Spring Ball Week 1 Presser

When Jim Harbaugh sits down with the media, his responses can be fairly predictable, outside of the occasional outburst of Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind. Maybe a new decade has prompted a new leaf, as he has been fairly chipper with the gaggle in 2010, even asking for our thoughts (Mine: Robbie Picazo looks good. His answer: "When the ball comes out, it's not always pretty, but it gets there.")

As the first week of spring ball winds down, read on for his thoughts on the switch to the 3-4, the running-back situation, and who needs to show continued improvement.

Q: How would you say Chase Thomas's transition to stand-up linebacker is going at this point?

A: Wow, I'll tell you what, he's a guy who has really caught my eye here in the first three practices. He's rushing the passer well, which he's always shown he can do here. He can play a tight end thick on the run game, and also a tackle from the stand-up position. He can cover tight ends down the field and in the seams and drop back into coverage. He's already had an interception. Those are the things he has to do at that position: rush the passer, take on the tight ends and the tackles in the running game, and drop into coverage. He's shown he can play tight ends man-to-man going vertically. It's been eye-catching.

Q: How's the 3-4 been going as a whole?

A: It's been a really good start. Our players are really excited by it, they're excited about the coaching and teaching they're getting. Especially with Vic [Fangio]. Derek [Mason] is doing a great job—he's bouncing all over the field, coaching every play, every technique. Brian Polian is doing the same thing, every guy is getting coached in the secondary. You can hear the coaching going on in practice. You don't have to worry that it's been done later off the field—you can hear it getting done here. I see the same thing with Randy Hart. Every down he's coaching multiple guys. Players are very enthusiastic about it. They're believing. We haven't won a game yet, but that's where we are after three days.

Q: How are your running backs looking at this point?

A: Good.

Q: How is Tyler Gaffney looking, even as he splits time with baseball?

A: He's looking good. So are Stepfan Taylor and Jeremy Stewart. Those guys we know about. Another guy, Michael Spanos, is doing a heck of a job right now and showing that he can make the shallow cut and really has some instincts when he's running the ball, so that's encouraging. This is the first time that Usua Amanam has been running the ball. He got in on some perimeter drills and some 7 on 7s, and you see some burst from him as well. Andrew Stutz is a durable guy who has done a nice job, equally. What's that, six guys? As a group, they're doing a good job.

Q: Is the thinking with a 3-4 defense that it's easier to get quality linebackers than it is to get stand-out defensive linemen?

A: No. You have to have the defensive linemen too. It's just that sometimes you have a guy like Chase Thomas who would be a lineman in the 4-3 like he was last year, and now he's a linebacker. You look at it as two linebackers and two hybrid guys on the outside. So to answer your question, no, I wouldn't think of it like that.

Q: Can you talk about Ryan Hewitt, and how he's been playing as a fullback and H-Back?

A: He's been very impressive. Saw him tangle today with Owen Marecic on isolation blocks and was holding his own. That's a freshman going against one of the best guys in the country, whether he's taking on an isolation block or blocking on an isolation block. So that was encouraging. He seems to have a really good grasp, too. With all of the young guys, it's not close to where you want it, but they're really up to speed with the system. I've been very pleased with that.

Q: How about the right tackle position? How has the competition been there?

A: It's been good, between Derek Hall and Kevin Danser. James McGillicuddy has been more of a guard and Tyler Mabry has been working more at left tackle, but all of those guys will be in the mix. We'll play the five best offensive linemen that we have, and there will be some moving of the blocks to find who the best person for the right tackle slot is.

Q: Has anyone else caught your eye this week?

A: Levine Toilolo, but it's a lot of guys. Mentioning a couple of guys would be doing a disservice to the other guys. But yes, there's quite a few of them. Derek Mason said the other day that you don't know the backups from the starters right now. It's wide-open, and that's the open mind that we have right now. As coaches, it's our job to see guys who are performing day-to-day and see who can contribute and in what role so that they can help this football team. Guys are competing, and that's good. They can give more. They're working hard, but it could be more.

Q: You mention earlier that there was a tug of war going on for Levine. Will he be on offense for the foreseeable future? Will he get some work on defense later in the spring?

A: We'll see. You look at him, and he does things offensively and you know he'd be a real good defensive end. But he might also be the guy who replaces Jim Dray. He's right there right now. Gosh, he's really good.

Q: You mentioned last week that you had yet to see Andrew Luck throw a ball since his surgery. Now that you've had three practices, do you see any lingering effects, or is he up to speed?

A: Luck is good. No questions there, they're all answered.

Q: How have Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo progressed?

A: They're still growing. They still have some work to do. They're getting a lot of reps, and that will continue throughout the spring, but they still have some things to get better at it. They're not there yet.

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