Last week when we talked to you, you said one of the things you were working on was getting your head around at the right time. From a technique perspective, when is the right time to get your head around?
“When you’ve got a receiver under control. When you understand that he’s not doing any other route except for a fade, and that’s just going off your instincts, too. Just knowing that, okay, I feel like it’s time to turn my head around. Just being in phase, being in the hip, and going up and being a playmaker.”
So part of that is just experience?
“Yeah, and watching film. Honestly, that helps a lot, just seeing if they like back-shoulders or if they just like the normal fade, stuff like that. So just going up there and understanding what formations those guys like to do that and when they like to do it.”
One question I have is about off coverage. I know you play press man most of the time, but from a fundamental perspective, in off coverage what’s the most important thing? When I was talking to Coach Zordich earlier in the year he said in press you look at the belt buckle, then--
“It’s still the eyes. Your eyes are the most important thing in football, and just to watch the waist because the waist doesn’t really move. It’s understanding where your end points are and your keys and stuff like that and just knowing what to do. Just watching him and then using your tools to succeed.”
Is the corner’s first step more important in press or in off?
“The first step? In press, honestly. When you talk about the first step, if you misplace your steps in press that’s the difference between a breakup and a catch. In off coverage, I believe that it can be the same thing, honestly, but it’s more critical in press.”
Hawaii has one receiver who’s 6’5 and some receivers who are 5’10. I know you can’t say who you’re going to be matched up on, but in general when you have some guys who are really tall and some who are shorter, does your technique change at all?
“It could. You could be a little bit overaggressive with the bigger guys because they have a lot more surface to put your hands on and then a lot of times they’ll be a little bit slower than the little guys. A smaller guy, you’ve just got to be patient and move your feet and stuff like that. Yeah, you have to gameplan and understand who you’re checking.”
With some of the younger guys on the roster, guys like David Long and Lavert Hill, what’s impressed you most about where they’ve come from the beginning of camp until now?
“The way they learn, honestly, and just how fast they learn and have picked up the playbook, and that’s really what it is. I think that’s helped both of them.”
What about other guys in the corner group like Stribling and Jeremy Clark?
“Just experience, honestly. Having those guys play last year a whole bunch of snaps that really helps them, and just getting a feel going out there and playing.”
“Senior captains for the 2016 season: offense, Jake Butt and defensively Chris Wormley. Thrilled with the leadership on our team right now. from the senior class and our younger classes. I think a lot of deserving candidates, but what a great honor for Jake Butt and Chris Wormley. I think they will represent our team very well.”
Game notes didn’t have a depth chart. Can you shed any light on the quarterback competition, at least?
“It’s been very good really from day one, the competition at the quarterback position. And the play at the quarterback position has been very good. I feel like it’s been improving as well, daily, weekly. All the quarterbacks are playing at a very high level.”
Just to follow up to that, do you know who your starting quarterback is right now? Do you expect to say before the game on Saturday?
“Yeah, I do—we know who our starting quarterback is, yes. And yeah, I’ll say who our starting quarterback is before Saturday. I didn’t say I was going to say it to you, who our starting quarterback is.”
What is it about Jake and Chris that you think will make them good captains?
“Well, they’re two of the hardest working guys. Two of the best players on the team. They both have a real great way of being good teammates. They don’t build themselves up and put others down around them. They both have that quality of building up other guys around them and making themselves smaller, and when you do that you make yourself very big indeed in the eyes of everybody, in the eyes of the whole world and the eyes of the people that are on your team.
“In so many ways: how they talk to the young players, how they coach the young players. I’ve caught Jake Butt in the act of helping the young tight ends on several occasions. Caught Chris Wormley giving advice and tips to the young defensive linemen, Rashan and Ron [Johnson], so that’s…I think that speaks volumes when I catch guys doing that.”
[Long pause as mic gets passed around. Just as someone’s about to ask a question, Harbaugh thinks of something else to add.]
“The good thing about our captain vote is it’s strictly voted by the players. All players that have been on the team for a year who really know the candidates for being captain. Coaches’ votes do not count and freshmen votes don’t count, so it’s the guys who’ve really been in the practices and the meetings and the trenches and the workouts year round that vote on the captains. That’s why it makes it such a great honor. That’s why it’s such a thing that means so much to all of us, to the team and to everybody involved. It’s your fellow teammates. It’s the players on your team, your peers, that are voting and making that assessment.”
When you have several worthy candidates for the quarterback position, what are the things that matter to you when you’re making that decision, when you’re trying to choose?
“Really all the guys haven’t played in the games in terms of game experience a whole lot. Each has game experience and has had game experience, but here game experience and…so, want to see the things that would really translate to the game in terms of moving the team, moving the offense, putting drives together, making first downs, converting third downs, getting the team into the end zone, avoiding the turnovers and the mistakes that hurt drives and keep points off the board.
“That’s been the major criteria. We’ve looked at everything, but that above all on the list is what we’ve been trying to evaluate in the practices. As I said, they’re all getting better and doing everything that we ask. Great understanding of the offense and what they need to do to be successful so been pleased.”
[After THE JUMP: the Kaepernick quote (including some important pauses), throwing gas on the Bredeson/freshmen hype fire, special teams info, and a little Hawaii scouting]
What have the countdown weeks, countdown days been like over the past few years, and how does this one compare?
“They’re all kind of similar and different in their own ways. They’re unique in their own ways. The first week of camp you’re just going against your defense. You’re not really preparing against your opponent’s defense yet. But now, leading into that last week and a half [or] two weeks, you start locking in and studying film on your opponent and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
How, in your mind, is the offense shaping up? What are the things you think you’ll really do well?
“It’s coming together real nice right now. We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been making plays all camp. The line’s been coming on strong; that’s an experienced group. We’ve had some young guys stepping up. Grant Perry’s been having an amazing camp. Chris Evans has been making plays left and right. It’s unbelievable to see these guys. So, it’s coming together real nice.”
Speaking of the young guys, as far as your room’s concerned, how have Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Zach Gentry been doing?
“They’ve both been doing pretty good. They’ve both been having a really good camp. They’re both specializing in different things. Obviously Zach’s more of a receiving tight end, Wheatley’s more of a blocking tight end, and they’ve taken on that role. From the beginning of camp to where they are now, they’ve made some big strides.”
The fact that you’ve had an entire year and spring ball, do you feel way more comfortable now than you did a year ago?
“I don’t know that I feel necesarily more comfortable but I think for some of the younger guys or guys that didn’t get a lot of the reps last year, they’re starting to feel a little bit more comfortable because they’re getting a better understanding of the offense and the way the coaches work where if you play a little bit more that comes a little bit sooner.”
You said one of the reasons you came back for your senior year was that you still had a lot of improvements to make. What have been those improvements you’ve made in the last six months?
“Yeah, cleaning up some things with my route running. I want to win every single route and that’s my goal, and that’s my job is to take some guys with me. I want to win and I think I’ve been doing a good job. It helps when you have Delano Hill and Jabrill Peppers manned up on you right on the line every single play this whole entire camp. I don’t really see it getting any harder than that this season. But blocking has been the biggest area of improvement for me. Just technically, pad level, I’ve added some strength this offseason, made some changes with my body, so that’s been the biggest area of improvement.”
When your assignment’s to go out there and block Jabrill, how is it different from blocking a normal Sam linebacker?
“He’s just as strong as probably any Sam linebacker. I mean, he’s really, really strong and explosive but he adds just such quickness and speed element to it that you’ve got to take into account.”
Handicap the quarterback race for us.
“Uh, yeah, everybody’s doing really good but there’s a dark horse in the battle. Erik Magnuson’s really been coming on strong toward the end of camp. He’s hitting the deep balls really well. Coaches have been really impressed with him.”
[After THE JUMP: which receivers are rotating at which spot, which NFL players Butt watches film of, and which receivers will redshirt]
Is he [Rashan Gary] working on the same side as you?
“He mostly works with Worm at the Anchor side. I usually keep it to the End unless I go—I switch back and forth sometimes. Right now he’s working hard. He’s getting into film with us. He’s never scared of putting in extra work, also. He has that mindset where he wants to be good and he’s frustrated when he’s not dominating. I love seeing that out of the kid because it shows me that he wants to be great, just like I want to be great.”
What about you? How are you doing? Don Brown singled you out as one of the guys that was doing well.
“You know, it’s my senior year so—my goal is always to be the best of where I’m at, and my father always taught me never be second best to anybody. My goal’s always to be the best defensive end in the country right now, so that’s why I go out every practice and try to prove it. So far Coach Brown’s been loving it and hopefully every coach will. Like I said, I just go out there every day and practice with that mindset and hope it carries over to everybody else.”
How different is this defense with Don Brown as the coordinator, especially for the defensive line.
“We love him. We play hard for him. I think the whole defense does. He gets four of us on the field at the same time with the 4-3 defense and lets us attack, lets us play hard, lets us play aggressive and as a D-line that’s one thing you want to be able to do is play aggressive. Don’t have to worry about anything else, just out there and play and play hard, attack and make plays, and he allows us to do that.”
What’s the biggest difference for you? Is it just more knowledge and experience or are you stronger, faster, quicker?
“A little bit of all—I lost a little bit of weight, got my speed back. Got stronger in the offseason. Watched a lot of film of NFL guys. Got smarter. Met with a lot of coaches over the offseason. It’s just been a season I know I had to step up and I’ve done a pretty good job in practice doing that and being a leader on the defensive side of the ball, especially defensive line.”
Did you drop weight because you knew you were going to be on that edge and rushing again?
“Yeah, it was one of those things I got to talk to our coaches about and it’s something I really didn’t do myself. Met with Coach Mattison and Coach Brown, then I met with Coach Tolbert. Then we figured out what was that weight that was kind of in the middle—not too light, not too heavy, and it was perfect.”
What are you running now? What are your speed times?
“That I don’t know. I never was really—I was always one of the fast guys. Got a little faster.”
[More after THE JUMP]
You like what you’re seeing so far?
“Guys have worked extremely hard. Coach runs a great camp. We don’t waste a second, and that gives us a chance to get better physically, get better mentally, demeanor-wise, the whole deal. It’s been a tremendous couple of weeks here and just looking forward to shifting gears here and getting ready to play meaningful games.”
What’s different about a Jim Harbaugh camp than any others you’ve been in?
“Just efficient. You know, every second’s accounted for. Players, coaches, you all know where to be. We all know. We’re taking advantage of every second, staying within the rules. And it gives the guys a chance mentally to learn the system, which is an important piece for us. As I’ve said before, we put in the concepts in the spring and now we’re trying to master those concepts. We maximize our meeting time and Coach does a good job of knowing when to crank it up and knowing when to take it back, so it’s been great.”
Who are some of the Dudes so far in camp?
“We’ve got a lot of Dudes. We’ve got a lot of guys playing well. The guys that are fairly typical up front. I think Wormley’s had a good camp. Taco Charlton’s had a good camp. Bryan Mone, in my opinion, is from here [hand low] to here [hand high] from spring. You know, obviously he was coming off an injury so. Ryan Glasgow’s the real deal; very physical. We feel good about a bunch of those guys. Rashan Gary’s certainly going to be in the mix, but he’s got a learning curve as well. We’re happy with the front.
“At linebacker, the biggest thing with Ben Gedeon is he’s had to go from being a contributing linebacker playing some to it’s his show. Not easy to do. In fact, hard to do. So, I think he’s done an outstanding job in that area. Wroblewski…I don’t know. Probably doesn’t run as fast as some guys. Probably doesn’t hit quite as hard as some guys, but he just finds a way to help us so I’m very happy with him. I think Jabrill’s had an outstanding preseason camp, and Noah Furbush has a chance to be a real-deal guy. Mike McCray continues to be steady eddy, and Devin Bush is really doing well. I’m happy with the young guys. Uche is what we anticipated as a pass-rush guy, and he’s learning the Sam position better than expected. Devin Gil coming along as well and Elyse Mbem-Bosse, so those are the three rookies there.
“Then in the secondary, those guys are all good players, the veteran guys, and the addition of Khaleke Hudson—I think he has a chance to really help us this year. David Long—really happy with him. Special player as a freshman, and a very…he’s a professional. Comes in, notebook’s open, taking notes, being sharp, doing all those things. And there’s a number of guys—it’s probably really unfair, because I can’t think of anybody that I, like, ‘Oh geez, I gotta straighten this dude out.’ But it’s been a good camp and the guys are working hard, and that’s all you can ask.”
The veteran players you talked about, they’re in their third defensive coordinator in three years--
“Yeah, it’s hard now.”
How have those guys made the transition to yet another defensive coordinator?
“I don’t know, you gotta ask them, you know. I mean, I enjoy working with them. I’ve got great guys. I enjoy my room. Maybe it’s my age, whatever. I really don’t care too much about all this stuff but I do care about my room and coaching those guys and trying to get them to whatever their dreams are as a football player. That’s what I’m focused on. So, you know, you’d have to ask them, I guess.”
Are you seeing a willingness out of them to learn?
“Oh yeah. I mean, they got no choice. But, for a lot of reasons. You know, I don’t need anybody to hold my hand, you know what I mean? The bottom line is you’d like them to have that kind of a feeling and affinity towards what we’re doing. I think we do. They certainly seem willing. And we’re flying around out there, so that’s a positive.”
[After THE JUMP: “…I can assure you I’m not just looking at it (like), ‘Oh, okay, they’re going to run the zone read and we’re just going to throw this one against the wall and see if it works.’ I’m too old for that.”]
[At this point I left the scrum to go talk with Tim Drevno. I transcribed the rest from video posted at Maize and Blue News.]
If you had to pinpoint one aspect of something that impresses you with what’s being accomplished with your unit, could you find one?
“How much we’ve absorbed. You know, I was kind of—came in and had phase one, phase two and then if I’m fortunate we’ll do phase three. I’m in phase three, so I feel pretty good about the learning curve and what they’ve been able to digest. We’re not perfect. Hopefully we can get close to…you know, the efficiency thing is what Coach talks about all the time. He just talked to the players about it with great points. That’s what we’ve got to be. We’ve got to be efficient a week from next Saturday. That’s the whole goal is try and get your guys efficient.”
I think a Big Ten analyst said this is going to be a high-risk, high-reward defense. Is that--
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s a bunch of baloney. The high risk—no. We don’t just throw this stuff against the wall and take it and go, ‘Oh, I’m gonna run this play.’ Come on. We’re not doing that. We look at the formation, we look at the personnel groups. We lean to be on the aggressive side.
“Whether you’re running or passing the ball, we’re gonna have the ability when we dictate to come. That’s what it’s all about. And I can assure you that every one of the calls we’ve made—we’ve done kind of a thorough study—we’ll at least have run it 100 times. So, we’re not throwing things against the wall. It’s not that kind of a scenario. I guess say it because you’re playing man coverage and those types of things.
“Well, guess what: that’s what…Mike Zordich and Brian Smith, they’re accomplished teachers. If you call that high risk because we’re going to come out and play you like this [steps toward some reporters]…well, I don’t call that high risk. That’s just part of the deal.
“One thing we believe in is we deny free access, okay? We’re not going to play eight to 10 yards off and let you play that game all the time. Now, you’ll see us play off, but we determine when we do that. We’re gonna be able to do it all, but I can assure you I’m not just looking at it [like], ‘Oh, okay, they’re going to run the zone read and we’re just going to throw this one against the wall and see if it works.’ I’m too old for that.”
With all of that said, how important is physicality and how impressed have you been with this group?
“There’s been some days out there where I’ve stood behind the 9-on-7s—and that’s nine offensive players against the seven defensive players—and it’s kind of a ‘Ooh’ cringe mode [on] both sides, now. So, I’ve been happy with that. I think when we go ‘On your mark, get set, go’ I don’t have any question that we’re going to go.
“But it’s a fine line because you’re tying to get Barney and Sally and everybody else to the dance, so, you know, there’s kind of a combination deal there that you’ve got to pay attention to. But again, Coach does such a good job of taking care of us it’s a non-issue.”
Channing Stribling had a great spring. How’s he played in the fall?
“Good. Really solid. I think the one thing we’ve been able to get through to him is it’s not just about defending out there. You’ve got to come in here and work the run game, be a part of that, too. But no, he’s a solid guy. Working hard. Happy with him.”
MGoQuestion: Last we heard Ben Bredeson was taking snaps at left tackle. Do you see that as his long-term future, or do you see him sloting in somewhere else along the line?
“Yeah, he’s a really talented football player and can really play a lot of different positions. Put him out there at left tackle. Just like his foot turn, his speed, his initial quickness. Just trying to figure out the best five out there and the best six and seven. He’s really had a nice camp and is doing a really, really good job. Intelligent guy. Really good football awareness. Can fix a problem after you tell him, so it’s exciting to see that.”
Where do you stand with the quarterbacks? Have you narrowed it down?
“It’s been an unbelievable competition. Guys are coming out every day throwing great balls, great drops, great precision, great timing. I mean, we’re way further along than where we’ve been. I mean quarterback-wise last year. We haven’t made the decision and we don’t want to make the decision too early and make the wrong decision. So, we’ll keep going along here and then we’ll gather together and make that decision.”
You had seen the difference between Jake and Shane somewhat early in camp last year you guys had said even though you didn’t make the decision until later. What’s the difference between Wilton and John at this point?
”For me to say that, it’d be like splitting an atom. I mean, it’s like…they’re all doing really good and they all bring something different to the table and they’re all working hard and competing and we keep evaluating the tape and putting more on them and as they digest it we’ll make that decision.”
A couple freshmen Coach Harbaugh mentioned were doing well on the offensive line. Do you have a set starting five?
“No, no. Ben Bredeson’s really been stepping up there good. We’ve been working him at left tackle. He’s doing a really, really nice job. Michael Onwenu’s done a great job. He’s D-line and comes back. I mean, this offensive system that we have here is a lot to learn. He’s done a good job. And Stephen Spanellis, a big strong guy, we moved him in to guard. He’s doing a really good job. We’re really pleased where we are with the young guys than we were last year in terms of the retention. And the older guys in the room have done a great job. I know during the summer by NCAA rules we can’t get together with them but I heard through the grapevine those guys were getting together and watching tape and really sitting down and getting better as an offensive line.”
Did those young guys make it harder for you this year than you were expecting in camp to settle on--
“Yeah, it did, which is nice. It’s a pleasure to have that. You come out and see a guy coming out and competing against a senior defensive lineman and blocking him you’re going, ‘Hey, that’s pretty good.’ I mean, that’s a big, strong guy across from him that he’s blocking, so that’s exciting.”
You’ve said in the past that you don’t really care if a freshman starts, you’ve done it before. Would you be comfortable with Ben starting at left tackle?
“I would. I would. And nothing’s been set this time but we’ll just keep competing there at that spot and see how it all works out. But he has all the skill set, the mental capacity, the physicality, all the characteristics you look for to be a starter. He’s a special young player and he’s got a chance to have a really, really good future.”
Has anybody nailed down a spot? Not five, but is there two? Three?
“It’s day-to-day, but if we played a game Magnuson would be at right tackle, Kyle Kalis at right guard, Mason at the center spot, Ben Braden at left guard, and then it’s Grant Newsome and Ben Bredeson battling it out at the left tackle. But things could change from there. If we played a game tomorrow, that’d be it.”
[After THE JUMP: a little bit about every offensive position group, plus what M looks for in an offensive lineman]