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Jim O’Neil talks Robinson, Tartt, Redmond and more

Aug 6, 2016 at 12:39 PM--

Opening comments:

"Alright, wanted to start today just talking about our coaching staff and just talk about how excited I am to work with them. As a group, I think they're unbelievable teachers. They're doing a great job with their guys. We have a lot of young guys in those position rooms, and just where they're at right now from a schematic standpoint's been great. I think we work together as a group. It's really good, the competitiveness of the group. So, I'm so fired up to coach with the group of guys we have on the defensive side of the ball. [Defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley] Haff, our secondary coach, he's done an unbelievable job teaching these guys, very detailed, and I think any time, as a player, they're constantly coming to you and you're not having to go to them to coach them, I think it says a lot about you as a coach and I see that from the older guys and the younger guys in his room. [Outside linebackers coach Jason Tarver] Tarv, obviously does a great job with the outside backers. You guys are familiar with him, but just for me, his experience and me being able to bounce ideas schematically off of him and really use him as a sounding board has been so valuable since I've been here. [Inside linebackers coach] Joe Bowden, our inside backers coach, I love the high standards that he sets for his room and he coaches everybody in that room. And there's a lot of guys and a lot of coaches in this league that would struggle to coach guys like [LB] NaVorro [Bowman] just because of the success that they've had and he treats everybody the same and he calls a spade a spade. If it's not good enough, he lets them know about it. And just the mentality that he brings and what he's instilled in that room has been awesome. And then [defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro] Azz and the defensive line, I think he's done an unbelievable job talking to our guys about how to strike blockers, how to get off, the aggressive nature that he's brought to that room. And then, he's done a really good job, better than any D-Line coach I've been around, coaching those guys the big picture and you can see if you're out here watching practice, those guys know when they can take shots in our scheme and they've been able to make a lot of plays. So, he's done a great job with that room and like I said, I could go on and on and on about how good of a job our staff's doing. So, I wanted to start there. Questions?"

Jim O'Neil Impressed with Defensive Staff 

You mentioned the defensive line, I've watched the warmups, the individual drills and one day, DL Arik Armstead leads it and the next day, DL DeForest Buckner. What's the thinking behind doing it that way, having a different guy each day lead the way?

"I don't know. I don't know if that's something Azz controls or those guys just step up and 'Hey, I'm going first today.' That might be like an alpha dog thing in their room. 'I'm going to set the tone today for individual.' So, you'd have to ask them that."

With S Jaquiski Tartt passing his conditioning test, does that give you a timeframe on his return to practice?

"He'll get some today. So, I think [vice president of football Operations Jeff Ferguson] Ferg and [director of human performance Mark Uyeyama] Uye lay all that stuff out. But, I think he'll get a third of the reps that he would normally get if he was full-go. Obviously, we're excited about getting him back. He brings a lot of versatility to our defense and he's going to be a part of our plans."

Who gets the credit for using the boxing gloves? Whose idea was that, the DBs?

"We started that a few years ago when the NFL put in the new rule about all the holding downfield and it seemed like every pass play in the preseason, there was a flag. So, when we were in Cleveland, we started using them with those DBs and they liked them and we felt like it really allowed our guys to get better and stop grabbing downfield. So, we just brought it here to San Fran with us. We still are probably grabbing a little bit too much downfield, but I think our guys have gotten a lot better through the first week of camp."

You mentioned alpha dog. Arik Armstead certainly seems to be carrying himself that way. What are you seeing from Armstead so far?

"Playmaking ability in the run and pass game. He's done a good job. We just want him to keep getting better every day. We're only a week into camp. I'm excited to see him once we get to the preseason games."

And what have you seen from DeForest Buckner?

"The same. Worked his way from the third string all the way up to the first string. We didn't give him anything. He had to earn it. So, he earned our respect. He earned the players' respect. I think all of our guys know, we don't care where you were drafted. You're going to have to earn it. Nothing is going to be given to you and he's done a nice job. So, just same thing. Just keep getting better every day. Be consistent, execute the scheme and we're looking forward to seeing him in the preseason."

What are you looking for in the inside linebacker competition? What's going to ultimately decide who wins that starting role next to NaVorro?

"We probably talk about that more as a defensive staff than anything else right now because we have three really good players competing for that job. If all three of them deserve to play, then they all will. If somebody clearly separates themselves, then that'll be the guy that we go with. But, I think you're looking for a guy you can trust out there to execute the scheme. A guy with playmaking ability. Can he cover? Can he blitz? How stout is he in the run game? How is he as a communicator next to NaVorro and with the safeties behind him? So, there's a lot of factors that go into it. We probably overthink it a little bit too much. I think at some point, it's going to pop off the tape or it won't and if one guy just doesn't pop off the tape, then we'll play with all three of them."

You've mentioned getting the best 11 guys out there, but you've also mentioned matching up with opposing offenses. At what point during training camp do you want to find the balance of which guys you think you can rely on against certain types of offenses and who your best 11 guys are?

"I don't know if you can put a timetable on it. I don't think you're being fair to probably everybody if you say, 'Hey, by this date, we've got to have our starting 11.' You'd love to get to your starting 11 so you can start building some team chemistry, but that inside backer competition could go to Week 4. You know what I'm saying? You don't want it to. I'd like somebody to jump off the tape and win it next week. But, you just don't know. Same thing with the corners. We've got a lot of young guys that are going to continue to develop as the season goes on. If a guy that starts out on the second string Week 1, but Week 5 he makes a big jump and he's better than the guy that started the year as a starter, that's the guy we're going to go with."

Is DL Ronald Blair, is he a guy you envision at all four of those spots when you go four down up front? I notice he's been working a lot on the edge lately.

"Yeah. His versatility will allow him to play everywhere across the front. He's a guy that as we get a little bit deeper into camp, he's a guy we'll probably create some packages for. You can't ignore his playmaking ability out here at practice so far. He makes plays wherever he's aligned along the front. Whether it's at the nose, the three, end, he's a guy that you can move around and do some things with him from a pressure standpoint. We're going to teach him some drop stuff. So, there's a lot, he's a big part of our plans in the next couple weeks."

Do you think LB Aaron Lynch's suspension led to him getting more reps on the outside or was that something you guys were going to experiment with regardless?

"I think his playmaking ability led to him getting more reps inside and outside. It had nothing to do with Aaron's suspension."

You do teaching periods after a high-tempo period, essentially you're making corrections pretty much immediately off of what you just did. How much of an adjustment is that from the usual thing when everybody waits until they get back to the room and look at it on film? As a coach, do you have to retrain yourself, sort of, to do it that way?

"At the tempo we practice at, it's hard to make corrections right after they happen. I think it's a great idea. You get five or six minutes, you can make the corrections. The other thing that we have out here is the Tablets, so during the special teams periods I can go watch the tape of what just happened the previous period and if I've got something for the guys who aren't on special teams, 'Hey [DT Quinton Dial] Q come on over here and look at this,' or 'Hey Bo look at this play, this is what happened, this is why the ball got out,' and explain to them what happened. They don't have to wait for three hours to see it in the meeting room. That way if it comes up again later in practice, the correction is made. We don't make the same mistake twice. It's been great."

Can you evaluate your run defense during these practices?

"No, not really. I think we'll get a better feel when we get into the preseason. You're not tackling anybody. Right now, when you're in a thud or a tag-off tempo, we're at an advantage because we get every tackle. Just by tagging off on the hip doesn't mean that you're going to make that tackle in a live situation. We are working tackling every day. It's something we want to be great at as a defense. To be a good defense, you have to be great at it. So, we won't really know until we get pretty deep into the preseason."

With CB Rashard Robinson, what are your on-field impressions of him and then obviously he's a guy who came into the league with some concerns about the type of guy he was? What are your impressions of him off the field?

"I think he's been awesome. I think he, as a player, I watched him two years ago at LSU. In my eight years in the NFL I thought he had some of the best skills at what we call level-one, so press technique, of anybody I've ever watched on college tape. Now, he was very raw when he got here and I think coach Hafley has done an unbelievable job with him and the kid has done an unbelievable job taking coaching and bringing it out to the field. He's still got a long ways to go, but I love what I see in him every day at practice. He's very competitive. He's been great in the meeting room. He loves football. He gets football. I don't see any of the off the field stuff at all showing up with that kid. He's been great with us."

Were you looking at him when you said two years ago you were looking at him at LSU, were you looking at him specifically?

"No, when I got here. [General Manager] Trent [Baalke] and his staff had us watch him throughout the draft process and he was a guy that was not on our board early and then when we watched him as a staff, we really liked him, and I know Trent and his staff really liked him. They did their homework. We more do the football end of things and Trent and his staff put together everything else."

You mentioned working on not having the secondary commit too much contact down the field. How is he balancing that because he's a physical guy?

"Yeah, he's learning. I think the biggest thing that any rookie that comes in, you need to learn that five-yard rule. In college football, you're allowed to have contact up until the ball is thrown, so that could be 15-20 yards downfield. So, I think that the biggest thing when those guys come in that they've got to learn is even if you stone a guy at the line, eventually he's going to get going in his route and then you've got to now play with your eyes and feet. You can't continue to play with your hands and collision a guy and do that stuff once it's past the five-yard mark."

S Eric Reid, you had mentioned Eric Reid's possible new role as far as covering guys in the slot and tight end. You talked about that. Is Tartt, just given his skillset, a candidate to compete for that role too, or is that just kind of Reid's role?

"Tartt's got a skillset that we can do a lot of things with him. I thought he played really well last year when he played safety, especially the second half of the year. I think he can do some things as a blitzer for us. I think he can do some things in man-coverage for us, and he's got some good zone-awareness. Again, he's a guy that's a part of our plans. I'm excited to get him out there and get it rolling, because we haven't really been able to utilize some of those packages because he hasn't practiced. And then when he's back, that allows us to do some things with Eric and allows us to do some new things pressure-wise."

What have you seen from CB Will Redmond considering he wasn't a part of the offseason until this point?

"Good. Right now most of his reps are coming in the slot. That's not to say that he's not going to eventually get some reps outside. He's still working his way to being able to go through a full practice. I think Ferg and Uye and their staffs have done a great job bringing him up. Blitzability, man-coverage ability, ability to put hands on a slot receiver, he's been great. He's a football junkie. He eats it up. Every time I look at him in a meeting room his heads down, he's taking notes and then he's checking in with coach Hafley after the meeting, 'Hey, coach these are the few things I had questions about.' So, he does a great job."

You've mentioned how difficult it is for someone like DB Jimmie Ward to play on the outside and then switch mentally to play inside? He's been doing some of both in practice. What have your impressions been so far?

"It's hard for anybody, not just Jimmie. Anybody in the NFL, I think it's really hard to do. And, I think coach did a good job at explaining how hard it is for a receiver to do the same thing, go from an outside receiver to an inside receiver. It's just a totally different game when you're out on the perimeter to inside. He's done a good job in there. When he's inside you can really take advantage of his ability to blitz. You can take advantage of his ability to play in short spaces, because he's got unbelievable short-area quickness and that's what you need when you play in the slot. So, you're in the fire a lot more when you're in the slot position. There's a lot more action and Jimmie's got a lot of playmaking ability. Versus, you might only get three or four plays on the outside, but those three of four plays might determine the outcome of the football game, because those are big ones."

LB Nick Bellore is primarily known for his special teams work, but were you excited to reconnect with him given your past?

"Yeah, and right now I don't see Nick as just a special teams guy. He's done a great job for us at inside backer and he's taken a lot of the second team MIKE jobs, but he's a guy that always does what he's supposed to do. He fills up the grade sheet with pluses. He's tough. He understands football and he's quite the comedian in the inside backer room, which you might not know. He keeps it light in there, which is fun."

* Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers

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