So Jay, how’s your new house? I saw you bought a house on Twitter.
“Uh, I have no heat. Gas got shut off even though I tried to not have it shut off, so I haven’t slept there yet. No heat. It’s about 35 degrees in there. Not great.”
MGoQuestion: Are you guys still going to use the shield punt formation this year?
“We’re going to have a bunch of different things. Shield will be one of the things that we do. I think we’re going to be kind of hybrid—a little bit of everything.”
MGoFollowUp: What led to that decision?
“To basically change it up?”
MGoWe’reOnTheSamePage: To switch it up, yeah.
“I think when you look at what teams are doing nationally I think out of 120 teams probably 75 or so, maybe 65-75 that are some variation of hybrid, meaning they’re not really pro-style, they’re not really shield, they kind of go back and forth; it’s a little harder to identify. Those are the teams that generally have the most success, so probably go that route.”
We saw a lot of Wheatley working with Butt and that first group when we were in Florida. How has that evolved? Is he still among those fighting for that other spot?
“Yeah. I mean, we traveled six guys to all the games so there’s really no other spot to be won. There’s certain jobs to be won, maybe, in terms of, ‘Hey, you’re going to do this role on this play’ but I wouldn’t think of it like that in terms of ‘Hey, this guy’s fighting for that third tight end spot.’
“We want to put guys in positions to do things that they’re good at anyway, but he is doing well and he’s one of that group of guys that kind of rotates with the ones. There’s really four or five of them, though.”
With a guy like Jake, as good as he is and experienced, how much of a comfort is he for whoever emerges at quarterback to know that Jake’s probably going to be open and he’s probably going to catch the ball?
“I would imagine it’s pretty nice. I don’t know for sure but I’d imagine that’s a pretty great thing to have him and Amara and then eventually Jehu out there. That’s got to make you feel really good throwing the ball.”
Can Kenny [Allen] punt and kick field goals if needed?
“Certainly. Yeah, Kenny’s very good and he has a very good sense of how much he can handle physically and he’s not going to wear himself out, so he can certainly do it all.”
Doesn’t seem like an ideal situation though, is it?
“Mm, no. Ideally yeah, you’d have a different person for everything but the really ideal thing is to have the best guy at each spot. If he happens to be the best guy at each spot then we’re good with that, but there’s still a long ways to go. And those guys, that’s one position where you can really develop quite a bit in the offseason more so than some other spots where it’s more just strength and conditioning. Specialists can actually improve their craft more than some other spots, I think.”
Have you had a chance to do many returns yet, and are there any different guys mixing in than what we saw last fall?
“I wouldn’t say different expect for new guys like Kareem [Walker]. But Jehu and Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill, Dymonte [Thomas], Kareem. I mean, I think that group as a whole is really, really good. I’d be surprised if there’s a better group as a whole in the country. All those guys are pretty dangerous.”
You mentioned four or five other tight ends. Who’s in that group, and is it a little deeper than it was last year, would you say?
“Umm, it probably is. I mean, at one point or another this spring we’ve had Jake [Butt], Ian [Bunting], TJ [Wheatley], and Sean McKeon and Gentry with the ones obviously doing different things. I’d like to put everyone in a position to succeed. TJ can do things different than Gentry; just naturally they’re very different body types and they have different strengths and weaknesses at this point. But yeah, at one point or another each of those guys has been with the ones.”
[After THE JUMP: Jake Butt, best tight end in America; recruiting a dominant trait; why Gentry moved to TE; Ol’ Skillet Hands hype]
That says a lot about Gentry to be able to adjust that quickly and being able to pick up all those skills.
“Yeah, and it’s really kind of what I was getting at is a guy like him is going to be quicker to adjust to certain things: he’s fast, he’s long, he’s going to naturally be a good route runner [and] as a blocker it’s going to take more time whereas a guy like Wheatley maybe is the opposite. Certain guys tend to transition faster at the things that they’re already good at but trying to become well rounded is always the goal.”
How quickly is Gentry transitioning to this position?
“Uh, like when will he be able to play? Is that what you want to know?”
Yeah. Is he picking it up as fast as you thought?
“Yeah, he’s a smart guy.”
Is he a year away or—?
“I think all those guys are going to play this year. Yeah. I think in certain roles all of them will play this year. He’s taken to it well. He’s a smart guy. His background as a quarterback helps because he sees the game from a big picture and he’s really studying hard and so he’s taken to it really well. I would say exactly how I expected because that’s just his nature.”
How much weight has he gained? Is he where you want him?
“Uh, I don’t know where he’s at right now. He’s not up to where I want him yet though. He’s going to get way, way stronger. I think just the nature of the quarterback position is like you don’t lift that hard and there’s certain things that you don’t want necessarily want to do with your throwing motion so he’s not nearly where he’s going to end up strength-wise. And he gets that and he works his butt off.”
The blocking part of it, I would assume, is the one thing that he’s got further along to improve on?
Why was Zach moved to tight end?
“Because he’s got what we call a dominant trait. He’s super fast and super tall and he has very good hands, so he has something naturally that gives him a chance to beat anybody as a route runner. And that’s something like just recruiting-wise you want to bring people in that have a dominant trait, whether it’s just being a vicious blocker or being a really savvy route runner who has great body control. So something that you’re really, really good at and then you get good enough at the other stuff that you’re well rounded and necessarily a one-dimensional guy. He had that and I was really hoping that he would move over. I was really excited to work with him. It’s been fun.”
Do you feel a little bit like you have an embarrassment of riches in terms of your position group? I mean, seems like you have some depth and guys who are capable of fitting in here and there and doing what you want.
“Uh, I’m not embarrassed. I’m really happy about it. Like I said, it’s a deep group and they’re all really good guys that work hard, and they all bring something different to the table so it’s just putting it all together and everyone getting so good at their strengths that they just always win and then improving on their weaknesses, so to speak, now is the goal. Yeah, I’m definitely not embarrassed by it. I love it.”
Was there ever a conversation about moving Tyrone [Wheatley Jr.] to the offensive line?
You wouldn’t let that happen?
“No, I’m not letting anybody come near him unless Tyrone asks for that.”
The difference having young guys—I guess Zach and TJ are really young and adapting to the position…is it a position where there’s a lot to learn, where there’s a steeper learning curve than others?
“I don’t want to compare it to other positions but there’s a lot of stuff, certainly, just because you’re involved in the pass game and the run game. Just the amount of calls that have to be made at the line of scrimmage, the communication with the other players, those kind of things are what young guys struggle with the most because it involves confidence and it’s tough to get to the line of scrimmage and really be confident when you’ve never done something before. So I think that comes with time, but that’s probably the biggest thing is getting comfortable with all the different things. I don’t know how it compares to all the other spots, but certainly it is a very tough position on a young player but our guys work really hard so they’re up to the task.”
When Jake Butt talked to you about going to the NFL or staying, what kind of advice did you give him?
“Uh, I don’t really remember. I remember telling him that there were certain things that him and I have always been on the same page on that he had to improve on, and we from the get-go had, I think, a really good plan to address those, so that was something that—really it wasn’t any new information whenever we talked about that. It was just kinda me listening to him, really, and then he kind of knew already about how I felt about where he was at as a player and where he could go, and I just told him if he comes back the plan will continue as it was already laid out to make him the best tight end in America. I think he is now; I think he can really separate and solidify that this year just making a few tweaks and improving some other things.”
That’s what I was going to ask you was what separates him from being the best in the country. I mean, you think he is but there are some little things he has to tweak, you said.
“Yeah, I mean, just consistency because he’s very capable as a blocker. He’s been a violent guy, he’s had good hands as a blocker, he’s played low enough. It’s not 100%. So it’s just taking it and making it an all-the-time thing. That’s probably the biggest thing. And as a receiver, he’s just so natural and just has a knack for doing everything right, but different things in the run game and blocking in general. And he knows that, so it’s not like he was bad. It’s not like he’s a great receiver that can’t block. It’s just that the standard here is so high at that position. We want him to be the very best. We want him to win 100% of our blocks, so that’s probably the main thing.”
Joe Kerridge mentioned he came to you for advice about getting himself ready for NFL pro day and all that. Do you talk to many guys about that, and what role do you think you play in helping those guys get ready?
“Uh…I don’t know. I’m surprised Joe said that. I talked to him, I remember that. We were in the commons. He was eating much healthier than I, as I remember. But I don’t know, I wouldn’t say I have a role. I just like listening to people, and he was talking about what he was doing. I just gave him some tips in terms of my experience with the workout thing, pro day thing, draft evals, what they’re going to look for. When you’re trying to make a roster there are some things that can help you and hurt you in terms of special teams and all that, so I just threw a few things at him. Apparently it was helpful, I guess. That’s good to hear.”
You mentioned earlier four or five of those guys being able to work with the ones at tight end. In the past at Stanford the offense had four or five tight ends on the field at the same time. Is that same kind of thing maybe in the plan for this year?
“Yeah. I mean, last year we had—I think, I’m not positive, so…you’re obviously going to quote me because that’s your job, but I think we were the only team to have four tight ends on the field in a non-goal line or short yardage situation. I didn’t see any others. I looked. We did that like, I think maybe nine or ten times. It’s something we’ve done here and we’re going to continue doing as a changeup, and if you have the guys for it it can be a real weapon for you because it’s something that defenses aren’t really used to.”
How was James [Harbaugh Jr.’s] performance? Did you go? And how was Jim’s cameo?
“I wasn’t at the ones that he was in. I went to the one on Sunday. He was excellent. The whole show was great. Really, really impressive. Very well done. They do a heck of a job. It was really, really cool. A lot of talented actors.”
Has there been anyone who’s particularly impressed you over the last couple of weeks in practice?
“From any position?”
I guess from either the tight end or special teams spots.
“Ian Bunting overall. Jake and Ian both are really doing everything right and doing a tremendous job. Special teams-wise, really the whole group’s doing a really good job. There isn’t anyone I look at and it’s like, ‘Hey, this person’s not going to help us.’ Everyone’s locked in and taking their role seriously and adapting on the fly if we want to change their role. Overall, just speaking on my guys I would say Jake and Ian are continuing to do outstanding work.”