Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh Press Conference

Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh

Press Conference – October 22, 2020

San Francisco 49ers

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As far as Sunday’s game, there was a two-play sequence in the second quarter in which DL Arik Armstead seemed to know exactly what the Rams were running on those two plays. The second was that attempted tight end screen to Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee. How good is he at diagnosing those things and does that come from film study? Does it come from experience? Where does he rank as far as kind of knowing what play is going to be run?

“To answer your question, it comes from both, experience and film study. He studies film more than anybody, at least on the D-Line, that I’ve ever been across. I’m being completely honest, it was Friday night, quick story on it. It was Friday night and I’m watching a movie with my wife, it’s normally date night, and I get a text from Arik Armstead talking about play number one, two, from different games. I won’t call what games they were and what plays they were, but talking about a tendency that he was picking up. So, here I am texting what Arik Armstead and my wife was like, ‘Can we watch a movie?’ So, he studies film. He’s been through the ringer. He’s got a lot of experience on him. He does a great job leading the group and bringing pointers for those guys and really talking at all three levels with linebackers and DBs. So, having him and his knowledge and his need for more knowledge, rather than just what the coaches give him, is a testament to him and why he’s deserving of the success he’s had.”

I know you’ve talked a lot about what CB Jason Verrett has been through, but for him to get his first interception the other night, it’d been almost 1500 days, I think. Can you just kind of take us into that moment? What the reaction was like on the sideline, what your reaction was, just kind of the emotions of that whole scene?

“JV, and really anyone who’s been through things that he’s been through, where they had the success they had early in the career and then they hit this lull and everyone counts them out and everyone just gives you a reason why you can just quit, but you just keep going, and you keep going and you keep going. Guys like JV, when they can make it back and then they have the success that they know they’re capable of, the joy and emotion is for them. Everybody on the sideline is just pumped for him. The texts from [CB Richard] Sherman, when we got back into the locker room when the game was over and [DL Nick] Bosa and all his teammates that weren’t there on the sideline and just the excitement with JV. It’s really a testament, really, to him and the leadership, the quiet leadership, he’s given people and the quiet example he’s given people because everyone watches, when you’re in this building, everyone’s watching every move you make. All we did was watch JV work for the last couple of years, stay quiet, keep his head down and do everything he could to get back to this football team so he could provide some help. He’s doing it and knock on wood, if he stays healthy, this whole entire world’s going to see how great he is again.”

We’ve talked to you guys a lot about defending mobile quarterbacks and quarterbacks who use their legs, but I don’t know that you guys will go against a guy like New England Patriots QB Cam Newton in any other instance, just given that he’s kind of the size of a defensive end, I guess. What different challenge does that pose for you guys, as opposed to somebody like Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray, who you have to sort of keep contained? Obviously, different skill sets.

“So, Cam, you hit it on the head. He looks like everyone’s Madden figure when you create a player on Madden. From the end zone copy, it looks like he’s supposed to have his hand on the football while the centers should be taking the snap. He’s that big. So, he’s a freak athlete. He’s got an unbelievable arm. He’s got great presence in the pocket where he can feel and slide. He’s not looking to scramble. He stands in there tall and the issue with Cam is that you’ll bounce off him if you don’t bring everything you’ve got with you. Then he can find his way. He can go scramble and make you pay off schedule football. So, they’ve also got some designer runs for him from a run game standpoint, which are challenging. So, [New England Patriots offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] has done a fantastic job with implementing him to the scheme and adding wrinkles that utilize his strengths. So, the challenge is obviously with all quarterbacks, you’ve got to keep them in the pocket and always have respect for the level of quarterback and then from there, when you have your opportunity to tackle them, just understand you’ve got to bring everything because just an arm tackle won’t do it. You’ve got to bring your whole entire body with you.”

I ask this just because Verrett has had so many leg injuries and the only time we saw him last year against the Steelers, I’m sure he would even say that it looked kind of disastrous and then he was done. What went into bringing him back because I think, as has been said many times, it seemed like maybe that was the end of the road for him?

“Like I just said a minute ago, we all watch. It’s our job to watch everybody, whether you’re on IR, you’re on the practice squad. It doesn’t matter. You’re just watching, you’re getting reports. You’re talking to the trainers, you’re talking to the equipment room. You’re talking to the strength crew, the performance staff. You’re talking to everybody and you’re talking to the man. It’s not just me. It’s [general manager] John Lynch and [vice president of player personnel] Adam Peters and [vice president of player personnel] Martin Mayhew, [head coach] Kyle Shanahan. It’s everyone. The DB coaches, everyone’s talking and they’re all trying to see where he’s at and all you could see is progress. All his testing numbers kept getting better and better and better from that Pittsburgh game and he kept showing promises. We’re watching his drill tapes and there’s a lot of investment that goes in and you can see that he was so close, so close. Credit to John and Kyle, you’ve got to take shots on guys every once in a while and you take shots on guys that you believe will find their way to success. JV is one of those humans. You’re really banking on the man and for him, knock on wood, he’s been doing it and hopefully he just keeps on rolling.”

49ers fans are quite familiar with elite linebacker play. They watched former San Francisco 49ers LB NaVarro Bowman and former San Francisco 49ers LB Patrick Willis. They know what it looks like. It’s starting to look like LB Fred Warner is reaching that level. It seems like he’s the best player on an excellent defense. Just how good is Fred Warner right now?

“Fred’s phenomenal. I always believe you can always get a little bit better every single day. So, do I think he’s reached his limit? Absolutely not. I still think he can, but he’s special. He’s special in the sense that he recognizes things that are happening on the football field. He recognizes things on tape. You can put a lot on his plate in terms of getting people lined up and making checks and getting us into the right defense. That gives you flexibility as a play caller and as a coaching staff to know that you can create a defense that’s designed to be with different layers of checks, that will help us be in the right defense based on what the offense shows. Because of it, Fred is able to get everyone lined up and it is without hurting him. So, he can go play. The amount of work he puts in and what I think people will take for granted is that if you actually got to see him on the practice field and in the film room and his deliberateness at which he works in practice, never taking a play and just watching or pointing at the football saying, ‘Yeah, that’s my guy.’ He is all gas, trying to get better every single day and honing in on his craft with regards to fundamentals and techniques. So, if he keeps that pace, stays humble and always understands that the purpose of every day is to find a way to get better, he’s going to have an unbelievable career.”

Are the Patriots doing anything new or different with Cam Newton more than you saw in Carolina or is it about the same, what you expect from him?

“Like I said, Josh is doing a really nice job in terms of maintaining their system, but adding wrinkles to play off of Cam’s strengths. They’ve got somethings they do with Cam that they clearly didn’t do with [Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB] Tom [Brady], but at the same time, there’s things that they’re asking Cam to do that they did with Tom and Cam’s done a phenomenal job executing it. So, they’ve done a nice job evolving that system and creating another layer to it and allowing Cam the opportunity to make it his own. With that, to answer your question, sure, there might be some stuff from Carolina. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to go against Cam, but at the same time, you can see the New England system with more of a Cam Newton wrinkle, if that makes sense.”

Given what you said about Arik earlier, how pleased are you that he’s sort of taken DL Javon Kinlaw under his wing as far as film study and how to study film, and have you seen any progress with Javon in kind of that diagnostic part of things?

“You always love your best players to be film junkies. In the D-Line room, the fact that when Bosa’s in there, and you’ve got Armstead, those two are your war daddies, even with [Indianapolis Colts DL DeForest Buckner] Buck a year ago. I know it doesn’t really apply to Kinlaw now, but whenever your star players or your best players are film junkies, it only helps those younger guys. They learn how to do it the right way, because not everyone is capable of just going to the football field and playing great football, but everyone is capable of being great film study habits and maximizing their personal ability. So, the linebacker room’s got Fred and [LB] Kwon [Alexander] and they’ve pulled along [LB Dre] Greenlaw. Then you go to the DB room with Sherm and [S Jaquiski] Tartt and [DB] Jimmie Ward and those guys all just study film, [CB] K’Waun Williams. So, they’ve had great leadership ahead of when they came in young and they’ve taken that step and really kind of built something as players on the defensive side of the ball, where they’ve kind of taken it over and that’s kind of what you want. To answer your question, it’s awesome. It is awesome.”

While you were talking about maintaining part of the offensive system, and I’m guessing a big chunk of that is New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman. So, what are you seeing out of him at this stage of his career?

“I think he’s still got it, personally. He still can find a way to separate in the slot and he’s still hard to cover. They find ways to get him the football. They find ways to get him open and so he’s still someone you’ve got to pay attention to and he clearly is still one of their best 11 football players and a huge part of their offense. So, it’s amazing. He’s had an unbelievable career and it’s still going.”

I believe you hosted him on a pre-draft visit in 2017, but from afar, at least, at this point, what’s your evaluation of free agent DE Jordan Willis as a player?

“Jordan, I haven’t been able to study him since he got into the professional level, but in 2017 with our old style of playing D-Line play, we liked him. Thought he’d be a good football player, but in our system now with the way we teach the D-Line, we think that hopefully this gives him a breath of fresh air and we really think it really fits to his style of what we think we can maximize out of his body. We’re excited to get him here and give him a chance for an opportunity to compete. We think what we do kind of fits his skill set and give him a chance to go get off the ball and set edges and get up to the quarterback. So, we’ll see. I’m just excited to get our hands on him on Monday, I believe it is. I think we’ll practice with him on Wednesday, so not quite sure, but we’ll see.”