Jim O’Neil talks Texans, Kenneth Acker, Ronald Blair

Aug 11, 2016 at 12:50 PM--

Opening comments:

"I thought yesterday was a good practice up at Kezar Stadium. I thought it was good for some of our younger guys to get out in front of some fans before the preseason and I thought they competed. They did a good job. For me personally, it was my first experience in front of the 49er Faithful and you can see why this is such as a special place and the organization has had the success that it's had in the past. It was a fun day. It was a great atmosphere. The players had some juice, so I really enjoyed it down there."

Jim O'Neil: Excited for Joint Practice with Texans 

Do you wish you could go in front of the fans even more than the one day like that because of the energy?

"It's give and take. There's some good to be able to do that every day. In the previous three training camps I've been a part of, we've had the fans out at practice. But, it's fun to just be able to lock in with your guys, but either way, I'm fine either way with it."

How much do you look forward to getting a chance to see somebody else and practice with the Texans tomorrow?

"I'm excited about it. I'm really excited about it. I've had a lot of conversations with [Houston Texans offensive coordinator] George Godsey, their offensive coordinator, just to make sure me and him are on the same page with what we're going to do. But, for us defensively, it's going to be huge just from a player evaluation standpoint and then it's a totally different offensive scheme. It'll be a lot more two-back formations, stuff we need to see to get ready for the season. So, it'll be a big test for our defense."

How much give and take is there between you and George in trying to put together how you go about practicing in terms of tempo and things like that?

"No, it was easy. Coach set the practice schedule and it's going to remain the same with Houston that it will with Denver next week. Everybody does the same stuff. For me and George, it was more schematic stuff. 'Hey is there stuff that you're not getting from your defense in Houston that you want to see?' And, I can emphasize some of that stuff in practice and then it's, 'Hey, can you give us some of this because we're not seeing this in practice to get us ready for the season.' But, he's been great. It's been all good."

Invariably, there's a few scuffles in these things, teams going against each other. I'm sure you've talked to your players about that. There's still no tackling to the ground, but there's guys that are going to want to get a leg up and make the team. How do you strike that balance?

"I just think you've got to talk to your guys about being competitive and not combative. You don't want to do these things and get anybody hurt. You want to see who can compete, who can play against a different level of competition or a different scheme, that kind of stuff. I think coach and [Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien] Billy O will do a good job with explaining to the guys, 'Hey, we're not here to fight. If you're going to fight, you're going to be out of here.' So, I'll let them handle that. I'm not worried about that though."

LB NaVorro Bowman yesterday talked about being excited to play an offense that doesn't go at the tempo that head coach Chip Kelly's offense goes at. How much do you think that's benefitting your guys in terms of their conditioning and how that'll help them when the regular season starts?

"I think it's going to help them tremendously. Just how fast they have to think, get lined up and execute, and we're throwing a lot of hard stuff at them as a defensive staff. So, I'm sure that they're going to be at times in the game where they're like, 'Alright, come on guys. Let's go, run this play.' But, it should be good for us because it's just going to give them more time to gather pre-snap information, diagnose what their job is and allow themselves to make a football play. So, I'm excited about it. I like what we're doing tempo-wise in practice."

There's been a lot of starters versus starters in team drills so far. When do plan on breaking that up and having the starters face the scout team?

"That's up to coach. We haven't talked about that yet. I don't even think we're close to that to be honest with you right now. We still have so many guys fighting for jobs on offense and defense. We're just rolling guys right now."

When looking at the Houston Texans, obviously they have a big deep threat in WR DeAndre Hopkins. What are your thoughts on matching up against him and do you plan on using some of the younger rookies as far as CB Rashard Robinson on the outside to kind of see how his progress has been up to this point?

"I think they have a really good group of wide receivers, not just DeAndre. He's obviously a special player. But, we'll try to get all of our DBs matched up on those guys and get a good evaluation of them. But, we won't game plan this. It's not like we're going to match anybody against DeAndre. First preseason game, we're going to run our stuff. I'm sure they're going to run their stuff and it's more a self-evaluation than it is trying to break them down, scheme them up, beat them. I mean, you want to win every game, because they are keeping score, but it's more of a self-evaluation right now."

You'll have officials tomorrow during training camp. How valuable will they be for what you're doing, especially for the younger defensive backs?

"It'll be great. I think, we coached the hell out of it in our meeting rooms, 'Hey, you can't collision this guy seven yards downfield. You can't grab.' But, it's different when there's a yellow flag and the penalty's enforced on the field. So, that'll be good for us defensively. It'll be good for the offense. It'll be good for everybody across the board."

CB Kenneth Acker seems to be about the only regular starter from last year who's pushed down the depth chart, at least getting reps with the ones or the twos. Why is that? Why have the other guys passed him? What does he need to do to pick it up?

"He's done a really good job. I know we've got to submit the depth chart and the media probably looks more into that than we do as a coaching staff right now. But, Kenny's doing a good job for us at corner. We're also cross-training him at safety. He's had a great attitude every day. So, I'm not down at him at all. He's competing, and he's competing for a spot on this team. He knows that."

Why are you cross-training him at safety? What skills does he have--?

"We look for versatility. You only get so many up on game day. If you get multiple injuries in a position, you need some guys that can go help out. I mean, he's not the only one we're cross-training. [CB] Dontae Johnson, we're cross-training [CB] Chris Davis. We've got a lot of guys that are playing corner-safety for us right now."

How would you evaluate DL Ronald Blair so far?

"I think he's had a really good training camp. Doesn't matter what group he plays with. He finds a way to make plays. He's very different than anything else we have in that defensive line room. He's a good change-up for us. But, I've been very impressed with him."

Different how?

"His ability to get off the ball, slip blocks, use his hands, pass rush. He's different. He's not that 320-pound man that's going to knock you back at the line of scrimmage like some of the other guys are built. He's more of a single-gap penetrator who can make some plays in the backfield. So, he'll do well for us."

Have you kind of figured out where you think he might ultimately fit? What spot?

"We're playing him everywhere right now. We're trying to find that out. He's playing some on the edge. He's playing some inside. He took a couple snaps yesterday at nose. But, he can be a problem athletically for guards and centers, just with his skillset. So, that's something we're going to work through in the preseason and try to find out where he can best help us along the front."

How much time have you actually spent speaking with the offensive coordinator from Houston to map out how those days go?

"We've texted back and forth. We shared ideas before we broke for spring and then we've had a couple conversations this week just to make sure we're all on the same page. I think they fly in today and then he'll get scripts to me. Tonight, I'll script and if we have anything, I'll just give him a call. But, it's been easy. Pretty seamless."

There was a few reps yesterday, long-yardage situations, where you went with four pass rushers who have played a lot of edge and you've mixed them around a lot. But, what do you like about that speed package and what those different guys can bring in those type of scenarios?

"When we want to rush four, we're going to find out who those best four are. I don't care what room they come from. So, again, it's been a revolving door in there. We're trying to get as many guys exposure to our first group offensive line because we feel like that's a really good group to go against. So, we're trying to get some of the guys that necessarily aren't taking a lot of reps with the ones and we're getting them in there in those situations so that we can see what they can do against [T] Joe Staley and some of those other guys, to see if they can beat those guys."

If DL Arik Armstead takes a big jump this year, how good can this defense be?

"Arik's done a great job out at training camp so far. He knows we're just looking for him to be consistent. Every single play, every single drive, every single game. He's a guy that we can do some things with defensively and we're hoping that he can be a big piece of the puzzle for us."

Back to Blair, he fell to the fifth round. I assume part of that was because he doesn't look the part with his height. How is he able to compensate for his lack of height?

"He's got really long arms. He's a lot stronger than you think. I mean, he's a 280-285 pound man. So, it's not like he's small, but he's just got a different skillset. He's got a knack to just, what we call, to find the soft shoulder in pass game. He does a great job attacking the soft shoulder, getting skinny in some pretty tight spaces and he can make plays. Some of that stuff you can't coach and you don't want to make the mistake of coaching it out of him. Just because he's not built like [DT] Quinton Dial, you don't want to say, 'You have to do it this way.' I don't think good coaches do that and I think [defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro] Azz has done a great job with him, letting him and allowing him to take advantage of the tools he has and let him make plays."

Obviously, he was playing mostly smaller school competition. Did you have any questions about how he would make the transition because of that and has he answered some of that?

"No, because if when you watch the Clemson game from last year, you watch the tape and you love the kid. I know [general manager] Trent [Baalke] and his staff fell in love with him. They really, really liked him, and he's a guy that we were going to target in those middle rounds and he was there at the right time and we got him."

What about DL Mike Purcell? What are your thoughts on him and do you think he can actually be the nose guard and be the anchor of your defense?

"He's done a great job. Again, we're not going to say we need a starting nose. We're going to play the best three. That's why you'll see those guys everywhere. Mike's playing end and nose. Quinton's playing them all. [DL DeForest] Buckner's playing them all. All those guys. When [DL Glenn] Dorsey comes back, he's going to play them all. So, whoever when this thing all shakes down, whoever the best three are are going to start for us. But, Mike is very strong at the point of attack. He usually takes two, which allows the backers behind him to run free. He's very smart at gathering pre-snap information. So, I have been really impressed with him. He's gotten better every day. He's very consistent in what he does."

You guys start out with the Rams and Carolina and Seattle, three rushing teams. Does that alter your thinking as far as whether a Mike Purcell or somebody else goes into the starting lineup?

"We haven't gotten into those conversations right now. We're still in evaluation mode. I think the preseason is going to be huge for us because our first three games against a Super Bowl winning team and two playoff teams. We'll see a lot of similar run schemes in the three preseason games that we'll see in the first quarter of our season which I'm excited about. So, we've still got a lot of evaluating to do here over the next month before we're ready to say 'Hey against the Rams on Monday night, these are going to be the three guys that go out there first.'"

With Armstead dealing with an injury, how do you approach these next few days and Sunday? How do you view the importance of him getting reps in that game versus dealing with the injury?

"I don't think the injury is anything major. I think it's precautionary right now. It's nothing we are worried about right as a staff. I'd like to see him out there, but I'll defer to [vice president of football operations Jeff Ferguson] Ferg and [director of human performance Mark Uyeyama] Uye and coach on what they want to do there. If he can't go, it's next man up and we'll roll into that game and we'll be fine."

Will NaVorro have a limited role or do you want to see one of those inside linebackers work with him on Sunday?

"We haven't talked reps yet as a staff. We will probably meet on that after our practice with Houston. Typically in the first preseason game your established guys, the guys that've been around, usually don't play past the first quarter. But again, this is my first time with coach. I don't know what his philosophy is with that. I'm sure we are going to have a staff meeting here in the next 48 hours to discuss all of that."

* Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers

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