my hand out and sort of had in my mind if my thumb hit I didn't know what was going to happen. So I tried to yeah, catch it with my elbow a little bit and just jam the shoulder up. Yeah, that was about it."

A couple things, first off you said, I think we're in a good spot there. I'm assuming that means that you feel like you won't be impacted when and if you play Saturday night, and the other part of that is just what's this week been like for you as far as budgeting time with rehab or PT on your thumb, on your shoulder, preparing for the Packers, preparing for your own gameplan? Are you spending more time in the facility this week on a short week than maybe normal?

"Yeah, just different time. It's the same amount of time, but you're spending it differently. Got to get the body right. Obviously, that's at first and foremost, but like you're said, you have to get the mind right for the defense you're going against, the gameplan that you're putting in. So there's a lot of balancing between all of that, but no, it's playoff football. We know what time it is and there ain't no time to rest right now."

Feel free to make excuses if you want here, but obviously, your performance in the second half wasn't as good as your performance in the first half. How much, if any, did that have to do with your shoulder injury?

"Well, I mean the shoulder, yeah, being a quarterback it affects every throw. So it definitely had some impact, but if I'm out there and I'm being put in that spot, I still have to make the plays that I normally make. So no excuses or anything like that. The injury is what it is. We're all dealing with stuff now."

First, are you confident you're going to play Saturday? And second, you obviously don't want to start 3-5 and have a four-game losing streak, but in what ways has playing with your back against the wall served you guys in terms of the sense of urgency it takes to make a playoff run to get to this moment?

"I think it's done us well in some ways. Putting that pressure on your team early, it creates a mindset. It creates an atmosphere in the locker room of a sense of urgency that we have to win now and we have to make some plays. So I think that early on in the year, you obviously don't want to start 3-5, like you said, but it prepares your mind, I guess you could say for everything that you're going to go against later in the season. And we've been in playoff mode for a while now and coming off two big games in a row, it's just every one of these games is big, that's the type of season we're in right now."

Are you confident you're going to play Saturday?

"Yeah, we'll feel it out throughout the week, but yeah, just feeling good right now."

The thing with the cold weather, is there a fine line between preparing for it and overthinking it and creating kind of a mental thing for you guys?

"Absolutely. Yeah, there definitely is. I don't know. I've lived in it my whole life, so there's just different ways. I think people who have grown up in it and played in it for a long time, there's ways to prepare for it, things that you kind of know going into it. But yeah, I think our team, we have a good mindset going into this thing and we know what it's going to be like on Saturday, so it'll be a hell of an atmosphere."

I'm going to sneak in two, if I can as well. What's bothering you more at this point, the shoulder or the thumb?

"Yes (laughing). I don't know. Yeah, they're pretty close."

What do you feel has changed the most about both your team and the Packers since that Week 3 matchup?

"A lot's changed, honestly. Personnel has changed, they're getting some guys back, they're getting healthier and you can see that. And you know, we have some different personnel too than we had Week 3. So you definitely watch that game, take it into account, but it was a long time ago. A lot of things have changed, schematically, personnel-wise, but we have to be prepared for whatever they're willing to do. They've had a lot of time to prepare for this one."

I think you guys have got 25 or 26 players who were on the 2019 roster. Guys who've been through it in the playoffs, including yourself. How much, when you guys get into situations like Sunday in Dallas, where you're up against the wall, kind of what Chris was alluding to, how much do you kind of tap into to that experience of being in the postseason? How much do you think it can help as you continue in this one?

"I think it plays a big role. I really do. That experience of having been there, helping the younger guys out, trying to let them know what, going into this Dallas game, we knew it was going to be a hostile environment, but that was one of the crazier environments I've played in. And that's just what the playoffs is. We know we're going to be on the road for all this, and we've done well on the road so far this year and we're just trying to keep that thing going. But as far as the experience goes, it takes you a long way. But at the end of the day, whoever's out there has to make plays."

As far as the shoulder and the impact it had in Dallas, there was the play in the second half where you had TE George Kittle on the short throw and it was just short to him. Was the shoulder at play on that incompletion?

"Yeah, like I said before, every throw was impacted. It's a shoulder injury, so any type of throw you're going to feel it and it's going to change things. But yeah, it's just similar to when I was first dealing with the thumb, my body's just learning and I have to adapt to it."

Offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel doesn't necessarily look like a traditional NFL coach. And he obviously, in talking with him throughout the year we found he has quite a sarcastic sense of humor and dry wit to him, but obviously he can be serious. He's known to be a pretty good coach. How would you describe that whole dynamic, what's going on with him?

"Mike is awesome, man. He really is. He's kind of that, I don't want to say the mastermind behind everything, but he's kind of that guy in the background that doesn't say a whole ton to a lot of people, but his mind is always moving. The ideas that he comes up with are so fresh and new that it's a cool guy to have on the staff. Just the way that he can implement things. And he simplifies it down to, I mean he's a lot smarter than most of us. So he dumbs it down for us and kind of gets us all on the same page. And it's just a good combination with him and all the rest of the coaches."

That's a good way to explain it. When you're looking at the running game and obviously you ran so well against the Packers two years ago in the playoffs and it seems like the running game has really come on strong the last few weeks. How would you kind of compare those two?

"It's similar. Two years ago, it's a lot of different players. We had different players, they did, both ways. So you look at it a little bit, but we're on this year, so there is some differences. Obviously, we'd love to run the ball like we did two years ago. That would be awesome, but it's going be hard for us and we know it."
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By David Bonilla
Jun 13

We are unlikely to hear any updates on the contract standoff between the San Francisco 49ers and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk until training camp begins late next month. Aiyuk signaled his dissatisfaction with the negotiation progress by skipping last week's mandatory minicamp, subjecting himself to fines totaling $101,716. Skipping training camp could result in further fines. Matt Barrows of The Athletic recently stated that there is no indication the 49ers will waive any fines resulting from Aiyuk's absences. "All those fines will start piling up in the summer, [and there's] no indication that the 49ers will forgive Aiyuk for absences the way that they did for Nick Bosa,"


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