How’s your position group look?
“Doing good. Everyone looks good. Competing, getting better. A lot of the guys just had such strong springs and summers it’s elevated the guys at the top of the depth chart, the guys at the bottom of the depth chart, the younger guys are starting to come along, so everyone’s making everyone better just through competition, like it is at all positions.”
Ty Isaac’s slimmed down and is looking better. Talk about him a little bit.
“Yeah, he’s just doing everything right. Running the ball well, been great in protection, reliable hands, taking care of the ball. He’s a little bit trimmer so he’s moving a little bit more swiftly so really excited about him.”
We’ve heard a lot about, and Chris Evans specifically mentioned, the big back-small back aspect. He said Tyrone [Wheatley] kind of looked at it through the lens of a big back whereas you are more geared toward a small running back. Can you detail that a little bit and explain it?
“I don’t know if I can explain the difference or anything because I don’t know that I would agree that I see things like a small back or anything. I just try to look at each guy and what they bring to the table, what their skill set is, and you have to understand that they’re all different.
“Whether or not that’s different than before I really couldn’t tell you, but we do have a good group of guys that they all bring a little something different to the table so just when you’re calling plays and substituting, that’s something that you keep in mind.”
Chris said last week that a year ago he would run the ball or release and now he has to actually block people also. How have you seen that aspect of his game developing?
“He’s gotten so much more comfortable just trusting his eyes and reading defenses and knowing his responsibility and on top of that knowing what the offensive line is doing, what the quarterback’s thinking just in terms of where the protection is going and where the weaknesses are. So he’s shown a ton of growth in that regard and just very, very trustworthy to have him there in all kinds of different protections.”
[After THE JUMP: A little on where each back has improved. Also Ben Mason, because always ask a Harbaugh about fullbacks]
What’s the most difficult part of trying to figure out how to divvy up the snaps with these guys? You’ve got four, five, six capable backs back there. How do you divvy that up?
Kind of thing that works itself out?
“In terms of the rotation question that I’m sure that you’re getting at, we have a lot of capable guys and they all bring something different to the table, like I said, and not every run or every pass concept is best for all of them, so there’s going to be a little bit of specialization. In terms of how it actually works out, you’ll find out when everyone else does.”
For you, you’re seven months into the job coaching running backs. Has it been on the job training for you or do you think you’ve adapted pretty quickly to this?
“I hope I’ve adapted quickly. The group’s responded well to what we’ve asked them to do and I’ve had a lot of fun working with them. They’re such good kids, they work so hard that it makes your job as a coach really easy because they want to be great. They’re always looking for more and looking for ways to do better, so as a coach it makes your job much easier.”
Has your confidence grown as you’ve taken on this role?
Always been high? Always been low?
“I’ve always felt confident in what I’ve done before and I still do now. Had a lot of fun, though.”
What are your early impressions of O’Maury Samuels and Kurt Taylor?
“They’re doing great. They’re doing really well. It’s funny: you move into college football and everyone’s bigger, everyone’s faster. The game’s a little bit different and then they came from two different sides of the country, two different styles of football but you’ve seen both of them in recent practices come into their own and start running with more purpose, more decisive, little bit more aggressive, and they’ve done some great things.”
Given the experience you have at fullback I was little surprised to hear your dad talking up Ben Mason quite so much. How has he been doing and do you think he can contribute?
“Certainly, yeah. He certainly will contribute. It’s like he was born to play the position. He loves smashing people and he has great hands. He runs really well, which people probably wouldn’t realize he’s an excellent athlete. He’s just got the demeanor for it. Mentally, he’s taken on the responsibilities really well and he’ll certainly contribute for us.”
John O’Korn was saying that Karan [Higdon] had a burst like nobody’s ever seen. Where are the biggest improvements with Karan that you’ve noticed in camp since last year?
“Shoot, man, just everything. The biggest thing would probably be protection. He’s been really, really reliable. We have some very aggressive, physically capable linebackers and he’s done a great job picking up blitzes and putting his face in there, because he’s not the biggest guy but he’s very willing. He has natural leverage and can play with some violence. That’s probably the biggest thing. He’s always been able to carry the ball, but now he’s doing it with a little bit more strength and power, too. He’s doing great.”
What have you seen from Kareem [Walker]?
“Again, just improvement in every regard. He’s strung together many, many practices in a row. He’s healthy. He has a better grasp of the playbook. He’s running like the physical presence there that we need him to be because he is a bigger back and he can come downhill with some force. All in all, he’s really had a tremendous fall.”
Who’s made the biggest jump since spring?
“That’s a good question. Uh…I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that. They’ve all improved at the things we’ve asked them to improve on, so I’d have a hard time saying any one person.”
With Kareem, what were some of the things he needed to do to get over the freshman hump or whatever it is to be able to contribute and help you guys out this year?
“Stay on the field, just in terms of not getting nicked up and being able to practice and avoid injury. That’s a big thing, because then you start building that trust and confidence, so that’s huge. He has a tremendous grasp of the playbook now because he’s been on the field more, so that affects the mental aspect quite a bit. Yeah, I would say those things.”
He was a physical guy in high school. Is he a guy you see as someone who can drop the shoulder and do some different things? What kind of back can he be?
“He can be a decisive downhill back that can come downhill with some force. He’s a little bit different than the other guys. He doesn’t have quite as much elusiveness but when he sees a hole he can put his foot in the ground and really hit it with some violence, so that in itself is almost a form of elusiveness because he is a very decisive runner.”
What has it been like with Greg Frey right now with the running game, delegating responsibility. What has that relationship been like?
“It’s been awesome. Greg’s a great dude and he’s fun to be around and he has so much experience with a lot of the perimeter runs and zone runs that came from Indiana and other places he’s been. He gives us great balance in terms of scheme and philosophy, and his work with the tackles and tight ends has helped us quite a bit.”
You were a tight ends coach previous to this. Do you feel like you guys are a good combo? He has strengths, you have strengths; what’s the balance like?
“I don’t know if it’s any different than a normal staff would be. I enjoy being around him, I enjoy watching him coach and learning things from him. We work really well together if that’s what you’re asking.”
I mean just in terms of the personnel. With the run game and you having tight end experience, are you guys both talking about tight ends at the same time or are you strictly just running backs, run game?
“No. He coaches the tight ends and I stay with the backs. It’s kind of like a band: if you’re the bass player you don’t just go hop on the drums just because you feel like it because you used to play drums. It’s kind of—you’ve got to stick to your instruments and I think you can create some pretty good music that way.”
For you, what’s been the best part of coaching the running backs so far and the most challenging part?
“The best part’s the group. They all come in every day, especially this time of year where it’s a physical grind and it’s very mentally demanding. They come in; they’re excited to be there; they’re unselfish in a selfish position, if that makes sense, where everyone wants carries, everyone wants to be the guy, everyone wants to be the big man on campus. But they all root for each other’s success. They help each other. They learn from each other, so that’s been the coolest thing and the thing that’s been the most fun.
“In terms of the most challenging, sometimes it’s—there’s a bunch of guys who can all run a certain play really well and it’s who do you put in? Really fortunate to have a great group. That’s a good problem to have.”
Pass-pro as a whole: pretty pleased with what you’ve seen this fall?
“Yeah, very pleased. Besides taking care of the football, that’s the most important thing. Those are no. 1 and no. 2 in terms of our priorities and what we talk about in the spring, summer, and the fall and overall that’s something that we’ve been really pleased with and that’s something that’s got to carry over to the fall.”
Who has stood out in pass-pro?
“They’ve all been pretty reliable. I would say Ty because he’s the most improved just in terms of being able to use his size to his advantage. He’s a very big back, so being able to shoot his hands and be a physical presence on backers on interior rushes, that’s been a big thing.
“But Chris, Chris is the same way. He’s so improved. The great thing is we’re in a position where we have four or five backs we feel totally comfortable being in on third down. And that’s a situation where most teams it’s just one guy, maybe two, they trust enough, so I think that gives us a huge advantage.”
How much are you doing with special teams now? Are you still working with special teams?
“Mmhmm. Chris and I work together with all the special teams.”
What are you seeing from your return guys? Can you tell us who’s working back there?
“Uh…it would be a list of like 15 guys.”
That’s okay, we’ve got time.
“They’re all good. They’re working to—they don’t have a ton of experience catching the ball, so getting the level of trust that you need to have a guy back there is the most important thing.
“And the guys back there, almost all the running backs have been back there returning kicks and some of them returning punts; the receivers: Eddie, Kekoa, Tarik, Donovan; then some of the young DBs: David Long and Ambry; guys like Khaleke even have been helping us back there. It’s a good group and you’re just trying to find a guy you feel comfortable in front of 100,000 people being back there catching the ball and taking care of it.”
Is this the narrowing it down week because you’ve only got a week left until game week?
“Mmhmm, certainly. You’re trying to figure out any of those type battles, trying to figure out who are you going to trust to put in the game in these situations. It is game week and there’s that sense of urgency but also you have to make the right decision and some of these battles, you can let them play out for a few more days before you pull the trigger. And if it’s really tight that’s a good thing because it means you’ve got more than one guy that’s pretty capable.”
You being a younger coach, were there any mentors of other coaches that you reached out to while making the transition from tight ends coach to running backs coach?
“Oh, a bunch. Thomas Hammock with the Ravens who coached at Wisconsin; he coached running backs over there. He’s very close, close friend and really helpful resource. Shane Day with the Dolphins, he coaches tight ends but he’s coached running backs before and a bunch of other high school, college, pro coaches. It’s a long list. I tend to just talk to anybody I can about anything; you never know when you’re going to find something helpful, but those could guys really stand out.”