Head Coach Joe Judge
Opening Statement: I want to take a second before we start today to offer up my thoughts and prayers to James White from New England and his family for what he’s going through. Obviously, he’s had some tremendous losses and a tough battle. Our hearts are with him today. There are a lot of players who voiced the same thing. I wanted to make sure we got that out there.
In terms of the 49ers, obviously, we’re playing one of the greatest historical franchises in the National Football League. This is a team that obviously dominated through the 1980s and have had continued success throughout. They had success in the 90s as well as the 2000s. They play a very explosive brand of football. Kyle (Shanahan) does a tremendous job offensively of really building this team to expose your weaknesses. It’s one of those deals, you watch Kyle’s games, you can tell right away what he thinks about a team based on how he game plans and goes at you early in the game. This is a fast-start team that doesn’t wait to start putting points on the board. They’re very explosive off the bat scoring on the first drive. They do a tremendous job of that. Their running game sets up the play action pass and the explosive passes down the field. But really, it all starts with the run with these guys, and they do a tremendous job of that.
Defensively, this is a very talented group. They do what they do. They do it extremely well. They get after you, they call it aggressively, and they pose a lot of threats and problems for anybody they play. We’ll have our hands full with them this week.
Special teams, this is a unit that really starts with some of the best specialists in the NFL, with good, experienced returners. They have a physical core, made up of linebackers and some offensive players, but they have explosive penetrators at the gunners that also help on the kickoffs. This team right here on their kicking units, they do a tremendous job of setting field position, starting with the specialists, finishing through their core players. They’re very well-coached with (Richard) Hightower, who worked with T-Mac (Thomas McGaughey) back a few years ago, so they’re very familiar with our schemes and systems. This will be a very good game for us in terms of who we have to match up against. We’ll spend all day today, tomorrow and Friday getting our players ready on the grass for it. That being said, I open it up to questions for anyone right now.
Q: You’ve come out and said the MetLife Stadium turf has been fine with your guys. Just having heard the 49ers complaints, did you take a second look at it? What has the NFL said to you in terms of the field conditions?
A: I’ve had no conversations with the NFL on the field. I’ll let them take care of that. We’ve been fine with it.
Q: Your time with Jimmy Garoppolo, we don’t know if Jimmy is going to play this week, but what was your relationship with him while in New England? How well did you get to know him? What did you think about his approach to the game and in that situation, learning as much as he could for the opportunity when it arose?
A: Jimmy is a tough dude. One thing that stuck out to me about Jimmy early on was he never backed down from any competition. He’s a guy, it didn’t matter what room he was in, who he was competing with, Jimmy was always trying to get on the field and make an impact. He’s a guy that obviously I was there for a couple young years with him where he was really learning and developing. He was running the practice squad, he was getting minimal reps with our 1s on offense, but he was always preparing himself and doing extra. 2016, we started the year out with him. I’d say there was a very high confidence level in Jimmy. He’s a really good player. He has a tremendous arm, he can make all the throws, he can beat you with his legs, he’s very mobile. He’s tough, man. He has those older brothers who would always show up at the game, the typical Midwest meathead family. They were always a lot of fun to have around. I’d just say Jimmy is a dude that was one of the guys. You’d see him around the offensive line a lot, the defense would gravitate to him a lot, he was very popular in the locker room. He was a guy that when he stepped in the huddle, there was an immediate confidence around him. It’s no surprise the success he’s had in San Francisco. I think a whole lot of Jimmy. Jerry Schuplinski has had a lot of experience working directly with Jimmy and his development throughout his career. Obviously, Kyle has done a phenomenal job with him. Again, there’s no surprise the success he’s had. He has a lot of talent, but he has a lot of gusto to him as well in the way he plays.
Q: How has the 49ers defensive scheme kind of evolved over the last three years? In particular, has the defense created any type of identity in regards to their coverages or anything?
A: I’d say we’ve been more focused on recently through 2019 and this year based mostly on their personnel and how they’re using it. I’d say the identity to us with those guys and the way Robert (Saleh) sets it up is it’s a ‘do what they do’ deal, but they do it really, really well. They know all the coverage beaters you’re going to try to run on them. They know how you’re going to try to go ahead and get at their front in terms of scheming up the run game. They’re a very good penetrating front. Really, it all starts up front with these guys. They’re very disruptive. This is a turnover team, this is a penetration team, this is a pressure-on-your-quarterback team. It gives opportunities to the secondary and the backend. The linebackers are extremely fast. These guys can really move and flow behind that front in front of them. They’re very good in the pass game, they’re very effective in the run game. They don’t give up explosive plays. That’s the biggest thing. This team makes you commit to being a disciplined team and execute down the field, play after play after play. You watch them, they do a great job of just sitting back, letting you check the ball down and then tackling the ball in front of them. This is a tough opponent. You really watch their identity, I’d say their identity is how they fly around on tape and how they stand out at you with the physicality they play with.
Q: The 49ers use a lot of their fullback (Kyle) Juszczyk on various plays, including the 21-personnel. I’m just kind of wondering what do you see from him? What does he bring to that running game and the passing game, too, because he’s also involved in there?
A: I think the first thing you can’t forget about with Kyle is this guy is a really good receiver. He has the ability as a fullback, plays more like a tight end as far as how he can stretch it down the field vertically. You put the ball in his hands in the flat or on a check down, he has the ability to have some run after catch and get vertical. I think one of the things I noticed about Kyle early when he was in Baltimore, this guy was a key player in the kicking game and he was a space player. A lot of fullbacks don’t translate to the kicking game that well because they’re more straight line thumpers, whereas Kyle really had a different dynamic to him in that I thought he always moved in the kicking game more like a linebacker, with athleticism and the ability to redirect in short space. The more he grew on offense, he obviously has that tough mentality of a fullback to be a good lead blocker. That presents a lot of problems in terms of getting lead schemes up on your backers or wham blocks on your front. But I’d say when he has the ball in his hands, he’s a threat as well. You can’t fall asleep on him for handoffs. But really in the passing game is where he really shows up.
Q: If I may follow-up on that real quick, given the injuries the 49ers have at the running back spot, is this a guy who can basically pick up that load and be just as effective?
A: I don’t know exactly what they’ll do. I know they have a lot of talent on that roster, both in practice squad players they’re going to elevate along with having other players on the roster currently. But he’s definitely a player that can carry the ball, and we have to account for him in there, yes.
Q: I heard you got Devonta Freeman. What do you think?
A: Yeah, we’re excited to get him on the grass today and start working with him right there. We just got him in the building, so today will be a day of trying to catch him up and build him into the game plan. Obviously, he has a lot to learn going into Sunday. But we’re going to do our best to get him ready for Sunday if we can do that.
Q: Do you think he has a lot left? His numbers haven’t been as high as they were the last few years.
A: He had a good workout for us yesterday. We watched his tape from the past few years. Obviously, we have familiarity, Jerome Henderson was in Atlanta with him. He really spoke highly of the character he brings to the team, the kind of teammate he is in the locker room. I think he’s got some juice left in the tank. We’ll give him the opportunity to prove that.
Q: One thing I wanted to clean up from Sunday. Obviously, Saquon’s knee injury with all the attention, is his hand, wrist, arm, whatever it was, is that okay?
A: I’ve heard nothing on that. Obviously, he took a shot to the arm. I’ve heard nothing more on that. He was back in the game pretty quickly, he kind of shook it off. I really haven’t focused much on the arm.
Q: With Shepard going on IR, I know there’s three-week rule because of COVID this year. As a coach, how do you feel about that rule going forward? I’m assuming you would appreciate that.
A: I’m all in favor of it. I think we want all of our players to play as much as they can. I’m sure other coaches in the league feel the same way. The way the circumstances have happened with the IR situation of getting players back, I think it’s in the best interest to have players playing. Fans want to see players play, I’m sure owners want to see players out there that they are paying, playing. Coaches want to see guys on the field. I’m all in favor of it personally.
Q: Have you felt the need to have any conversation with Daniel Jones after the loss of Saquon Barkley? To tell him there might be a narrative out there that it’s all on you, but it’s not all on you. Or do you think it’s all on Daniel?
A: First off, I had the conversation with every one of our players that it’s not all on any single player. Everybody has a role, everybody has a job to do. We all have to do our job a little bit better and eliminate mistakes that put us behind early in the game. I talk to Daniel on a daily basis. The one thing I will tell you about him, he comes to work every day with the right approach, the right mentality. I know he’s putting himself in position to do everything he can to help the team. He just has to be himself and do what he has to do. Everyone else has to play their best as well.
Q: Is Devonta going to be ready to roll this Sunday? How do you envision your backfield shaping up with Dion Lewis and him together?
A: At this point, we have to get him on the field and see where he’s at. We had a brief workout with him yesterday. Obviously, there is a difference in working out shaping and playing shape. We’ll have to see where he is physically and then we have to see mentally how he is with all the things we’re putting in this week. We just want to make sure we put him in a position where he can be successful. We don’t want to throw him out there and have him not be prepared because of lack of time. We’re going to do everything we can to help catch him up.
Q: With Devonta and the running back position, how much in general is it easier to get guys ready? It would seem like you could use him in a specified role at that position.
A: I’d say anybody you bring in in this kind of situation, who’s new to your program and you bring them in mid-week, you’ve got to focus in on what they’re going to do in that direct game plan. You can’t try to give them the entire play book at once. You have to make sure they understand the basics of the language and they understand what their role in that game is. That’s what we’re going to focus on right now with him. Just try and get him ready for whatever role we’re going to have for him on Sunday. As much as he can carry, whatever kind of load that will be based on this short week of getting him caught up, we’ll obviously try to put it on his plate. We don’t want to overload him too much that it slows him down.
Q: What do you lose without Sterling Shepard and how do you sort of fill that role?
A: I would just say Sterling is going to do everything he can to get back. He’s a tough dude. I have a lot of respect for him, the way he tried to go in the other day early in the second half playing through pain. We’ve got good players on our roster. We have confidence in those players. Everybody has to come out and execute. We have to put them in the right positions as coaches to make sure they can make plays. I’m looking forward to when we get Sterling back out there working with the team. He’s definitely a guy that brings a lot of juice on the grass at practice. He’s a guy that competes 100 percent for us in the games.
Q: With Sterling out, guys like Damion Ratley and C.J. Board are going to move up a little bit. What do you like about their skill sets and what they bring to the table that’s different than what the other guys do?
A: I think they’re both different than Sterling. Everyone has their own individual toolsets. These guys both have decent length and a lot of speed. That’s the first thing that really steps out to you. Damion was new to our program a couple weeks ago. He’s made a lot of improvement these last couple weeks. Stepping up for us, making plays in practice, it gives us a lot of confidence to put him in the game. CJ’s had production as we’ve worked. I would hope that would improve based on how he’s picked up on the offense and what he’s been able to do. He’s also had some impact for us in the kicking game. Both those guys have contributed already.
Q: How helpful is it having somebody like Evan Engram, who can obviously go out in the slot and you can use him in creative ways? To fill the void with Sterling out.
A: I think we have to use all of our weapons. Whether that’s running back, tight ends, receivers. That’s any game plan, regardless of who’s up and who’s not. Jason (Garrett) has to put some ways to get Evan out there and get him the ball. They’re working hard on that right now. We want to be creative but at the same time we’ve got to make sure we’re playing within our offense. We’re not just trying to invent something for the sake of doing it.
Q: You’re facing a team this week where you’re not 100 percent sure which quarterback is going to play. Does that complicate your preparation? Just your thoughts on Nick Mullens if the 49ers have to go to him.
A: First off on Mullens, one thing he does an extremely good job of is you can spread the field out with him. He gets the ball out of his hand extremely fast. He’s a guy who turns two, as we say. The ball hits his hand, ball is coming out and he’s getting it to the receiver. He has very good anticipation, he does a good job pre-snap really reading the defense, knowing where his receivers are going to be. He’s a tough, gritty dude. He obviously had some success for them in the past when he’s had to play. As far as if it’s Jimmy or Mullens, to be honest with you, you have to have a little bit of a plan for both. What they may do may be dictated based on who’s at the game. These are conversations that we’re having as coaches, that we are putting a plan together for the players. You want to kind of get it to them in basic increments that you’re not double installing everything at once for the players.
Q: How important was it to bring somebody in like Devonta? Just to show inside the building and out, that with Saquon down you’re not raising the white flag on the season.
A: We’re not going to raise the white flag on anything. Our guys are going to fight straight on through. We have a job to do regardless of the circumstance or outcome of the previous game. Our job is to get ready to go out there and put the best product on the field we can on a weekly basis. There’s no white flag here, we’re going out there to fight every week. In terms of Devonta specifically, it was important for us to just add a player who gave us some ability in the backfield to add to our backfield already. We have a lot of confidence in Wayne (Gallman) and Dion. We are going to get Devonta caught up as fast as we can to get him rolling.