Offensive Line/Run Game Coordinator Chris Foerster Press Conference
Offensive Line/Run Game Coordinator
Press Conference – August 17, 2023
San Francisco 49ers
How did your undrafted rookies do in their first ever NFL game? OL Corey Luciano, OL Ilm Manning and OL Joey Fisher?
“They all had first game issues. They didn’t play as well as they could have. There were some mental errors, there were some physical breakdowns. Of the three guys, Ilm’s really played very well this camp. And in the preseason game.”
When you look at him, he’s not tall, looks like a guard and he’s been playing left tackle, is that just a numbers issue that you’re short on tackle?
“Yeah. So what happened post draft, when you go to the undrafted guys, we’re looking to see who we’re going to try and sign as undrafted free agents and it was interesting because we needed a tackle and we were looking at the tackle list and it was thin. It was really thin. And then Ilm just stood out. He played tackle in college and he was a really, really good player. Everybody projected him to guard and we said most of the time those guys, they’re on the third team, they end up playing in the fourth quarter of the games and they’re playing against kind of the same guys they played against in college. It’s not like they’re starting yet or in a position where they’re playing. So, let’s just let him play it out. If he can’t do it, we’ll shuffle the deck a little bit and move him around. And so, he’s done that. I don’t know that his long-term career is at tackle, but he’s played very well there. And you’re right, he doesn’t quite fit the prototype, but he’s done a good job this preseason.”
Yesterday, I thought Manning beat DL Breeland Speaks pretty bad in that one on one. I like the kick step from Manning. What do you see from Manning at guard or at center?
“He’s got really good bend, flexibility, balance, things that you need inside. He’s got good quickness. He’ll have to learn. It’s quicker; things happen, the steps have to be shorter. [OL Spencer] Burford goes through it a little bit still. He still sometimes kicks bigger like a tackle and needs to keep his feet underneath him a little more under control, like a guard. So, it’s more of a quickness and I don’t want to say quickness, it’s more of just your footwork has to be, everything has to happen a little bit quicker at guard. And that’s what Ilm will have to learn if he ever makes that transition in.”
Where do you stand with OL Matt Pryor? It seems like he’s obviously pretty comfortable as a pass blocker, but he’s not the typical sort of tackle you look for in your run game. Where do you view him right now?
“He’s doing a great job protection-wise. You’re right, in the run game, he’s not a prototypical guy. But I think over the course of time, what I’ve found out is, even though it’s not exactly what this offense usually has for a tackle, guard, center, if you just keep drilling it, you just keep working on it, just keep doing it, they keep working on keeping their weight, working on their quickness, and eventually you can find a middle ground. Is he ever going to be the typical tackle in this offense? No, but shoot, being able to play on third down and just being functional enough on first and second down as a run blocker can be good enough. That third down piece of pass protection is a big piece that if you can’t play on third down, you can’t play as an offensive lineman in the NFL. So having that down, you can work back and say, we can just keep doing this. I’ve coached a few different times in my career where you come to a new place and you have two or three guys, they really can’t do the things you ask them to do. But if you just keep doing it, you believe in it, you give them reps in the games, reps in practice, they can be good enough.”
Joey Fisher is obviously coming from Division II, hasn’t played offensive line all that much before he got here. You talked about it being a pretty big leap. How has he handled it?
“It’s been a big leap for him. I’d say the last two weeks, some things have improved, but there was a long stretch there where it was really hard for him. It is big, it is faster, a lot of it is different. And I’ll say almost more than, I won’t say more than that, but almost more than that is the fundamentals that he was coached. Not bad fundamentals. They are just different. And so, he developed whatever habits he had and the length of time he’s played, the position, those habits are hard to break right now. And so, he’s constantly maybe in practice, but he gets in the game, reverts back. That was a lot of what happened the other day. It was like a lot of reverting back with the young guys to the way they’ve always played. Things we’ve worked on, things we said we were going to try and get better at. All of a sudden, everybody just got in the bright lights and it was a great environment there. It felt like an NFL game, a regular season NFL game for so many of those guys. And I think they kind of reverted back and didn’t quite stick with their fundamentals. Right now with Joey, you see that back and forth every day, but he has made progress these last couple weeks.”
How do you counteract that on Saturday so they don’t revert back again?
“Well, we just keep doing it and you just hope it’s the number of reps. As I’ve said, the game reps are worth so much. And unless you take practice reps onto game day, it won’t go away. You have to trust and try and do the things that we ask you to do on game day. And then those reps become the real reps. You can bank some good reps in practice, but it’s just not the full speed, competitive, when everything’s going on and it’s truly, truly full speed. Those full speed reps, that’s where you’ve got to just trust it. That’s what’s great about preseason is win-loss doesn’t count. So, you can practice those things. That’s why I love one-on-one pass rush. I think too much weight is placed on the win-loss of the one-on-one pass rush drill that we talked about the other day. That’s another full speed rep because team periods, they’re geared back just a little so we don’t end up with pileups. There’s no tackling. But that one-on-one pass rush, that’s a time to try things because those reps become a little more valid than the reps they’ll have in the regular part of practice.”
Can you teach that or is that what makes a difference between a guy that’s going to make it and a guy that’s not?
“Well, you try to tell them, ‘Hey, listen dude, you have to do it. You have to let it go.’ And it’s hard because they want to be productive and I would tell kids all one thing, small thing, let’s say in pass protection, he’s continually wrapping a hand and it’s causing him problems. And if you don’t break this habit here in this first year or so, it’ll be there your whole career and it’ll be a flaw and it’ll be something that people will take advantage of over time. Maybe some guys can play like that their whole career and be successful. I just think you’re always going to have a little bit. I always refer back to [T] Trent [Williams] because I’ve been with Trent so long and there’s still things. He came in the other day, there’s little things that you realize if I don’t correct this now, and he knows, he says something doesn’t feel right. We looked at it and then all of a sudden, it’s this just a little thing. And if he fixes it, it doesn’t become a problem. But if we don’t say something about it now, shoot, by Week Eight it could become a real problem and harder to change. For a young guy, that’s compounded a bunch.”
There was a rep yesterday at practice where, I think it was 11-on-11, DL Robert Beal Jr. just beat Trent. I know you’re watching your own guys, but what do you think of Beal?
“He’s been a good player. Obviously, he hasn’t been out there a lot with injuries and everything. He’s really doing a nice job from what I’ve seen. I haven’t paid much attention to him. The last couple days he’s been out there, you do notice he’s out there. He’s a good player and like I said, not enough on tape for me to say, oh wow, he’s really jumping off the screen. But he is definitely a talented guy.”
So last week, Trent said a lot of guys his level think, if I’m not who I am, once I diminished, I’m done. But he said, if he was just maybe an above-average kind of left tackle, he still wants to play. Does that speak to his passion, his desire to, even if he’s a diminished Trent Williams to still stay out there?
“Yeah. We’ll see if that ever happens [laughs]. I was with [former NFL T] Jonathan Ogden in Baltimore his last year and due to an injury to his foot, toe injury I think it was, and I wasn’t there when he had the final conversations with [Baltimore Ravens head coach John] Harbaugh, we’d been let go and decided not to play any longer. I don’t think he wanted to do that. I think it was, if he couldn’t play. Now, there were times Jonathan would say, you know, Jonathan might have a sore shoulder. I’d be like, ‘Hey man, can you go today?’ He’s like, ‘Eh, you know, I’m playing against this guy. I can play this guy at 70 to 75%.’ Now, if it would’ve been [former NFL DE] Dwight Freeney from the [Indianapolis] Colts, I don’t think he could’ve played at that 75%. He would’ve probably said, ‘I can’t, I will hurt the team at 75% going against this guy.’ Whereas, some other guys, it wasn’t that way. I do know this, and this isn’t talking about Jonathan now, back to Trent. There were some questions on Trent coming out of college. Did he love the game as much? He wasn’t a real fan of the weight room in Oklahoma. There were a lot of things going on then, but when I met Trent, this guy loved football. I mean, he loves playing football. Like I’ve told you before, he’s a student of the game. He’s a football junkie. He knows everything about all the players in the league. He loves the game of football and that’s why I think for him, I could see that happening with him playing that long. I also think that when you do diminish, because I have seen guys diminish, sometimes you change your philosophy on that. You’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m not the dominant player I used to be. Can I still stand getting beat two or three times a game?’ You won’t know until you get there. But I do think that his passion, his love, his commitment, the things he has to the game are just unbelievable. And by the way, he’s one of those guys, Trent, whether he goes to the weight room or not, he’s going to be the strongest guy in the weight room. That’s why the weight room was kind of like, not the most important thing though. He had other things that he knew he needed more than that.”
Does he ever beat you to the punch in terms of, ‘Look I got to work on this before you can even tell him?’
“Oh, Trent always. He’s got thoughts and ideas that are – because I’ve got 14 other, 13 other, 12 other, whatever it is, guys to look at. And Trent’s usually not one of your problems. But I did learn early in my career that a lot of people teach that you coach to the lowest common denominator in the room. And I was fortunate early in my career, I wasn’t the line coach, I was an assistant or something like that. I sat and I watched coaches do that. And I also sat next to some very, very good players who weren’t getting anything out of the meeting. So I’ve learned you have to, yes, you have to coach the lowest common, but you really coach the highest common. I have to coach every meeting for Trent Williams. And in that process I have to work with the other guys if I need extra time for the other guys. So I’m always trying to keep things interesting for Trent, for the veteran players in the room, while still being able to reach out to the younger guys. Trent’s always, all these guys, if they’re really on it, they’re probably, I don’t want to say a half step ahead of me, they might be more than that, but I have to admit it, they study themselves. We get stuck on scheme, we’re looking at the other players, we’re looking at the defense. There’s so much that we look at. Sometimes the player himself can come to you first, a lot of them can, and say, ‘Coach, what do you think about this? Or what do you think about that?’ Trent’s really good. Although sometimes, it’s the other way around. I’m able to point some things out to him.”
This is an objectively silly question, but a couple years ago you tried for a touchdown for Trent. Do you have any hopes of maybe getting him a touchdown?
“I sure hope so. Every day he is so much fun to work with and such a great guy and he sure would be great for him to end his career with a touchdown. It’s just really hard. It’s kind of like a big red flag. ‘Hey, 71 reporting at tight end. Okay, let’s be sure we cover him.’ Because that’s the hard one. I go back to [T Jonathan] Ogden. He did in one of his early years in his career, caught a touchdown pass. We always talked about it, shoot, it was 10 years after the fact, and we always talked about it. I hope with Trent that happens.”
You guys are looking at some outside tackles. When they ask you for your opinion, how many plays do you need to watch of a guy before and do you go to last year’s tape? Do you go to his highlight reel? How much film do you need to watch on some of these guys to decide, yeah, I like this guy or I don’t like that guy?
“You’re talking about like tryout guys at this time of year? Yeah, usually it’s the tryout and then if there’s film they’ll put together a tape that will have the highlights and lowlights you can kind of evaluate. I think it all depends on the spot. You’re talking about a guy that’s going to be a third or fourth or fifth, it just depends on who they are and what spots you’re looking. If you’re looking for a practice squad player versus a guy that might be a rotational player, you might have to dig a little deeper. But a lot of times we have a grade on him, we’ve probably evaluated him before in free agency. You might take a quick peek again to make sure everything looks the same, but it’s usually some form of a highlight reel. Not quite as extensive as you do in free agency or college. And then you bring him here for the workout and you see how they’re still moving around. Physical things like that.”
Is it important for your way of thinking for the first offensive line unit to get snaps before this preseason is over in a game?
“Yeah, it’s a tough question. I don’t know what the number of reps is, been on both sides of the coin with that as far as what happens when guys play and don’t play. I do think that game reps are important. I won’t use offensive line because it is important they play together, but they get a lot of reps together. We’re together a lot and they play a lot of reps together in practice and things. I do know this, that some players I’ve been with in the past, if they didn’t get the real live reps like the guys who handle the football, like all of a sudden it’s a lot different when they’re punching at that ball in the first couple games of the year that you have to adjust to it, than it is later in the year, as it is if you don’t have those reps in training camp or practice. The only thing I do know also is that the most tired I’ve ever seen NFL players, and I’ll talk about the offensive line, is when they come off the field after that first eight or 10 play drive in the first game of the year. They are flat-gassed. No matter how many games you played in the preseason or how many plays you didn’t play in the preseason because it’s the first real time that you truly exerted everything straining from the snap to whistle. Every single play trying to win. And they just haven’t done that enough. As hard as practice is, even as the preseason games are. Because I’ve been places where we played guys as many as a hundred plays in the preseason, other places where they haven’t played any plays. But either way, when they walk off that field after those first couple of series, they’re gassed and it takes a game or two, I don’t know how many it is, but to start to get in game shape. The real game shape where you’re playing full speed, full strain. And for us, like a receiver, he can run, they run, they run, they run. Well, you get him enough runs and it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m in shape.’ But an offensive lineman and defense lineman, you’re shoving it full strain. It’s not just the cardio, it’s the strain that goes on with it. And that takes a lot out of you. And it’s not the strain in team run, the strain in preseason two, versus the strain in Pittsburgh on the road opening day with the noise and the atmosphere and the juices. Night and day. And so that’s why, yes, it’s important, but it’s a cautionary kind of important. It is nice to get guys some reps. And our sports science guys, they’ll tell you there’s a number in there that they think they should play. I don’t know what it is.”