Head Coach Kyle Shanahan Press Conference

Head Coach Kyle Shanahan

Press Conference – November 16, 2021

San Francisco 49ers

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Opening Comments:

“Injuries from the game, [OL] Jaylon Moore had the knee. There’s no major structural damage, we’ll see how the week goes. [CB] Josh Norman, the same with his ribs, he’ll be limited this week. [RB] Elijah Mitchell had a finger fracture. He’s having his procedure done today, which we’re getting an update from the doctor this afternoon on whether he’ll be able to practice and play with that. [WR] Deebo [Samuel] had a shin contusion, he’s day to day. And that was it from the game. Go ahead.”

Is Mitchell’s finger fracture his right hand?

“I’m not sure which hand it is.”

Does that matter for a running back? Is there a primary hand that you’d be concerned about as far as holding the ball?

“No, that’s why I really didn’t ask. It would affect for a reverse pass or something like that, but usually he’s not keeping it in one hand anyway.”

Is this kind of a thing where the risk would be more the possibility of infection rather than just functional, not being able to play with it?

“I don’t know for sure yet, so I don’t want to lead you guys on too much. But it sounded like they were pretty optimistic that he’ll be alright. But they got to put a pin in it, see how it fits and if they can just protect it and they think they’ll be able to, but we don’t know for sure until the guy who does the surgery does it. But I’m hoping that he has a chance to practice tomorrow.”

What has he shown you just with his ability to play through stuff? Obviously, he has the ribs from Week 2. How has his toughness impressed you?

“He’s shown us just in all the aspects, since he’s gotten here, that he’s got what it takes to be an NFL running back in terms of he’s got the talent, the vision, the ability, but I can see the toughness and how hard he runs. But also the toughness of playing through all this stuff. We usually don’t know until after the game. Really in this case until today, because he doesn’t complain about much. He just goes to work and some guys play with injuries, but the key to playing with injuries is not letting the injuries make you worse. And even when he’s played through some stuff, you don’t notice it out there by his play.”

Kind of following up on that, I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but have you been taken aback a little bit just by maybe how physical Elijah is? At what point did you realize that was maybe more of a strong suit than what people might have thought?

“We thought so to a degree watching him in college. He ran very similar and he ran very hard and was a good zone runner. I think he looks a little smaller than he actually is, his weight. Him and [RB] Trey Sermon are the same weight and Trey seems bigger, but they’re about the same. But you could see it in practice, whether we had pads on or no pads, the guy was fearless, always going downhill and never showed any hesitation in his game.”

How did RB Jeff Wilson Jr. come out of his first action and how is his knee and everything looking?

“Yeah, I got no updates on Jeff, so he got out clean. Great to have him out there. Our team feeds off him a lot, he’s one of the most liked guys on the team. And he just plays a certain style that everyone really, really respects and did a really good job on his run plays. And we used him as a fullback a number of times in the game and he did hell of a job there also.”

One more Mitchell toughness question. He had 27 carries in this game. Do you know about when the finger injury occurred?

“No, I don’t know.”

When you’re using Jeff Wilson and even WR Jauan Jennings as lead blockers, are they fullbacks? Are they tight ends? In your scheme, what do you draw them up as?

“The blocks that we were using them on in that game, [WR] Trent Sherfield and Deebo did the same thing when they were in motion, helping out with the tight end. That’s more of a fullback. That’s really what fullbacks do. The Rams mixed up personnel so much that you don’t know whether the outside linebacker is [Los Angeles Rams OLB] Von Miller, sometimes it can be [Los Angeles Rams CB] Jalen Ramsey. They go so many different personnel groupings, it’s just nice for us to be able to have some different personnel where our guys can do the same thing also.”

Another one about Mitchell and his toughness. I know it’s just to a must have quality for you with your running backs. Not just with him, but through the years, is that a hard thing to say, particularly when he plays in Louisiana, like, ‘Okay, he can run over guys at that level.’ But at the NFL, is that fearlessness going stay the same way? I guess at some point do you have to have a leap of faith? Do you have people that talk to coaches to gauge the toughness level, if this is making any sense?

“Yeah, you have to take everything into account and nothing is a hundred percent correct. People make a lot of good decisions. You make a lot of bad decisions going through that stuff. Whatever way that you think works each year in the league, you get proof of, ‘Hey, that’s not a hundred percent,’ but the biggest thing to me is the tape. And when you see how physical a guy can play and that he’s fearless. Then you find out about the person and why he’s playing, what it means to him, if he’s just trying to do it to be in the league, is he just trying to do it to make a living or is he truly passionate and truly loves this game? Those are the things that come with it. Running backs, it’s just different than everything. You get hit so much more. And there’s just a different feeling to it that, from high school to college and especially in the NFL, it’s always different for those guys. And that’s why you got guys like [Tennessee Titans RB] Adrian Peterson, guys like [Former 49ers RB] Frank Gore, guys that you can tell just truly love playing. They never worry about that stuff and that’s why those guys, to me, never changed after second contracts. They never changed as they got older. It wasn’t something that they have to amp themselves up for. It just is something that they truly love.”

This is the third straight game that QB Trey Lance has suited up and not played a snap. I realize I’m asking you this after your best win of the season, but is that still situational? Are there packages for him and you just haven’t found the spot for it? Or have you made the decision over at least the last three weeks that QB Jimmy Garoppolo is going to take every snap?

“No, I haven’t made that decision. The only time I did that really was Chicago week. Then Arizona, the game just didn’t go the way we wanted. Going into this game, we didn’t like a lot of the stuff, just matchup wise in terms of what the Rams did, so still had it it up. But we didn’t see it as changing the defense or giving us too big of an advantage, so that’s why we didn’t go with it.”

Do you see Trey getting more and more of the playbook in his head as the weeks go on?

“Trey’s got the whole playbook in his head and he was able to do that in training camp. If you work at it, you’re going to learn it all, but it’s about going through at full speed. It’s about going through it at a game time tempo and going against the blitzes and all that stuff that can surprise you and knowing when a play is a good play and when it’s a bad play. When you’ve got to get out of something, when you got to get to the number four choice in the progression, as opposed to the one you practiced in the week. So that just comes with experience and he’s getting more and more of it and you can never get too much.”

Have you ever been part of a game where in the first quarter, the opposing team only gets eight snaps?

“I feel like I probably have, yeah, definitely. Because you can start out with the ball going a long one with the other team stuck in place, so I’m sure there has been eight snaps. But that first drive definitely felt longer. I don’t know if it’s the longest one we’ve ever been on, but it definitely seemed like it. 11 minutes in the game and someone told me it was like 40 minutes in real time. So, that was pretty cool.”

You’ve got a short week and a cross-country trip and a 10:00 a.m. West Coast start and you’re coming off an emotional win. There’s a lot of ingredients that I guess could make a coach nervous. Did they make you a little anxious about how you guys will respond with some of those factors?

“I wouldn’t to use the words nervous or anxious, but you understand that reality. Emotional games and stuff like that you’ve put a lot into, I’ve definitely seen that happen to teams. That’s why we weren’t trying to celebrate too much last night. We’ve been frustrated with how this year has gone. We were very happy with how last night went, but that’s one game. This league is week-to-week and it doesn’t matter what you did the week before. I know if we can’t get it done this week, I know it’s not going to mean much to us at all.”

Going on that, you said yesterday that you didn’t give anybody a game ball because you want to get used to these kinds of wins and I hope this makes sense, but earlier in the season, did it feel like maybe the highs were too high, the lows were too low and that was getting in everybody’s head a little bit?

“I wouldn’t say getting in people’s heads. I get the questions stuff, I just think that over complicates it a little bit. We gave game balls out Chicago week because someone had a baby and because Jimmy had a real good game, going back to his hometown. But it’s not like we give game balls out over every win. That game would have been, I couldn’t single out one person in that game. If I did, it would have been the whole team. And we very easily could have said that, but I think the team knew what I meant when I said that, we don’t need one for the whole team guys. We’ve got to get used to doing this every week. And I think it’s true, we feel that way. We feel strongly about it and game balls are nice, but they all just sit in your garage and no one really ever looks at them again. We’ve got to make sure we get our records better and get some real game balls and make some games a little more meaningful.”

With Jimmy, it seems like you haven’t done as much, at least over the last three weeks, in terms of play action from under center and more so from the shotgun. Is there’s something you see there that that helps him and what is it maybe that’s contributing to that in your mind?

“It all depends on how you’re running the ball. And I think we have run the ball a lot out of shotgun also, but it depends on again what you’re going against. It’s always easier for quarterbacks to not take their back to the defense, be able to see stuff, which is why you want to be in shotgun a lot. I mean, why most guys prefer that, but it doesn’t always help people get open and honoring the run. So, you’ve got to balance that stuff out and you’re always trying to make it easier. First goal is to get people open and if you can do that, then you want to try to do it the easiest way possible. So that stuff changes week to week for the players and for what you’re looking at.”

I was hoping you could comment on contributions from a couple of guys. One on offense, one on defense. LB Azeez Al-Shaair and then on offense, Jauan Jennings.

“I think those are two great guys to mention. I mean, Azeez flew around all game, made some big hits. They had one run that was blocked up really well by their team and he was the only guy who could save him from the complete backside and he went and made the play and it was huge. What he did on the screen, stopping a big play and just really the energy and the physicality he played with, especially bouncing back from one of his not so good games on a year from the week before. And Jauan, we didn’t know whether he had to take over for [Mohamed] Sanu [Sr.]. Getting in that role of, we call it the F, which is mainly a slot receiver, did a hell of a job on it. Did a real good job on his pass plays, which I don’t think he got any balls, but he did a good job at what he was supposed to do and then how physical he was in the run game. Jauan’s a guy who enjoys playing football. He only plays one way, very excited out there. And I think the more he gets used to playing, the more he gets out there, I think the better he’ll get and the more he’ll help us.”

You had said, I think it was after the Colts game, that game was kind of a stinker for Garoppolo, but otherwise you felt he’d played pretty well the season. In the last three weeks, has he elevated? Is he playing better than you thought he was earlier?

“I think it depends on the game. Yesterday, I thought he played very well, especially on third down. I think our team plays a lot better when we’re able to dictate the game like that with by controlling the clock, by how well our defense did, by the defense scoring a touchdown and by us being able to run it that much. But Jimmy had to be on point enable for us to do that. And that’s what he did a lot in 2019 when we ran the ball a ton. But that only works if you can convert third downs and make some of the passes that keep you out there. And when we needed him to do that, I thought he did it very well.”

What did you think of DL D.J. Jones open-field tackle on the fake field goal?

“It was such a good play. I didn’t realize how good it was until I got home last night because I wasn’t expecting a fake at the time and they did it. And I think you see [LB Demetrius] Flannigan [-Fowles] takeaway the eligible and then you see the new guy [DL Charles Omenihu] coming through and you don’t know where someone’s going to come from. And D.J. somehow got there and watching it last night, it was an unbelievable play and just being very aware and working his butt off.”

Just to follow-up on that, how much did [special teams coordinator] Richard Hightower have those guys prepared? You said you weren’t necessarily expecting it there, but is that a gameplan emphasis?

“Their special teams, regardless of who’s been there, they do a lot of fakes. So, that’s something that Tower has been talking about all week. As a good special teams coach should be, he’s extremely paranoid about it. So he’s probably annoyed the heck out of everyone in our building about that stuff. And I think that’s the stuff that helps make guys aware, so they can make some of the plays that D.J. did and I’m sure he’s happy now telling him, I told you so. But I’m just happy that D.J. was on it.”