What do you know about your defense now that you didn't know six weeks ago?
"I think we have a pretty good handle on our personnel right now in terms of strengths and weaknesses of guys individually and I think as a unit, too. It's been a really good spring. We've had quite a bit of reps out there in practice, in four hour practices. I think the main thing that I figured out about our defense is that they are willing to work. The guys, they competed every day we've been out there and they've really put the time in."
You said you kind of have a feel for their strengths and weaknesses. Would you say what their strengths are right now?
"Yeah, no, not necessarily more than that. Like I said, I think our group is really willing to work. They’ve been great in terms of learning our scheme throughout the spring. They come to meetings prepared, they come to practice prepared. I think that anytime you've got a hungry group that way I think there's good things ahead."
You came out here about a month ago said you wanted to throw as much at them as you could and then sort of whittle it down from there. Have you started to figure out what you think is going to work?
"Yeah, we have a pretty good idea. Starting on Saturday and then today's practice we started to move that way and narrow it down and sort of hone in on some of the things we’ll be doing more of and they've really responded well to that, too. We probably got to a point there later in the spring where it was becoming overload for them, which was good. We pushed them to that limit and they saw we scaled back how they performed; a credit to them, They've grasped what we've thrown at them."
You said everyone would start with a clean slate. Who are the impact players?
"I think to name just a few guys – there are a lot of guys who really made strides throughout the spring. There are some guys we just pointed out the other day on film from day one of spring until now they've made huge strides. Lawrence Marshall is a guy who– he's a young guy, he's a freshman – the first two practices it didn't barely look like he could lineup. Now he's out there and he's playing really well for us. We expect him to help us. But there's a lot of guys. There's a whole group of guys that are veterans who’ve played a lot of football around here that have made those improvements as well. I just think that they're pushing each other really well and they’re in the mindset every day whether it's meetings or practice to come to get better."
You guys lost both ends. Who's at the head of the defensive ends this spring?
"We’ve got several guys playing there. Wormley's playing some end, I mentioned Lawrence, Royce Jenkins-Stone is playing some end, we've even moved Mo Hurst out there a little bit to play some end, so we've done a combination of a lot of things. I think one of the bonuses to what we do schematically is the concepts carry over in fit so we're moving guys in different spots so when you do get injuries, you get nicked up, that's part of football– we have some guys we can put in there."
[After THE JUMP: linebacker talk and your regularly scheduled batch of Jabrill Peppers questions]
You were involved in drafting one of the two teams for the spring game.
"Yeah, I was."
Was it like your team and Jim's team, or how is that working?
"They’re going to reveal that in the next couple of days of how all that went so that'll be up to coach Harbaugh to release that but I think you'll like it. It was a fun way of doing that."
Do you have a sense now of a penciled-in depth chart? Even going into this game or coming out of it.
"We have a much better sense right now than a month or two ago, but still it's not– there were some guys who missed a lot of spring with injuries and that sort of thing so we'll kind of redo that. It'll give us a good starting ground for when we get to fall camp. We’ll re-go through it in camp. I think one of the best things in the practice is to keep it competitive and have guys know they either got to keep their job in practice or they can go get somebody else's and so we try to keep it competitive that way and we've moved the depth chart a bunch throughout spring."
You're also a linebackers coach. Who has impressed you at that position?
"I like that group. I like our work ethic and what we’re all about. I think Joe Bolden, who has played a lot of football here – he's had a really good spring. I like his toughness, his leadership. I think he's a guy that other guys look too. Des Morgan is the same way, the same type of guy there for us. Those guys have made great strides. James Ross has had a great spring. I think he can play both inside and outside for us. He gives you some versatility. Those guys all being older guys we’re depending on them for leadership. They really stepped up through the spring."
What do you want to see from these guys on Saturday in what’s essentially a simulated game?
"Yeah, the only thing – just come prepared, play with great energy, great attitude, enthusiasm about it. We're in the stadium and again, it's just the spring game, but you know what? It's a chance to go play and show what we can do. That's it. Just want to see them prepare that way."
You said you're at the point where you started to scale back a little bit. How long did that take before you decided to pull back?
"Just a couple of days [ago], really. Just Saturday was the first day we started doing it, just pull back the reigns a little bit. We were constantly hitting [new] things with them each day. Yeah, we just pulled back. I wanted to feel that sense of relief now. As we get into a gameplan it’s like, ‘Alright, we have all these things we do schematically and ways to answer things but we’re going to narrow it down for a gameplan.’ They I think understood and saw it that way and responded well.”
Was that sort of the plan all along, to where you got to a point where you said, ‘Okay, now I can pull it back’? You didn’t have to do it earlier, maybe, than-
“No, it was- yeah, that's what I wanted to do was keep pushing, keep going until we reached that. That's part of coaching is knowing where your guys are at, knowing what they can handle, what they respond to. We're in the spring; it's a good time to figure all that stuff out."
I know you don't go in with preconceived notions but did they grasp it a little faster than you thought?
"Yeah, I think they did a really good job. Like I said, I liked how are guys prepared for meetings. They came ready to learn football at meetings and carried it over well to the next day when we had walk-throughs in practice. There wasn't a large amount of missed assignments and that sort of thing in practice. They did really well there."
As spring winds down is there a list of things that are high on your check list for things to get to in the off-season?
"Really, I mean, obviously there were some guys that were injured that we'd like to have more of a look at through spring and we weren’t able to. That's uncontrollable. I think situationally and in terms of installing the defense we checked all the boxes for what we set up to do you going into spring. We were able to do that."
You said you'd run multiple fronts and there was a lot of talk about some of the defense that you’re going to play. How do you think your guys have adapted, because they were mostly a 4-3 defense a year ago?
“Yeah, our guys, they responded well to it. I think they enjoyed learning some different fronts, different coverages, different things defensively. Any time you’re a guy that loves the game, a student of the game, you want to be kind of challenged that way to learn more. That’s what it’s all about. As coaches we learn more everyday from our guys as we talk about them, and I think they took the same approach and that was a challenge for them that they had to do.”
A number of coaches and players have come through here the last couple of weeks and mentioned Peppers and how much he’s adapted. Are you kind of surprised as a freshman that he’s been able to pick it up- essentially, since he only played three games last year?
“No. He’s a guy who loves football. He’s intelligent. He’s intelligent off the field; he’s very intelligent on the field as well, so I’m not surprised at all. He works really hard at it. He’s got a great attitude. Every day he comes here it shows.”
Would you trust a young player like that to be one of the leaders back there even though he doesn’t have much experience?
“Oh, absolutely. Freshman, true freshman, it doesn’t- that doesn’t matter to me. A guy’s either ready or he’s not. That’s been my experience and my track record. We played a lot of young guys.”
Was he your most consistent performer in practice?
“That’s hard to label mostly be cause the D was a consistent performer for us. He had a really good spring- he’s having a really good spring; we have two more practices left and I think he’s a guy who guys look to as a leader because he’s by example. He’s vocal, but he’s also [a guy who] leads by example. He brings it every day.”
Vocal how? Is he talking up the players and getting on their cases?
“Communication. Communication for our defense is really critical. We have to have guys that are talking and getting other guys lined up with what we do, especially at the safety and inside linebacker positions [that was nice of him to answer what would have been my MGoFollowUp without me even asking- Ed. (Adam)]. We’ve moved him around to several different spots but he’s vocal wherever he’s at.”
Was that one of the reasons that he moved from corner to safety?
“We played him at a lot of spots. He can help us. He’s a talented guy. He can play anywhere on that back end for us.”
Will he continue to do so?
“Yeah. We’re going to play him where we need him based on what our gameplan is, who we’re facing, what the matchups are. We’ll get him, as well as the other guys, where we need them [and] where they can have success.”
Would you loan him to the offense at all?
“Loan him to the offense?”
“Absolutely. Whatever’s best for the team. Whatever’s best for the team we’ll do.”