Payton's opening statement:
“TE John Gilmore (toe) did not practice, S Roman Harper (ankle) was limited, WR Lance Moore (hamstring) did not practice, LB Jon Vilma (knee) did not practice, Jon Casillas (knee) was limited, and WR Robert Meachem (knee) was full. We finished up with our red zone and goal line preparation. We’ll fly out tonight and have a walk-through tomorrow at the stadium in San Francisco.”
What is the reason for flying out a day early to San Francisco?
“It’s kind of always been our West Coast itinerary. (We’ve done that) almost every trip we’ve gone out there, the half a dozen we’ve had. We get to the hotel on Thursday night and then get to the stadium and get used to the footing and the conditions. The weather is supposed to be good. (The schedule) has kind of been what we’ve followed when we’ve gone west.”
Do field conditions sometimes change in different stadiums in the NFL?
“Generally it doesn’t. I think what does happen occasionally in our league is that stadiums have gotten so good at replacing surfaces and maybe it’s because of a bowl game or there’s a game played in heavy rain and they can bring a surface in and replace it on a quick notice, but I think for the most part all the teams look for the ideal footing. I think this track, especially in the afternoon, will be good.”
Can you talk about Patrick Willis?
“When you sit down and look at the measurable you look for at inside linebacker position, he has that size, that strength, he has very good speed, so you start putting a lot of check marks before you even get to intangibles. When you have a player like that, all of a sudden you have a guy who’s going to play in a lot of Pro Bowls and be one of the best at his position. He certainly fits in their scheme and knows it well and is a real special defensive player.”
Do you try to keep the schedule and mentality similar in the playoffs as you do in the regular season?
“You try to keep it the same. You try to get into that routine that put you into that position. I think the players and team and coaches are all creatures of habit, so you set your schedule. What happens a little different in the playoffs is a Saturday game or a Sunday game, but outside of that I think most importantly for the team is getting in your routine and emphasizing the things that put you in that position and not really straying too far from the success you’ve had in getting to 13 wins in this case for both teams and emphasizing the things that really win and lose in our game, really making that emphasis on turnovers. They’ve done a great job with that statistic and third down and red zone. I think those are the areas that you really pay attention to.”
Was this a routine day of rest for Jon Vilma?
“Yes, he’s good. Typically, we’re far enough into the schedule now. We just want to make sure with the flight, get him some work tomorrow in the walk-throughs. He’ll be fine.”
Can you confirm the report about Aaron Kromer getting interviewed for a job?
“I can confirm it and then just leave it right at that.”
Can you talk about Aaron Kromer and the job he’s done?
“He’s been a huge asset to us. I worked with Aaron prior to coming to here. He came initially as a running backs coach and then moved to the offensive line, handles our run game and is a real good talent. Again, he’s a big reason for our success offensively. These types of things come with the success we’re having. We talked about Curtis (Johnson) already and going back to Doug Marrone. Those opportunities I think are good ones.”
Is it kind of a leap for him since he hasn’t been an offensive coordinator?
“In our league, it’s a very small circle. I think people know the talents prior to beginning a job search and what they’re looking for. He’s been a good addition for us.”
Is this a tough time for an assistant coach to be interviewing for a job?
“We’ve had it on our schedule and worked it out. Form an operations standpoint, it will be very smooth.”
Do you have a checklist of guys you’re looking for in case an assistant leaves?
“I don’t keep a depth chart. I think when you come to those types of decisions, they take care of themselves. This has become a place where certainly people value or look at as a good spot to play and to coach and an organization that is attractive.”
When you do your ones versus ones on offense and defense on Fridays, is that something that you’ve done since you’ve been here?
“Yes, we have. We typically try to do something on Wednesday for four or five reps, Thursday and then Friday, which is today’s practice, always seems to be because it’s red zone a little bit more competitive. It’s something that we have done and it’s somewhat realistic to the game. There are things you can card and prepare for, and yet in our game the reaction of players to unscripted plays offensively and defensively is the reality of the game we play.”
Is practicing ones versus ones something you think is part of the weekly routine around the league?
“I would say probably. We did it in New York and we did it in Dallas. It also picks up the tempo of practice.”
How much does having Jimmy Graham help prepare someone on defense for a Vernon Davis type of player?
“I think the overall training camp and practices during the season, I think that you begin to recognize the leverage you have to play with and the looks you have to give. I think that’s probably a plus for both teams going in, San Francisco and us, just defending a tight end that can do things just like a receiver. That’s probably a culmination beginning with all the practice snaps you have.”
Is there a particular reason you’re scoring more points in the last three quarters of a game than in the first one?
“In the openers, we try to get a pretty good mix to see what we’re going to get maybe from a defensive perspective. However, I would say for certain that we’re trying to score with the first drive and we’re trying to score just as much in the first quarter just as we would emphasize finishing a game. Each week and each game, there are certain things that unfold. We’ve had some turnovers in the first drive really this year going back to Green Bay and then a few weeks back in Minnesota. Ball security and then paying attention to the looks that we’re getting are important early on.”
Can you talk about Pierre Thomas?
“He’s a durable player. He’s one of those guys that does a lot of things well. When you’re coaching a player and you know exactly what you’re going to get in the passing game and in the running game and the play-action pass as a receiver, he’s very intelligent as well. He’s certainly adjusted his game to this level and has played at a very high level. In the postseason, he was a big part of our success in ’09, starting with the kickoff return against Minnesota and the way he played in the Super Bowl. He’s a big part of what we do offensively and he does so much.”
Can you talk about Mark Ingram and whether he ever had surgery?
“He did. He had surgery a week and a half ago on his toe. He’s doing fine. We’ll take all of our players from the practice squad on this trip. There will be a couple of guys post-surgery that we won’t travel with, and Mark will be one of those.”
What else is San Francisco doing different defensively?
“They’ve been very consistent. They’re physical and they’re very well-coached. They’re very discipline. I would say it’s a team that when you watch the film, they’re very good tacklers and they’re opportunistic. When they’re getting their hands on passes, they have good ball skills on the back end. They have a slew of takeaways. I think the effort, the tackling, and the fundamentals -- it’s impressive week in and week out when you watch them play. It’s why they’re one of the top five defenses in our league.”
Drew Brees said he came in here with talent, but you made him better by giving him more confidence. Can you talk about doing that as a head coach?
“A lot of time it varies based on the players. I think we all as teachers try to find out how the student learns because they learn differently and then how to reinforce the message and the hard work that’s necessary. Really, it starts with the team and I think that one of the things that Jim (Harbaugh) has done a real good job with is the overall team. It’s not just one area. They’re playing very well in the kicking game. We’ve seen a marked improvement from them offensively just as we have defensively and certainly there is some new personnel there, but that’s something that obviously is gained with success. Your early part of the season I think is important in that first year. Going back to ’06, we were able to win two tough games on the road in Cleveland and Green Bay and you gain confidence with that and you gain momentum. Those are important ingredients.”
Do you coach the moments when one of your players makes a mistake and then forgets about it and comes back with a big game?
“We talk about getting on to the next play and not dwelling on and allowing a specific play to become a problem for more than just that snap. I think there are some things that are understood. You have a turnover and you’re disappointed and you really just have to get on to the next play. We try to talk about that during the week, it’s a game that regardless of the game you’re playing there are always momentum swings, and certainly in the Detroit game there were momentum swings back and forth. In order for that to happen, you have to get refocused real quickly and not let it become something that turns into a bad half or a bad quarter or more problems.”
Marques Colston made a turnover last week and had a big game after that. Is it the fact that you are successful and you guys know that you can come back and make plays, or is it an attitude thing?
“With the experience Marques (Colston) has had and the success he’s had and the season he’s having, I think clearly he’s a veteran enough player to understand there’s going to be other opportunities in that game and he’s going to have chances to make plays and important ones.”
Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams
We know you get psyched up about going up against great offensive players like Peyton Manning. Do you get psyched up about going up against a great defense like San Francisco’s?
“I have a lot of respect for what they’ve been able to do. I’ve been in the league a long time and gone up against a lot of good defenses, but we understand here probably as well as I’ve been anywhere on how to play as a team. Sean (Payton) and Pete (Carmichael Jr.) and I have done a pretty good job of playing off each other and what it takes to win this game. I think that’s one of the best things Sean talks about when he starts setting up our total plan as a team behind the scenes. Greg McMahon will talk about our special teams point of view, Pete will talk about an offensive point of view and I will talk about a defensive point of view and we will make a total team plan. What we have to do is use the guys here that we have a chance to coach and make a team plan. I think the 49ers, Jim (Harbaugh) has done a great job with Vic (Fangio) and Greg (Roman) and everybody out there in organizing their team out there to the best ability to be able to have a winning season and the best chance for them to have the success they’ve had this year. It’s been impressive to see how they’ve been coached as a team with the three areas in synch for what’s best for them. The way we play here is what’s best for us. We’re pretty much an attacking offense, defense and special teams. From that standpoint, our guys have somewhat taken a look at that, but there hasn’t been a lot of overlap film in what we’ve seen them play on film this year.”
How does having the opportunity to go against Jimmy Graham in practice, help you in preparing for another explosive tight end in Vernon Davis?
“It does help and I mentioned that last week as we got ready for (Tony) Scheffler. This conference has a lot of good tight ends. Arguably if not the best, one of the best is here. Being able to go against him in training camps and practices and scout teams, it does help us a lot. It does.”
Can you talk about Carlos Rogers, since you were a guy who supposedly pushed to draft him in Washington?
“He is a real special player and I’ve had a chance to have in all these years several of these defensive backs. You have one here now with Malcolm (Jenkins) and I’ve had a couple in other places I’ve been. Carlos was a real good find and a real good draft choice for us. I’m really pleased with how he’s been able to grow as a player. I’ve teased him for so many years about how hard it is for him to catch the ball. He hasn’t been a very natural catcher. He’s had a great year catching the football. It will be great for me to have a chance to see him after the game or something like that, but he’s just like some of these young guys here that I have been hard on before, I (was) very, very hard on him with the Washington Redskins and he still remembers that. He’s a real special player.”
Are the practice sessions where you go against the ones on offense pretty common?
“No, it isn’t, not during the week and really this place here and then when I was a head coach, we did that quite a bit. That’s a special time during the week. Not only do we just do it on Friday’s. We do it each day where we do good on good and we don’t put any restraints on what the offense wants to do, whatever we want to do. It gives us some high-paced looks. It also gives us a chance to test the breaking points of adjustments for them and us. We’ve done some things this week that has challenged them in a few of their calls and they’ve been able to go out and get it corrected before we get on game day and we do the same thing.”
What’s been the difference with Alex Smith this year?
“He’s done a great job. I think Jim (Harbaugh) has done a great job. Wherever he’s going to coach, at whatever level, because he’s played at all three, four, five levels of ball, I see a lot of Alex in Jim in how Jim played the game at those times. When you get a particular player who has risen up the ranks at this level, there’s a little magic in getting him to listen to you. All a player at this level wants to know at this level is if you actually understand what he’s going through, understand that you can help him get better, so I’m sure that when Alex looks at Jim, he knows that Jim exactly knows the pitfalls and strengths and weaknesses of how to play the position. He’s listened very well. Jim’s gotten his point across very well and has arguably done one of the best jobs in the whole national football league in what he’s done with that team. That position right there in how he’s solidified that position has gotten him in the position where they’re in the playoffs with the second seed in this playoff race.”
Do you handle your preparation of him differently than the previous time you faced him last year or when you were in other places?
“You look at each player individually. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. There’s an adjustment that we’ve done on how we've viewed him. We’ve had to make those adjustments. But, we’ve played against so many top-flight quarterbacks that have produced at such a high level, we’ve played a lot since I’ve been here. We’ve played a lot this year. We’ll pull out some things that have been effective versus some of those other guys that he’ll see too. But, we’ll have to gear some other things towards other aspects of our team, but he’s done a good job and he’s grown a lot as a player. He’s accepted the coaching very well of what this new staff has come in and brought to him.”
How do you compartmentalize the coaching carousel?
“I’ve always been pretty good. The people who have been around me the most tease me about the OCD stuff on being focused and attentive. I’m a grinding worker. I have a real good situation here. This is so much fun to be playing in the playoffs. This is why we do what we do.”
With your family in town in the Sugar Bowl. Did you take stock?
“It was fun to see all of them in the same place at the same time. It’s hard for us to get together for Christmas. It’s hard for us to get together for different times of the year. Because my youngest was down here for the Sugar Bowl, everybody got together for Christmas and for a long time after that. In fact the youngest from Virginia headed out today. The daughter headed back. It was a good family situation for us. Unusual for us as I’ve bounced around the country coaching. This is a Saints family too. I’ve enjoyed being around the people here around the Saints organization and I enjoy playing when other teams aren’t playing.”
Do you plan to explore free agency?
“I love here. This is a great organization. I will tell you this about Jeff (Fisher) – He’s my best friend in coaching. We’re very close. The National Football League needs him coaching. They need him to be a head coach in this league. There are not very many people as good as he is what what he does. I’m anxious to see where he goes. I don’t know. I don’t know any more than you guys. I don’t talk with him. I don’t mess with him at this time of the year. He doesn’t mess with me at this time of the year. We’ll be back up at some time this offseason, maybe be able to do some hunting or fishing, but the National Football League needs Jeff Fisher back on the sidelines. It really does.”
Did anyone reach out to you for a head coaching job?
“What we’re doing here, my head’s down and all we do is keep on coaching.”
Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr.
Can you talk about San Francisco’s defense?
“I think it’s outstanding. When you talk about them, their safeties are physical. In their secondary, they all have good ball skills. All of their linebackers are physical and fast and you need to account for all the guys up front. This is a great defense we are getting ready to play.”
Can you talk about what you think of Patrick Willis?
“The big thing is studying the film and seeing what he’s doing on each snap. All the time, you can’t discount him on any play.”
Can you talk about the job Jim Harbaugh has done in his first year coaching?
“Yes, he’s obviously done a great job with them. I don’t know him personally. You see what you see on film. He has his guys playing at a high level.”
by Ed Staton