Editor's note: 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio addressed the media on Friday. Below is a full transcript of his comments.
You finally got to see DB Jimmie Ward on the field. Any reaction to seeing him out there running around a little bit?
“He did fine. You know, he was also here last week where we had those three, they were altered practices, we didn’t have the full 22 out there all the time. So, he got his feet wet last week a little bit and yesterday was his first practice with the whole team here and he did fine.”
Were you able to see him carry over what he’s learned in the classroom through the offseason program to the playing field?
“At times and at times he didn’t.”
And how do you view that?
“To be expected. To be expected.”
How about CB Chris Culliver, now that he’s back on the field for the first time in the year, what are you seeing out of Chris and what are your expectations in camp for him to get up to speed?
“He did real well. I was really pleased with the way he looked physically. Kudos to our medical staff and everybody that’s worked with him. Kudos to him for the work he’s put in his rehab. He looked fine to me yesterday. I hadn’t seen any indication that this is a guy who just came off a year-long, basically, rehab. He looked really good, physically, to me.”
You haven’t seen him for a year. The last game was a tough game for him. What does he need to work on, looking back at 2012, as far as becoming a more complete cornerback?
“You said it. He just needs to become a more complete cornerback. His first two years here, he played a lot of football for us and it was in the nickel, primarily, which got him about over 60 percent of the plays, so that’s a lot of playing time that he put in for us. But he really never played much base corner for us when we’re in there in our 3-4 package. So that’ll be new for him from a practice standpoint. Obviously, he’s worked on it for us. But for him to go out there and play in those situations will be new for him, and he’s got to perfect and show that he knows what to do on all those things.”
Does that mean more run support, recognizing –
“I mean, sometimes run support. You get some different routes, too, then you did when you’re out there in nickel. You know, the team’s in a two tight end and a back, or two backs and a tight end or two tight ends, two backs, the passing game is not the same as it is when you have three wide receivers out there. So, he’s got to learn the pick-ups of those types of routes you get when teams are in those personnel groups.”
Do you envision him and CB Tramaine Brock as your two starters?
“Well, they’re the guys working with the first-team right now. And everybody in camp has the license to try and beat them out. But, they’re working with the first team right now.”
DT Justin Smith, how much more will he be able to do with his upper body not having that shoulder issue that he told us about a couple of days ago that bothered him all of last year?
“Well, hopefully a lot more. It was something that nagged him all last year. And for all of you that thought we were subbing him more and resting him more, it was more him reacting to the injury and him needing more plays off because of the injury that he was playing with.”
What was that injury?
“Something to do with his shoulder. I don’t really know the exact what it was.”
Was it obvious to you, in your eyes, watching him out there that he wasn’t the Justin Smith that we saw earlier?
“At times, yes. Not all the time, but at times.”
He didn’t do as well in run support.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that. Whenever he had to use his arm a certain way, which could’ve shown up in run plays or pass plays, it hindered him a little bit.”
LB Aldon Smith said that he feels like he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in. How do you assess him physically, emotionally, everything?
“I think everything is good for him right now. I think he’s in a really great spot both physically, like he said. I think he’s in a great spot mentally and emotionally. I think he’s doing extremely well weathering this storm that he has to go through, and it’s still not over yet. He’s got another stage to go through. But right now, mentally, he’s really doing well.”
How do you prepare for the possibility that he won’t be there at the start of the year and at the same time get him enough work that when he does come back that he’s been on the field long enough?
“Well, we’ll just keep working him normal until we have something definitive. You know, last year we didn’t know anything until two days before. So it wasn’t like we had a whole lot of time to think about it last year when he missed five games. I think analyzing it from that point of view is overanalyzing it. All these guys are getting reps. They’ll be ready to go.”
You succeeded without him last year but you had LB NaVorro Bowman, and now you won’t have Bowman at the time that Aldon is likely out. How challenging is that?
“It’s challenging. Two of the games that Aldon missed last year [LB] [Patrick] Willis missed, also. So, it’s happened before. But we know Bowman is going to miss more than two games. So at times, it will be challenging. You know, any time you lose two great players, somebody’s got to go in there and do the job. We don’t expect those guys to be as good as those two guys are, they’re at the top of their profession. But we’ll find a way.”
With so much turnover in the secondary, not only are you changing personnel, are you going to be changing some schemes on how you guys play back there?
“No. What may happen is, you know, we have a balanced scheme. We may call things a little more than we have in the past or call things a little less than we have in the past. But we don’t have to go and create a new scheme. We may just lean on other stuff that we haven’t had to lean on as much.”
When you get a rookie who comes in playing a different position than you might ask him to play, when you’re evaluating coming into camp, do you go back and look at his college tape and find out maybe get a better idea what his strengths and weaknesses are, in terms of Jimmie Ward?
“No. We watched him prior to the draft, learned about him then. We deemed he was worthy of the pick wherever we picked him. Now, it’s over. I mean, once guys are drafted, they’re yours. All of your evaluation went in to when you picked them, but now they’re yours. He’s got to learn our system, we’ve got to learn him, adapt to him. But there’s no need to go back and watch his college tape now.”
It looked like he did pretty well. I mean, he had the interception but he also did pretty well in the one-on-one drills as a corner. Did that surprise you at all based on what you knew about him coming in?
“No. You know, he played a lot of slot corner in college. He was there nickel. So, we saw him do that in college.”
You coached LB Shayne Skov the year before he had a pretty bad knee injury. Does he look like the Shayne Skov that you saw at Stanford. I mean, do you think that he’s back to that pre-injury form?
“Well, his injury that he had that you alluded to was a very serious injury. I think it still affects him a little bit, but he’s also grown as a player in those three years. So, to say he’s not – yes, his knee is still a hindrance to him a little bit, but he’s grown as a player, also.”
On Jimmie Ward again, the way he talks and the way at least watching him practice yesterday, the stage doesn’t seem too big for him. That’s with the untrained eye, I guess. I mean, mentally, and how would assess him as a rookie?
“I like him mentally. I think he’s confident without being cocky or arrogant. I think he knows he’s got a daunting task ahead of him, that he’s been put behind the eight ball with no offseason work. I think he’s ready to work. I think he’s very coachable. He’s ready to fight through the growing pains. I think everything about him emotionally and mentally, will end up being on the plus side of his ledger.
While Bowman is out, how big of an advantage is it for LB Michael Wilhoite to have already played two games, started two games, played two full games in that position last season?
“It’s an advantage for him in that he knows he can go out and play in an NFL game. If he hadn’t done it to that point, it’d probably be in the back of his mind that he’s never done it. But, he’s been out there and played two full games and had some snaps other places. You know, he had to finish the playoff game last year when NaVorro got hurt. I think it helps him, but ultimately he’s going to have to go out there and do it.”
When he got hurt in that game, did you switch Patrick?
And he went into the Mike?
How did he evaluate last year, how did he grade out?
“He did fine. He really did. We won both games that he played in. We played pretty good defense in those two games, if I remember correctly. And he did fine.”
Is LB Chris Borland learning both the Mike and the Jack?
“He is, but mainly focusing on the Mike. But he is learning both and getting some reps at both.”
Why mostly the Mike?
“I think that’s, without seeing him a whole lot more, I think that’s what he’s more suited for at this point. You know, it’s basically what he played in college. And I think it might be a position that’s suits him the best, but I’m not sure of that yet. Basically, when I look at insider linebackers, me personally, if you’re an inside linebacker you’re an inside linebacker. You’re an off-the-ball linebacker, in comparison with our outside linebackers who are on-the-ball linebackers. So, if you’re an off-the-ball linebacker, you can play either spot. Now, there are different assignments and techniques that go into each position, and one position has more of a load in one assignment than the other and vice versa. So, you try and narrow it down, but they should be able to play both.”
That would seem to suggest that Wilhoite will be the guy for as long as Bowman’s out?
“No, it doesn’t suggest that at all.”
Is he the number one?
“Today he is. We’ve got any type of possibility that can happen there. You know, we’re playing Willis at Mike now and Wilhoite’s playing Jack. You know, if somebody surfaces to be, give us a better combination of putting Willis back at Jack and somebody else at Mike, whether it’d be Borland, Wilhoite, Skov, [LB] Nick Moody is in the mix there, too. He’s playing just Jack, so, at some point we know Willis is going to be in there and he can play either spot and we’ll put the next best guy in there.”
Yesterday, I saw S Antoine Bethea after practice with TE/DT Demarcus Dobbs working on handshakes and then they were pulling on sleds for a while. What is he doing both on and off the field to help some of these young guys and just fit right in here?
“Well he’s a pro. Antoine is, besides being a very good football player that’s had a good NFL career up to this point, he’s a great person. He’s a great teammate. He’s willing to help anybody at any time and he’s a great team guy that’s willing to help the team. So, I don’t know exactly what you’re alluding to, I didn’t see it, but it’s not surprising. He’ll help anybody. And I like his approach. He came in here and he didn’t know the defense when he first came in here, so he wasn’t as verbal and wasn’t as leading because he knew had his own work that he had to take care of first. And he’s through the offseason and now he’s picking it up and I think he feels more comfortable that we can get some of his leadership qualities out of him now, too.”
Is DT Kaleb Ramsey’s injury serious?
“I’m not sure of that. I’m not sure.”
Do you know what the nature of his injury is?
“I don’t know about that.”
Just getting back to that middle linebacker situation, sounds like you don’t really have a preference, right?
Whether Willis is one or the other?
“Willis will be in there and whichever one’s best will be in there. And it could be a combination just like we did when Aldon was out last year, you know, [LB Dan] Skuta played in one package and [LB Corey] Lemonier played in another. You can see, whether it’d be an inside linebacker playing in base and one playing in the nickel that are two different guys, so. All possibilities are open.
Would Moody be the guy, the naturally guy for the nickel, given his background as a safety? He’s probably more athletic than your other choices.
“It’s a possibility. But like all the other guys, he’s got to become accountable and know what to do.”
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