I think everybody had a good break here last week. We got a chance to get away and come back refreshed. It's good to move onto San Francisco. They are an impressive team to watch. Mike Nolan has done a really good job with that football team the way they are playing this year. They have transformed their offense. We started [our preparation] in the off-season to get familiar with their personnel but Mike Martz has come in there and, as usual, turned it into a very efficient attack. They have big play players like [Isaac] Bruce, Vernon Davis and Bryant Johnson. JT O'Sullivan has done a good job for them. Frank Gore, of course is a tough guy to stop. They have made some changes on the offensive line and that's a solid unit too. Defensively they are well coached as Mike [Nolan] teams always are. Mike Singletary and that group have done a good job. They are very athletic up front and have good linebackers headed by Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes and Manny Lawson. Those guys in the secondary, it's a very experienced group with guys we have seen before at other teams - Mark Roman, Nate Clements, Walt Harris and Michael Lewis, of course was with Philadelphia. But they are very active up on the line of scrimmage. They have some big guys like Isaac Sopoaga. They have some fast guys like Justin Smith, Parys Haralson, Roderick Green and Ray McDonald and those guys that run well. They are a physical team and a very athletic team. They have done a good job in the kicking game. They probably have as good of a group of specialists as we will see all year. Andy Lee is an outstanding punter and Joe Nedney has done a tremendous job for them kicking the ball both field goals and kick offs. Allen Rossum is a threat every time he touches the ball as a returner. They used him a couple of times on offense. On one play they did a reverse a couple weeks ago and they cover very well. They have a couple of the best special teams players in the league - Keith Lewis and Michael Robinson. They cover well. They kick well. They return well and they are solid in the kicking game. Good football team all the way around. A team that we don't know very well but we have got to get to know in a hurry. They have some explosive personnel and they are well coached. They have good schemes in all three phases of the game. We are looking forward to getting back out on the field today, an extra day for them. I think we will need it in terms of other preparation and things they do. They certainly present a lot of challenges offensively with Mike Martz's offense [with] all the shifting and concepts they present. Mike's [Nolan] always been one of the best defensive coaches in the league going back to the Giants, Washington, Baltimore and San Francisco, he's always done a good job there.
You had J.T. O'Sullivan in 2006 as a practice squad player. What stood out for you about him then and what stands out about him now?
I think the same things that attracted us then are why he is playing now. He's athletic, good arm, is a very mobile guy in the pocket and can make all the throws. He has a strong arm and can get the ball down the field. He has a good touch on the ball and can stay alive with his feet. He's been very productive for them.
You had a list of things you wanted to work on last week. Are you happy with the progress you have made?
We worked on them and saw some improvement on the practice field. We need to transfer that into game situations. We won't be able to evaluate that until we do it on the game field. We made some progress in practice.
Is there still competition at the cornerback spot opposite Ellis Hobbs or has Deltha O'Neil separated himself from the pack?
Deltha has done a good job for us. He has gotten the majority of the playing time there. We feel confident with him out there but there is always competition. A couple young players have improved. Lewis Sanders has given us some good snaps out there. Whatever group we put out there, we will be comfortable with.
Has Terrence Wheatley made some progress?
I think Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite have both improved quite a bit. They worked hard, got a lot of snaps in training camp and in the preseason games, especially Wheatley. As we have gotten into the regular season we have cut down because of our scheme, we just game plan for one team. Instead of running everything against everything, we narrow it down to the calls we are going to make in this particular game plan. I think that helps young players and new players coming into your team because they don't have to worry about every defense against every formation and every adjustment. It's more simplified based on the team that you're playing. I think there has been some improvement there with both Wheatley and Wilhite.
So you ease them into it and try not to overwhelm them?
Well, I don't know if we are trying to ease anybody into anything. We are just trying to get better and win. As the players perform better, improve and get more of an opportunity to play then we evaluate their playing and we go from there. They either earn more playtime or they don't. You can't give anybody anything. You've got to earn it out there on the football field. That's what football is about.
What kind of improvement have you seen in your division over the last year?
Well, it's a lot different than it was last year. Last year we were a game ahead after one week. Right now that will all take care of itself. It's a long season. The best thing we can do is go out there, beat San Francisco and win a football game. That's really all we are thinking about. We will see everyone else down the road and they will see us. We will worry about that later. Right now we need to go out there and play well against the San Francisco 49ers.
Can you see this developing into 'Buffalo in September of last season' carrying over this season?
I guess it has. I haven't really watched Buffalo. The Jets, we have talked about them and Miami. Those are two games we won handedly in '07 and it was a lot different last week. We got a good look at them.
The personnel is different but how much is the offense in San Francisco similar to what you have seen from Mike Martz in the past?
It's Mike's offense. It's basically the same plays. As he always does, he tailors to the personnel he has. When he had Marshall Faulk, he did some things in the passing game that were pretty special for those backs. Frank Gore is a good receiver but he is a different kind of runner and the running game is tailored to him. Vernon Davis has tremendous speed [and] very athletic at tight end. He's used a little more in the passing games than the tight ends they had at Detroit and St. Louis. It's the same offense. He just utilizes his personnel to maximize them and the same thing with the quarterbacks. You didn't see Kurt Warner doing a whole lot of running around but he did some of that with Jon Kitna and he did some of that with J.T. O'Sullivan.
Even with a young quarterback are they still able to do run a similar offense...
Yes. They shift. They motion. They run their passing concepts. They have a lot of formations, different personnel groupings. They run the same plays but they are all different because it's different personnel, different formations and different looks. That's still what they do but they change things up a lot.
His quarterback's always put up big numbers but they get hit a lot.
They throw a lot of down field routes. They throw deep in-cuts [and] deep comebacks. Sometimes they have a lot of receivers out, so occasionally their protection breaks down on that. But they attack the defense at all three levels, the short, intermediate and deep level. They do it every week on a consistent basis so you have to be ready to defend it. Sometimes you get to him [quarterback] before they get it off but a lot of times you don't and they hit a lot of 20, 25, 30 yard completions - a lot more than most teams do. That's the way they have been historically. I am not saying it's all 80 yard touchdowns but they hit a lot of 20,25 yarders. It takes a little longer for those plays to develop. I think overall their pass protection has been good. I think the line has done a good job whether it's been Jonas Jennings or Barry Sims in there at right tackle. They have at least done a good job at left tackle. They have played three players inside. Eric Heitmann is a good center and Tony Wragge - the three guards. Overall, their pass protection hasn't been bad. Like any line it is broken down from time to time but they have done a good job.
(On San Francisco's combinations defensively)
They used it a lot against Seattle but they have used a lot in every game. They brought Mark Roman down and played him as a nickel back and brought Dashon Goldson in and played a three-safety defense. They use a lot of different combinations defensively. They use some five defensive backs but it's not always the same five guys. They use six defensive backs but it's not always the same six guys. They use four rushers and it's definitely not the same four guys. Sometimes it's a couple lineman and a couple linebackers. Sometimes it's three linemen and one linebacker. It's not always the same lineman. They mix the linebackers especially between Roderick Green and Takeo Spikes. Patrick Willis is in there almost all the time you can count on that. They use a lot of different personnel. They have different roles for players. Like Manny Lawson, he's part of their regular defense. They don't use him too much in sub. Because they played sub almost the whole game against Seattle, he didn't play on defense. But he had a big day in the kicking game. He was in on all the special teams. He made a couple tackles on the coverage team and blocked a punt. That's a good example of how they change their roles from week to week. But defensively, they have a lot of different packages. Mike's always done that. You are not really sure what you're going to get. They might be in five defensive backs but you don't even know who the five are. They might be in four or they might be in six. From a game-planning standpoint, there are a lot of questions that you are not going to be able to answer until game time.
What similarities do you see in Patrick Willis and Jerod Mayo?
I think there are some similarities. They are both athletic for that position. They are guys that run well and have good range. They can cover ground in the passing game and get in on a lot of tackles. They can play physically inside with the big guys and also get out on the perimeter in space on the outside runs, screens, loose plays and they both make some plays on that. I think Willis is one of the most athletic inside linebackers that we will play against. The interception against Seattle where Walt Harris collided with the receiver and the ball popped up in the air and Willis intercepted and ran it back for a touchdown. He looks like a running back running the ball. He out runs people. He cuts back. He is a smooth, very athletic player. Like I said, he looks more like a running back or defensive back running the ball than a 250-pound linebacker. He's a top athlete that can really run and you usually don't see that with the inside linebackers. A lot of those guys are bigger, more physical guys that are coming off the field on third down. Willis is a special athlete. I think he played every play for them last year and I can see why.
(On the number of times San Francisco quarterbacks have been sacked)
I think it's a combination of things. There have been times when quarterbacks have held the ball. There have been times where the protection has broken down. There have been times that they've gotten blitzed. At the same time they have thrown for over 300 yards and have scored 30 points the second and third games in the year. They moved the ball well against pretty good defensive teams. They moved the ball against Arizona well. I haven't seen the tape on the New Orleans game but New Orleans has some good outside pass rushers and it looked like they got the edge there a couple times. I would say watching them play on film I think their pass protection has been good. I know what the numbers are but I think they can block. Believe me, we have seen lesser blockers than these guys let me put it that way.
You said you didn't see the film yet but did you watch the New Orleans game?
I saw some of it. Once again a couple turnovers have a lot to do with the game. There was a big sequence there before the half and New Orleans hit a couple big plays. San Francisco had a couple turnovers there in the red area. Three or four plays and you really have a different game. That's the way it is in the NFL, you saw that in probably every game yesterday. A couple big plays, a couple turnovers and that swings the pendulum one way or another. It's not surprising.
Did you enjoy having the opportunity on Sunday to watch a few of the football games?
Yes. I mean that is really about the only time that I do it. It's good. The rest of the time we are usually playing or getting ready to play. Even when you watch games when you are playing Monday night, you might watch the games Sunday night but you are right there on the edge of playing your game. This is one where we didn't have a game this week so you could be a little bit of a fan and watch a few games. Although we spent the day preparing and game planning for San Francisco based on the games we had. We will take a look at the New Orleans game, add that in and see if it's something that is going to affect what we are doing. I am sure there will be something in there that we will alter a little bit of what we are doing. But we wanted to be able to get off to a good start today. It's good to sit back and see a little bit on TV what the rest of the league is doing.