Jim Harbaugh Q&A


Jim Harbaugh Q&A

Head Coach Jim HarbaughPress Conference January 12, 2012San Francisco 49ersQ: Was today a Friday practice schedule for you?
Harbaugh: Yes.

Q: So, usually you have the walk-through then you go to practice, it wasnt that open window today. Did practicedid the walk-through go long, or?
Harbaugh: No, no.

Q: Thats the way you had it scheduled?
Harbaugh: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, you guys wereIm surprised you guys werent out there, but you were welcome out there through the 12:25pm... Did Director of Public Relations Bob Lange try to blame me for that? Sounds like there was some...

Harbaugh: Yes? Tried to throw me under the bus on that, Bob?

Q: Did everyone practice that you expected to practice? Everyone but TE Delanie Walker?
Harbaugh: Yes, I believe so.

Q: Have you sensed any change in your teams mood this week, or has it been business-as-usual type approach?
Harbaugh: I dont know about business as usual, but its been focused. Its been loose. Both of those at the same time. Pleased with our preparation. Confident in our plan. Happy the way the players prepared.

Q: Have you done anything to keep it loose, to make sure that theyre loose going into this game?
Harbaugh: No, I think our guys do a great job of that themselves.

Q: Jim, what would you ideally like to see out of your offense on Saturday?
Harbaugh: A lot of things, a lot of things. Score more points than the Saints, number one. Execute, move the ball, not turn it over. And then quite a few other things.

Q: Jim, this team worked really hard to get home-field advantage for the playoffs. When youre taking a group, many of whom have never played in the postseason, into a playoff scenario for the first time, how important is it to have that home field where everything stays the same during the week, the preparation, theyre going to their own stadium, how important is that going to be for them?
Harbaugh: Well, I think its an advantage. They work very hard for it. They earned it. And they get the benefit of that. So, its not to say that teams dont win on the road in the playoffs, because historically they do. But, I think our team goes into this game confident and bold and with a great amount of respect for the New Orleans Saints team as well. Great amount of respect for who they are, what they do, and what theyre capable of.

Q: WR Michael Crabtree said that your advice was dont overcook it this week. Is that accurate?
Harbaugh: Yes.

Q: What does that mean?
Harbaugh: Well, the analogy would be like not to overcook it like a burnt piece of meat. That doesnt taste real good.

Q: Like preparation? Dont spend too much time thinking about it?
Harbaugh: That and just go into this thing and trust their own instincts. Trust their gut. Make it about the team. Trust the team. A guy doesnt have to do too much. Hes got to do his job and has the ability to trust his team because hes on a good team. Prepare and understand the Saints as well as possible. Focused and loose at the same time.

Q: Did you sense any more energy level from the team just from the fact that they had a week of rest?
Harbaugh: Theres been great practices. Its been a tremendous week of preparation and practice, and our guys have been high energy. And I think some of that is definitely a result of having that week off.

Q: Are you focused and loose?
Harbaugh: I am. I feel like I am. But you know what, it just never really matters that much how I am, or just a coach. Just going to be standing over there on the sideline. To me its the players. Where are they at in their preparation, their understanding of this game plan, and what their morale is, how they feel physically. If they feel good, I feel good.

Q: But dont they take cues from you? If you seem tense and uptight wouldnt they be?
Harbaugh: I kind of go off them. Like I said, I ask guys all the time, how do you feel? And they say, well how do you feel coach? And I say, well how do you feel? You feel good, I feel good. Thats kind of how I look at it. Doesnt matter how I feel, its how they feel.

Q: But how does QB Alex Smith feel? Alex is pretty clear hes not in it to out-stat Saints QB Drew Brees. Thats not the point of this. How important of a step was that do you think for any quarterback, particularly Alex? That its not you versus the other guy, its not about you putting up 300 yard games. Just win the football game.
Harbaugh: How important is that? I think thats very important. I think theres a confidence there. Theres a confidence in your own ability. Theres a confidence in your team and confidence in your preparation and your plan, and again, your teammates. That youre part of it. Youre part of it. Youre a cog. And hes a big one. The biggest one on the team because he handles the ball every single down. And its no different on our team than it is on other teams. He does the most out there. Hes got a lot on his plate and probably by the nature of the position, he touches the ball every single play. And I think that its not a feeling, its a confident feeling in your team that you dont have to do more than what the team asks you to do.

Q: It was about a year ago that you met Alex Smith for the first time I would imagine. Do you recall any of those meetings? And do you remember sitting down with him and looking for certain things in him that you wanted to see before you committed to him as your quarterback?
Harbaugh: Yes. I wanted to get to know him. I had never met him before. I was kind of just looking in through the key hole. But I guess the things I wanted to know, boil it down to one thing was did he want to start. Did he want to be in the fire, or did he want to wear the ball cap backwards and backup somewhere. And I really felt that he had the competitive drive, the wanting to prove himself, and wanting to do it here. And thats the thing that probably intrigued me the most. That character of wanting to come back and do it here in San Francisco, which is pretty rare. Probably somewhere between rare and extinct, not just for football players but for just about anybody. Most guys would say, the heck with that Ive had enough, time for a fresh start somewhere else. And I thought we could really work with that kid. To me that was special.

Q: In a year across the league where the running back, his role wasnt diminished, but it was greatly reduced because of great passing. Frank Gore was kind of rock steady for you guys. Was that an anomaly? Is that just the way Frank Gore has been for this franchise over the years and you saw that in him? That you can count on this guy to be a consistent back and help your offense move the chains?
Harbaugh: What are we talking about?

Q: You have Frank Gore in a year where the running backs were not the stars in the league. It was wide receivers and tight ends. Frank Gore has 1,200 yards and he pushed the ball for you guys this year. Is this an anomaly? Are you guys different than other teams? Or is it Frank Gore?

Harbaugh: I dont know that Im ready to agree with you that somehow the running backs are insignificant in 2011. I dont think they are. The team that passed for the most yardage, the New Orleans Saints, has a tremendous running game. Frank Gore is one of the elite backs in the National Football League. Hes had a tremendous year. Were lucky to have him. Then theres the leadership that hes provided this football team. It has been phenomenal. He has stepped up. He has been a consummate team guy the entire year. Hes been a big key to our success.

Q: The theme overcook it, did that go to your coordinators, too? Maybe dont put too much in there? Dont layer it up too much? Or was it not for them?
Harbaugh: Its pretty much for everybody.

Q: Do you think this is, youre not going to tell me, I know this
Harbaugh: Were not going to get into scheme and talk about what were doing to do or what were not going to do.

Q: Do you think there is a risk of trying to do too much in a game plan for a playoff game?
Harbaugh: I think every game is different. Every game has its own separate identity. Its own season almost. 16 game plans, 16 different games. Now this is 17. Our approach to it as a coaching staff was to try to get to know the Saints as well as we possibly could. Do the best job that we could of putting together a game plan, in all three phases, that our players would be the most successful in. I feel confident in that. Also, in the fact that our players have understood and practiced it. Combed through it. Troubleshot it pretty thoroughly. Feel confident. Feel like our players can therefore go out and just play. Not have to think as much. Theres a lot of thinking, theres no question about it, but when they know it, they practice it, then they can play and react at a fast tempo.

Q: Former Saint C Jonathan Goodwin brings some playoff experience with Pro Bowl and Super Bowl. How important is that to this team where you have so many guys who have never been in a playoff game before?
Harbaugh: I dont know. We havent really made that monumental of a deal out of it. Whos been in the playoffs, who hasnt? Is that a good thing, is that a bad thing? How much does playoff experience count? Weve got guys that had never been there, thats for sure. But, maybe thats a good thing. They havent been there. Its like kids that havent played a game in a long time. Theyre excited to do it. Like I said, I think where were at right now mindset that they can go into this game confident and bold and theyre ready to play. Theyre ready to go.

Q: What has Jonathan Goodwin brought to this team so far this season?
Harbaugh: Hes been a tremendous player. First of all, hes played 16 games for us. Hes started 16 games at, you could argue, the second most important position on the offense. Hes been a block of granite up there for us. Hes done a great job communicating calls and understanding defenses as its happening on the field and communicating that to the coaching staff on the sideline. Hes just been a rock for us.

Q: Given the emotional intensity that comes with a playoff game, have you as a coaching staff and the players emphasized whatever youve done to minimize turnovers this year? Have you emphasized that in practice?
Harbaugh: Oh yeah, always try to do that.

Q: Has it been ratcheted up at all now? Because theres so much emotion around, has that been ratcheted up at all this week? Maybe you returned to it more as you did in the beginning of the season?
Harbaugh: No, we havent overcooked that part of it. There have been no threats of bodily harm. Is that what you were asking?

Q: Has TE Delanie Walker been ruled out for this game?
Harbaugh: Dont think Delanie is going to play this game.

Q: TE Vernon Davis talked a little bit yesterday or the day before that there was a lot more to this offense for him to do as far as reading defenses and stuff. Can you maybe share whats been your view of his progression along the way and how its manifested itself? I know your red zone percentages have improved late in the year.
Harbaugh: Vernon? Vernons been tremendous. A lot of the things that dont show up on the statistic sheet, like the way he has blocked for us in all situations in the run game, and in the pass game. Hes been explosive catching the ball for us as well. Made a lot of big plays for us. Hes just an excellent football player.

Q: You had said throughout the season that the offense was going to be a progression. Was there a time that you saw a big jump in the players as a whole? When they really started getting that step ahead that you can share with us?
Harbaugh: Not one inflection point that I could refer back to. I think its been a steady pursuit of getting a mile an hour faster, a percent better, every day. I think that was the goal. Thats what actually transpired with our guys.

Q: Vernons specific quote was that, it was almost like he wanted to quit. It was too much information early on. Did you sense that from any of the offensive guys early on that they were overwhelmed by the playbook?
Harbaugh: No, I didnt. I did not visibly see that, where they hit a wall or anything. Ive seen that before in other teams, been on or coached. I didnt sense that with our guys. I think the biggest reason is that these are smart, smart guys. This group especially. Very football savvy, very book smart, football smart group. Thats been very fortunate for us to have a group like this.

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense


What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA – Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not win the right to suit up for the 49ers’ first four games. Behind the scenes, he made it his mission to earn a contributing role.

“He really started to get better with his coordination with his feet from the bump-and-run coverage and from playing ‘off.’ There’s always a light that goes on,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And we felt that for a couple weeks from Ahkello. Once he did that, he definitely earned the right to be out there.”

The plan was for Witherspoon to rotate into the action and share time with starters Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. But he played just six snaps on Oct. 8 against Indianapolis before sustaining a concussion. Witherspoon returned to action last week and played 34 of the 49ers’ 74 snaps last week at Washington. He showed enough to coninue getting significant playing time.

“He’s earned the right to play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He works his tail off in practice. He’s so deliberate in his approach. Whether it was scout team, whether it was team reps, whether it was walk-through, it didn’t matter.”

Witherspoon, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick at No. 66 overall, had a pedestrian training camp. Taking his lumps in August showed him what he needed to do to get into real games in October.

“I really turned up my focus, my intent every day in practice,” Witherspoon said. “What I did in camp wasn’t good enough to be a starting corner in this league, and that’s what I learned.

“I really focused on being aware of what it takes. That’s something I implemented these last four weeks -- that every day focus and competing on every single ball, and taking the mindset that no ball’s caught on me. I think that’s really helped my game, and helped these coaches trust me, as well.”

Witherspoon expected Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to attack him. But of the 25 plays he was in coverage last week, Witherspoon saw only three passes come his way. He surrendered two receptions for 33 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just being a rookie, I thought it was going to come, where they were going to be taking that one shot,” Witherspoon said. “I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn’t happen. Going up against a smart quarterback, I know he saw me out there.

“There were a few times he looked my way in coverage. I wasn’t perfect in coverage, but I think he was looking. And I thought I did a good job.”

Witherspoon (6 foot 3, 195 pounds) is comfortable lining up on either side of the field, which he did during his college career at Colorado. He said he has not put on much weight but he has added more muscle, which has allowed him a better chance to compete physically against bigger NFL receivers.

Witherspoon fully expects to be challenged on Sunday when he is expected to see considerable playing time against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Witherspoon figures Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be paying particularly close attention any time Dez Bryant lines up on his side of the field.

“They’re going to be looking at the ‘rook,’ ” Witherspoon said.

Said Shanahan, “They’re going to try to do that with all our DBs, so I don’t think it even matters who’s out there. They’re going to attack when we’re in single safety, which we are the majority of the time. They’re going to go outside and keep going out there until you stop them.”

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full sit-down interview with Matt Maiocco on "49ers Game Plan," which is scheduled to air Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine


49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine

The NFL fined 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon $24,309 for unnecessary roughness in last week’s game against Washington.

Garçon, who was not penalized on the play, lowered his helmet and struck Washington safety Montae Nicholson at the end of an 8-yard pass reception in the second quarter.

In 2013, the NFL passed a rule that bans the ball carrier from initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field.

Nicholson’s helmet flew off and he remained on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was evaluated for a possible concussion and shoulder injury. However, Nicholson was cleared and he returned to action.

After the play, Garçon and Washington safety D.J. Swearinger exchanged words, and Swearinger took a swipe at Garçon’s facemask. Swearinger was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The NFL fined Swearinger $9,115 for unnecessary roughness.