49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

February 21, 2008
Call him Indiana Jones ...

The combine officially kicked off today, and for the first time since 2004, I was not in downtown Indianapolis to enjoy it. Instead, my colleague Jason Jones – who covers the Chris Long-bound Raiders – is there to look at the top prospects. To read what Jason has to say, click here.

Mike Nolan had a press conference today and the team sent along a transcript. Here are what I thought were the salient quotes. (Note what he says about the importance of offensive tackles (Carl Nicks!).

RE: Last year to this year, with Scot (McCloughan) as GM, is your role here at the combine any different?
“No. Not at this time no. During the season it will allow me to spend more time on the football team and the football things that we do, because Scot will be able to spend his time in his area of expertise. But this time of year it will be the same because there’s not a team on the field to be watching. It’s very much the same in the off-season.”

RE: In terms of making a final call, perception is that it was your call last year, and
now it’s Scot’s? Is that correct?
“Yes, that’s correct. The final say right now, if it comes down to that, if there’s a disagreement, Scot would have the final say. The important thing about running the top of your organization correctly is there aren’t a lot of those differently, and to this point there have not been, and I do not foresee any going down the road, but it is important, and when there is a difference, it’s about coming together, it’s not about winning the argument, it’s about coming together and finding the best player, and that’s what we’ve done thus far and what we’ll continue to do. I’m very much in favor of Scot having that. We’ve worked extremely well together. Our relationship has a lot to do with why it’s been successful so far, and I don’t see any of that changing.

RE: In Mike Martz’s offense, quarterbacks get hit. Is that an issue with you?
“Well, I don’t think by design Mike says the quarterback is going to get hit. I would say that, I think it comes down to having your best players on the field. We will continue to, we’ve got a good line, we didn’t perform up to our level last year, overall offensively we didn’t either. But I would expect our offensive line to perform well, and we will continue to always try and build our offensive line, but outside of quarterback, that’s our most important position on offense, at least in our eyes it is. It’s never about design, I would like to think that if it’s happened to Mike’s offense in the past, it’s about a quarterback’s decision or inability to get their job done. But a lot is on the quarterback’s shoulders in Mike’s offense, but I think, to be honest with you, that allows other guys to play at a higher level. When you’re putting a lot of things on your line, when things are changing all the time, and you see guys pointing and now the defense moves, and there’s a new guy, a lot of times that creates problems, because all it takes is one guy out of the other 10 to not know what’s going on and the quarterback will get hit. But to say it’s always the line is not accurate either. The backs have protection as well.”

RE: Mike Martz:
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Mike’s ability to coach quarterbacks. I like to think our guys, knowing that our guys are intelligent guys, in particular the two guys that played the most last year, Shaun Hill and Alex (Smith) are both very intelligent guys that will pick that up. I would think that would have a lot to do with the protection with they have, also.”

RE: How big is to have Martz on your staff?
“It’s very important. If you just look over the track record since I’ve been a Head Coach, the first year with Mike McCarthy, who’s now the head coach at Green Bay, although we weren’t statistically very good, we weren’t very talented, either. But it served us well as far as winning the four games we did that year. The next year, Norv Turner, again, it’s very important to have a quality guy, although I think we were only 21st or 22nd in offense that year, we were 10th per play, which is a good indication that the offense was effective that year. Last year, we were not, so it’s important to get an experienced guy that has pelts on the wall so to speak, but also has been established and experienced with quarterbacks, whether it be Kurt Warner, (Marc) Bulger, Trent Green, those three guys who really nobody ever heard of until they were in Mike’s offense. So I believe our guys are looking forward to it. I’m excited about Mike coaching our quarterbacks.”

RE: Was Mike (Martz’s) complex system at senior bowl? Can you identify people that work well under Mike?
“We had some good guys on our team. I would say, I don’t know if it was Mike’s offense, necessarily, because Mike is of the same school I am, that is get your best players and let’s find a way to use them. Mike is as creative an offensive mind as there is in the league, without question. His of players is better than most, without question in my opinion. He does an outstanding job. Does that make him the best? Not necessarily, because it comes a lot of ways. It’s about winning; you want to be where the Giants are. But I think Mike has done an outstanding job using his personnel. I expect him to do the same thing with us. If that means some of the senior bowl players end up in the roster, that would be good too, because we had some good players on our team, and not all of them were first-day guys. There were some guys that played for us throughout the week that I like to think we might be able to have on the second day. So we’ll see how it turns out. But there were some good players.”

RE: Do you see the playbook doubling in size?
“No, I don’t. The thing that’s important to recognize with offenses is it all starts with language, and if the language is something you can understand and apply to what you’re doing, you’ve already got a foot in the door. Well, Mike’s offense and the language is the same one we’ve used for two years already. Mike McCarthy was West Coast, but since then, it’s been the same. It’s what Norv used. So this is our third year, so from a language standpoint our guys will come in and at least understand what’s being talked about. The complexity of it, I guess is more an issue of volume, not complexity, and so that’s really where it lies. But as a player, if it means all of a sudden you’re going to learn the option on something, it looks a little bit out of the ordinary, but for a wide receiver learning that play, he’s all jazzed about the play. There might be some volume, but players get excited about that, because they get to touch the ball and make a play. Mike’s offenses have been very explosive over the years, and that creates excitement with the players, it means, `I’m going to get the ball, I’m going to touch it, I’m going to do something with it.’ I like to believe that’s what our offense will look like this year and will be better and better if we go.”

RE: Chris Foerster joins George Warhop as O-line coach? Why two?
“My thought is this; we’ve got two secondary coaches as well, and almost every team in the league has two offensive line assistants. On defense, probably the most important position is secondary, from the coaching standpoint, because you’ve got four, sometimes five and six defensive backs on the field at one time, the offensive line is exactly the same on offense. You’ve always got at least five offensive linemen on the field. It would only seem right to have both require two coaches, I guess you would say. I think we’re very important to have a guy like Chris Foerster out there, and have the opportunity to hire Chris and have him on our staff. He’s an outstanding coach in this league. I’ve gone against Chris, I’ve never coached with him on a staff, he went into Balitmore when I was going out, so I don’t have any relationship as far as working together, but going against him I’ve always had great respect for the job that he’s done, and I feel good about the fact that he was available to add to the staff, so I believe it will only strengthen our offense.”

RE: How important is the left tackle position?
“Yes, I would relate the offensive tackle position, particularly left tackle, to defensive back/cornerback. They’re on islands, they’re typically guarding the best defensive player or offensive player, depending on whether you’re a corner or a tackle. And you also have to have a mindset that if you get beat you’ve got to come back and play the next down. If you’re a guy that goes in the tank easy, and you’re a team sport guy and you need the other guys every time, sometimes tackle is not the position for you, because you’re going to be left alone often and you’re going to have to be able to handle that. So it’s not only an athletic issue, it’s also a mental issue and so the fact that the draft does, by some people’s standards, have more tackles, available that are good players, I think that fares well for everyone in the league. We’ll just see how that goes because only the test of time will say how many are that good.”

RE: Additional thoughts on the tackle position:
“Well last year, we drafted a tackle on the first day in Joe Staley, and although he played right tackle and not left for us, he played very well. I thought he probably should have been recognized more than he was at the end of the season, but I think that was largely due to the fact that our offense was not that effective. But he played extremely well, very tough-minded player, all that was on the right, we’re probably going to work him on the left as well, and we’ll see how the depth in our offensive line goes, and the draft might even play into it. But we have a good example on our roster that shows how tackles are very valuable to your offensive time.”

RE: Since Mike Martz’s name comes up as head coach so often, and your coordinators keep getting head coaching jobs, any fear of losing another?
“It’d be better making that decision than finding a head coach, so I hope that Mike does extremely well. When we hired Norv, he said, I just want to do this, I’ve got a home across the bay, and sure enough, something comes up. You just take them one at a time, whether it’s my job, the offensive coordinator’s job, and all that, I’d like to just get the best coach available every year. It’s something you think about, but more importantly it’s about 2008 for us, and that’s really where my thoughts are.

RE: Given the three coordinators in three years, how much has it hampered Alex Smith?
“I thought up until last year, I thought it was all going similar because, last year I named our quarterback coach the offensive coordinator. I think it’s more important to get someone that is your very best coordinator because he ends up coaching the quarterback anyway. So Alex has been in the same language, same offense for two years, going on three years. Although Mike’s got a lot of ideas and is very creative, it’s all within the framework of what we already do. I’m excited about that. It’s not as if Alex is going to come in and be, oh, my god, it’s a whole new thing again, at least we’re talking Chinese, we’re all going to be talking Chinese again, and that’s a good thing. And it is an offensive language that is easy to learn, it’s not a complex one.”

RE: Rebuilding defense:
“I say this all the time, and it’s my standard answer. We’re about the best players, and whether that’s a 3-4 or 4-3, I really have no preference, and that’s what you’ll see. When teams look at us and break us down, they’ll see, I don’t know if it’s a straight 50-50 but it’s pretty close to a 60-40 split of 4-3, 3-4 in what we do. We draft one way, and that’s to get the best player, and so if that lends its way to 3-4, 4-3, I’m not really particular about it. I do find that 3-4, if you start there, is much more friendly, because if you’re just a 4-3 team, it’s very difficult to play the other way. You might be able to line up in that configuration, but you can’t do all the things out of it that it allows you do do, the good examples are Pittsburgh, New England, they’re very multiple. New England’s probably more multiple than Pittsburgh is. Baltimore, where I came from, was very multiple. It just lends its way to put your best 11 on the field. One of the things that happens every year is you get injuries on your roster, and when defensive players get injured and you’re injured in the front, and you can go to a 3-4 or 4-3 because of injury and still win games, that’s what it’s all about. When you’re just pigeon-holed and wanting scheme, it’s much like an offense, and you can’t face adversity and muster up some offense, it’s the same way on defense. Whether it’s 3-4 or 4-3 we’re still trying to get the best player that we can find.”

RE: Can Patrick Willis be the next dominant defensive player in the NFL?
“Knock on wood, I agree with that. I think he’s an outstanding player on and off the field. He’s a great person, very focused, very professional, has maintained his humility through the course of this. I was pleased to hear that the people he was hanging with at the Pro Bowl were the right kind of players and people that I think had his best interest in heart and in mind, and some of that is due to him, to be able to spot who those people are. He’s that same way on our club, and he’s got a great gauge on who the guys are who help all of us win and be the best we can be. But he’s got an awful lot going for him, he’s an outstanding player. I think the fact that Mike Singletary coaches him also helps. He gets great mentoring from Mike, as well, as far as things on the field, off the field, and how you handle the accolades that you get.”

RE: Manny Lawson’s injury status?
“Manny got hurt after our second ballgame, got hurt in practice, blew his knee out, had surgery, everything has been going very well. Started running just recently, looks ready to get back on the field when we get back to minicamps and all that. Manny was the starting outside linebacker when we left, he’ll be the starter when we come back, he’s an outstanding player. Played very well as a rookie, had two good games under his belt this year, the rest of the guys around him have matured. They were without him and it was a very good defensive unit. So to get him back will be a good thing for us defensively.

RE: Tully Banta-Cain’s progress:
“Tully got better as the year went along, as our defense did, because we added about six new guys to the roster. Some of it was getting familiar with the scheme. Tully was one of those players and as the year went along, he got better and better. His strength is in the pass rush area, and whether he got sacks, he still gave us pressure, and he was a player who just got better as the year went along.”

RE: Alex Smith at the combine and if that made him the number one pick?
“Very little. He only came and ran the 40 and he (inaudible). We got a chance to talk to him, so it wasn’t a lot. I think there are a couple of things you get out of this, one of those is medical, that’s huge when you come to this, the second thing is the interview, and the third thing from my standpoint is the workout. If you’re trying to put a track team together, this team is really valuable. If you’re trying to put a football team together, it’s helpful but it’s not the deciding factor. If you draft off the combine, you can make a lot of mistakes. It can solidify some things. If you thought a guy was fast, if he runs fast, you’re right. If you thought he’s slow, and he runs slow, you’re right. If he contradicts what you thought, that’s a good thing to go back and check, so everything about the combine is helpful, but it’s just another piece of the puzzle. It shouldn’t be the deciding factor. At least it hasn’t been for us, and I think we’ve been very successful in our drafts the last three years.”

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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