Gruden back in the Bay

"I sure enjoyed living there. It is a beautiful place. The 49ers is where it all started for me. I always look forward to playing San Francisco. I hold that organization in high regard. They employed my dad for 15 or 20 years. I think a lot of the coaches and Terry Donahue there, as well as what that organization has helped me do in this business." --- Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden

Q: Do you see much change this season in the 49ers' defense?

Gruden: I think their defense is playing great. They are blitzing a lot. If I had a dollar for every blitz I've seen them run, I wouldn't be here today. I would be at the beach or something. They are really applying frequent pressure and different kinds of pressure; Man-to-man pressures, zone pressures, in the base, in the nickel and all over the field. They have some athletic people. I'm really impressed with Peterson and number 55, Winborn, he has really come into to his own as a great football player. I'm really impressed with him. Certainly, Rumph is no longer a rookie. Plummer is back from an injury. They are a much better defensive club.

Q: Is that the biggest difference you see in them when looking at your last meeting with the Niners?

Gruden: Yeah. They are minus some people now in their front four. They don't have Stubblefield or Okeafor in there. They've got some new men playing. They seem to be relying on the blitz a little bit more. Certainly, some of their young players have developed. Jim Mora and his staff have done a nice job there.

Q: Does that mean you have to prepare a little bit more to play them?

Gruden: Absolutely. You have to prepare for what you see and anticipate more of what you see. We're going to prepare for a lot of pressure. That is what they put on film and that is what you have to prepare for. At the same time, when they play their straight defenses, they are getting there. They lead the league in sacks. They have some guys that really need to be accounted for, starting with Andre Carter and certainly the blitzing capabilities and the coverage potential of Julian Peterson. He's an impact player.

Q: What have you changed with your offense due to your injuries?

Gruden: We've done a little bit of everything. We'll look and see where we are here in the next 48 hours and which contingency plan will give us the best chance to win. Bill Muir and myself will do the best we can to try and put together a plan that will give our players an opportunity to play. But, we'll determine the health of Ken Dilger, Karl Williams and some of the men that are injured. Then, we'll move on from there.

Q: How are you using Warren Sapp on offense?

Gruden: He played in goal-line and short-yardage situations last year. Mostly on the goal-line. Because of Ricky Dudley's injury and Ken Dilger has had an assortment of problems for the first four or five weeks, and that we do like to have a tight end in the lineup, Will Heller, a rookie undrafted free agent out of Georgia Tech, and Todd Yoder, who has been a guy that has been a real core special teams man for us, we have asked Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland to both shed some of the burden that we have right now because of our injury situation. They've done quite well for us in goal-line and short-yardage situations. Warren, I think could play on the regular field, although he is a valuable inside player on defense.

Q: Have you given much thought to using him on non-goal-line situations?

Gruden: Yeah. Again, the problem is that he is such a valuable member of our front four. A guy that really provides a lot of energy and playmaking there. You don't want to spread him too thin. In an emergency capacity, certainly Warren Sapp has some plays on his plate and we would ask him to execute those as if he was a full-time tight-end.

Q: What has caused quarterback Brad Johnson to raise his level of play?

Gruden: I think number one, he is a great quarterback. I hate to throw that word around, but what this guy has done in the last 15-20 games I think is really impressive. I think the people around have honestly caught up to him, in terms of where they are in the system. We have become much more balanced. We aren't the greatest rushing team in football, but we have shown the ability and commitment to run the ball. I think Keyshawn (Johnson), Ken Dilger, Mike Pittman, Keenan McCardell and a lot of these players are brand new. They were all new here to the system and I think they have become more comfortable within it. It has allowed us to do more things.

Q: What is Johnson doing better this season?

Gruden: I think the supporting cast is playing better. Obviously, the pass protection is much better. He's been sacked one time in 160 throws or so. A lot of that is him. A lot of that is improved protection around him. I think our route distribution is better and I think we are able to do more things because of familiarity. That is obviously taking a back seat here because of the amount of injuries. Again, we are challenging these guys to step up and rally around a great quarterback.

Q: Do you see a big mismatch between your ferocious pass rush and the Niners' battered offensive line?

Gruden: I don't know, we have injuries too and we are playing without some key members. Our guys are very confident in their ability to rush the passer, yet very respectful of a guy like Garcia who has unique scrambling ability. Also, they have a potent running game. They have two big backs that can slam the ball inside. It really keeps defenses in some uncomfortable mixed-down situations, 2nd-and-5 and 2nd-and-4s. It's hard to pin your ears back and rush. I'm impressed with Hearst and Barlow obviously. They have a back, Beasley, who can come out of the backfield and do a lot of things. It is a hard team to pin your ears back and rush because of those situations.

Q: Are Stone and Newberry the strength of running game inside?

Yeah, they are outstanding. Newberry is outstanding. He is a mean, tough, ornery guy. He can be a factor on a second level. He is stout and strong. It's hard to push the middle of the pocket. Stone, the big 65 on the right side, is playing very well for them. They are playing good. Those two guys in particular.

Q: Do you play as much cover-2 as you have in the past?

Gruden: I don't know the exact percentage of how much cover-2 we play. I think there is a perception out there that the Buccaneers play cover-2 every single snap, which is not true because we do a lot more than that. In certain situations, we feel like we can hold up with a six- or seven-man front based on the formation. We also are going to blitz and do some other things.

Q: After your Monday night loss to the Colts, you guys bounced back. How did you recover?

Gruden: It was a demoralizing loss. We went 8 2/3 innings and we had a commanding lead. We played very well coming off the bye. Our closer just came out of the bullpen and got schlackked. He got shelfed. He gave up about 12 runs in the bottom of the ninth. We just moved on. The season is in four-game increments. We're 2-2 in the first quarter. It felt like we played well enough to win our first four games. But, we had to show some resolve and rally around a lot of new players. We totally re-shuffled our secondary for the Redskins game. Jameel Cook got his first start at fullback. Obviously, new tight ends and receivers had to play. We just concentrated on our immediate future and we've been able to do that so far here.

Q: Does Terrell Owens look like the same player that you saw last year on film?

Gruden: He looks scary to me. I don't know two or three human beings alive that have a better physique and better playing strength than Terrell Owens for the position they play. He can mismatch most corners out on the edge physically because he is so big and strong. Obviously, they haven't found their true rhythm yet offensively. Maybe because of injuries. I don't know how much the system has changed with the new coach. You never know that. But, he is still very scary and we have to account for him at all times. We think Tai Streets is playing well too.

Q: Have you given much thought about coming back to the Bay Area?

Gruden: I look forward to it. I sure enjoyed living there. It is a beautiful place. The 49ers is where it all started for me. I always look forward to playing San Francisco. I hold that organization in high regard. They employed my dad for 15 or 20 years. I think a lot of the coaches and Terry Donahue there, as well as what that organization has helped me do in this business.

Q: Do the 49ers look like a 2-4 team on film?

Gruden: Not to me. They were really impressive in the first game against Chicago. I think they showed the heart of a champion last week against Seattle coming back like they did. What happened in Minnesota, I don't know. But, I think this team, given the fact that they have a great quarterback and an up-and-coming fast defense, I think they have all the makings of being a factor before it is all said and done.

Q: What have your impressions of Simeon Rice been this season?

Gruden: He's a great player. You need your great players to play great. That is the key in the NFL. You have a salary cap. You have seven, eight or 12 guys on your team that get paid a lot of money. You need those guys to play great. Simeon Rice is great. He steps up in key situations against the run and the pass. He delivers clutch impact plays when we need them.

Q: Who made more of an impact on the team last year, you or Rice?

Gruden: Rice. I can't take any comparison. I mean, Simeon Rice was a force in every game. He's a guy we think has a lot of football in front of him too.

Q: Did you think you would lose defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to the 49ers?

Gruden: No, I didn't think so.Monte has a house down here on Redington Beach that is amazing. We told him that if he left, we were going to take over his house. There was no way he was going to leave. We would have made him the head coach here and I would have been his assistant. That is for sure. We weren't going to allow him to go anywhere.

Q: What are your memories of working for the 49ers?

Gruden: I was around the most unbelievable football team. They were defending two-time World Champions. I mean, Steve Young was our backup quarterback. Joe Montana was the starter. Our nose tackles were Fred Smerlas, Michael Carter and Jim Burt. Mike Sherrard was our third receiver. We were awesome. We had a great group of players. Fun guys to be around. They were electric on the practice field and on Sundays. They were awesome performers. I think the coaching staff, Bobb McKittrick's legacy he left me was tremendous, Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes, George Seifert and all those guys were just a phenomenal coaching staff. The image that Eddie DeBartolo put in place. They were on the cutting edge in every aspect. Whether it be facilities, how they traveled or how they did their business, it certainly had an impact on me.

Q: What were your duties with the 49ers?

Gruden: My duties were that I was kind of Mike Holmgren's gopher. I would do whatever I was asked to do. When there wasn't anything asked of me, I just tried to hang around and listen, learn and take advantage of the resources that were there. They had such an unbelievable track record in football and I tried to take advantage of it.

Q: Were you at all intimidated by the 49ers?

Gruden: Yeah, I was a nervous guy. I was intimidated certainly, coming from a Division III college in the University of Pacific to two-time World Champions. Once I got to know the people, they made it comfortable for me. I got to become good friends with Steve Young. I spent a lot of time with him. That was a great experience for me and one that I will never forget.

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