Q&A with Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh on Akers vs. Cundiff: 'We have a leader in the clubhouse'

Q&A with Jim Harbaugh
January 7, 2013, 4:00 pm
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Jim Harbaugh said both David Akers and Billy Cundiff may make Saturday's roster. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Have you made any resolution on which kicker is going to be working for you on Saturday?

“No. Not a resolution, but, we have a leader in the clubhouse, and we’ll see how it goes today and tomorrow.”

Can you say who that leader is?

“No. No, but it’s been good competition, and working through it.”

When would you like to have that decision made?

“Like we’ve said from the beginning, there’s no set date or time on that, when we’d like to. Just when it happens.”

By all accounts, K David Akers has been good in practices throughout the season. A, is that true and if it is how do you then base the competition on practice knowing that at least for him practice hasn’t necessarily translated to successful games?

“Well, there have been both. He’s had success in practice and in games. But, just football. Good in practice, accurate in practice. It usually translates to good in games. And some other issues we’re attempting to fix, too. We’ve got to sure up our protection. That needs to be better. We’ve had too much penetration. We’ve had extra points tipped. We’ve gotten split at the wing. So, there has to be an understanding that that needs to improve as well. And we’ve been working on it.”

Is the leader in the clubhouse based on the two practices last week?

“Yes.”

Is the fact that it’s a home game make a difference that one guy might know the conditions of Candlestick better?

“Yeah, you usually weigh as many factors as you can there. But, it’s predominately being based on how they’re kicking now head-to-head.”

Will you need time to be set aside to go up to Candlestick and have either or both of those kickers kicking in those conditions on that surface?

“Yes.”

What day will that be?

“Today.”

Is there a chance that both of them will be on the roster come Saturday? Or do you hope to pick the guy before then?

“Yeah, that’s a good question. I think there’s a good chance that they’ll both be on the roster come Saturday.”

Would it be conceivable that both would be active on Saturday?

“That’s conceivable.”

You always talk about trying to improve one percent every day. Have you seen that in QB Colin Kaepernick? Have you seen him improving game to game, week to week, play to play?

“Yes.”

What areas just generally would you say he’s grown the most in?

“He was good to start with. I think he came into the season good. When he got his first opportunities to play very early in the season he was very good. And then when he got his first start was very good. But, just being in the situations he’s been in. The way he’s handled himself in those situations. At this point we could say just about everything that a quarterback could face. And he’s done well. So, I’m not saying it’s dramatic improvement in any one area because I think he was good to start with. But, there’s been good improvement across the board.”

I’d like to follow up on that. When you made the switch from QB Alex Smith to Colin, was it something that you had pondered, planned throughout the season? And was it inevitable? Or after Alex got hurt and you saw that Colin did well, did you think he’s done well I don’t want to go back to the other guy? How did the decision get made?

“No, it was not a predetermined move. The decision was made when Alex got hurt. Colin played, played well in his first start. Came back the next week, still felt that that week against New Orleans that Colin gave us our best chance to win. He was the healthier and played well. And then after that I saw enough really good things that wanted to have the same faith and trust in Colin that we had shown in Alex. And it’s pretty well documented how we felt about both guys. That one’s our left arm, one’s our right arm. And both are very good quarterbacks. And we felt we could win with either quarterback. And we’re in a great situation having both those men on our team.”

Do these playoffs feel any different? You have a locker room with guys who most of them went through it last year for the first time, and in terms of preparation, these guys know what to expect now.

“Yeah, there are definitely more of our players that have been through the playoffs and can personally share with the first or second-year players who haven’t been through the playoffs, what that experience was like to them. They can personalize it from conversation to conversation. And I hope and think that our young guys are taking advantage of that.”

Looking back on that group you had last year, so many first time playoff guys. You were in your first year as head coach. What did you see in that group and how they sort of stepped up on the big stage?

“Like I felt right after the game, it’s the way I still feel now. That they gave it their best shot and their best shot was good enough. The football gods had a different outcome for that last game than we did. But, feel like now is a new team and a team that feel very good going into the playoffs with. And understand the challenge and the task that’s up against us this time around.”

How do you feel about your defense? Obviously among the lead leaders again this year. Very effective most of the year. But, also struggled against two good offenses in New England and Seattle late. How much of that do you ascribe to DT Justin Smith’s injury? And how do you just sort of feel about the defense as you go into the playoffs?

“Feel very good. That is a strength of our team, our defense. And has played consistently good for us throughout the season. Justin, his presence just back on the practice field, I can tell you this, that there’s a character of our team that’s enhanced, is driven by Justin. And that’s the way I think of it. That’s what I sense and feel when we’re out there on the practice field. And we look very much forward to having him back in the lineup?

Is it a great defense, do you think, with Justin?

“We feel like it is. There’s no other defense we’d rather go into a game with than ours.”

What kind of challenge does the Packers offense particularly when they spread out, what kind of challenge is that for your defense and having to bring in extra defensive backs?

“Great challenge. Great task. I think one that our players and coaches are looking forward to. And that competition, it’s as good as it gets in the National Football League. Their quarterback, their receivers. So, big task and one we look forward to.”

With those two practices last week, did you anticipate this matchup happening?

“Knew it was one of three possibilities.”

Did you spend more time on the Packers than the other two teams though?

“It was evenly distributed.”

What’s your take on TE Vernon Davis? When you take his blocking out of it, just he’s been quiet as far as receiving the past couple games. What’s your take on the second half of the season why he wasn’t more involved in that aspect?

“I think there are multiple factors there. The biggest one being that defenses are playing us and taking that into account, taking Vernon into account. They’re wary of getting beat by Vernon Davis. I think that’s the biggest, greatest share.”

When you look at Green Bay now, are they significantly different at all from the team you looked at in week one?

“Yeah, there are differences. There are differences in personnel. There’s an anticipation that they’re not going to play us exactly the way they did the first time around. There seems to be that the repeat scheme doesn’t happen from first game to the second game in the season. But, individually I think there still are quite a few matchups. Most of the matchups are the same when we played them the first time around.”

When you look back on that game, we all remember it. What do you feel you did best in that game?

“That was so long ago. We won the game. That was the thing we did best. We scored more points. And we were on it that day, mentally, physically prepared to play the game. And this will be a totally different game.”

You complimented Alex in that game for his legs, for his arm, and for his mind. How much does the quarterback’s mind come into play, and particularly a young quarterback going up against the Green Bay defense?

“It’ll be a big challenge, and one that Colin is very excited about. And he’s so far, now it’s early, but expectations will be high that he will be on it as well. And he’s got a good grasp of the game plan so far. I’m excited. It’s a bit savant-like the way he’s handling it so far this week. So, that’s really encouraging.”

Is it exceptional to have two safeties who hit as hard as yours do? And how do they influence opposing offenses with their physical play?

“Having two safeties specifically that can tackle, that is a tremendous thing for your defense. How do you know if you have a good defense, how do they tackle? Are you ready to play in a game, how do they tackle? And [S] Donte Whitner, [S] Dashon Goldson, in particular, are tremendous tacklers.”

Along the lines of Tim Kawakami’s question about Colin’s mind, when you look at Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, and as a former quarterback yourself, how much does his decision making and his mental part of his game explain his success beyond the physical skills he obviously has?

“A lot. It explains his success? Yeah. Extremely gifted in seeing the field and understanding what defenses are trying to do.”

You said that, if I wrote this down right, that Kaepernick is a little savant-like as far as how he’s handled it this week? Can you elaborate on that? What exactly do you mean by that? I think I know what you mean, but can you elaborate?

“Just that it’s so early in the preparation and so early in explaining the game plan, ut, just his understanding of it this early in the week is, the way he’s understanding it is savant-like.”

How is RB Frank Gore approaching this week and what kind of leadership are you expecting out of Frank?

“Top shelf.”

Do you give the game plan all at once? Does Colin have it all, or do you give it to him in pieces throughout the week?

“Everybody gets it in pieces.”

From the outside this season looked a little tougher than the last season, maybe that wasn’t the case. But, you guys had to overcome maybe more stuff this year. Is that your thought about this season, too? And will it affect the way the team can perform in the playoffs? You had a good team playoff season last year, but is there anything that happened this season that makes you even more prepared this year?

“I wouldn’t really compare it to last year, other than to say every week has felt like a football fight. That’s been the same. There’s always adversity to overcome, the other team to overcome, fatigue to overcome. So, those are daily things.”

You said your division is arguably the best.

“Arguably.”

Yeah, arguably. Are you willing to go further than that after watching the Seahawks yesterday? And you guys are the only two teams from one division in the playoffs?

“Yeah, I’m willing to go further, a week later, to continue to argue that. I think that’s a fair argument.”

So, you think this is the toughest division?

“Arguably the toughest division.”

What do you think makes it arguably the toughest? What’s your argument?

“The strength of the teams.”

But, what about them? It seems like their physical nature that sets at least two of them apart from the rest?

“I’d just say all aspects. Having played each of the other teams in our division twice. Coaching, talent, physicality, all those things. But, now we’re in the divisional round. So, that’s what we’re here to find out. That’s what we’re here to prove. Who the best team is. And we’re excited to be in that position.”

Did you know you were Ravens LB Ray Lewis’ first NFL sack victim?

“His first NFL sack?”

 Yeah.

“Yeah, I did know that. My dad told me.”

 You never talked to him about that over the years?

“No. I didn’t know that until three or four days ago. My dad called me up and said he was in Baltimore and some of the writers there had mentioned it to him. My legend grows. Ray Lewis’ first sack [laughs].”

Do you remember it?

“No, I don’t. In 1996. I’ve forgotten half my life.”

--Transcript courtesy San Francisco 49ers