Tough times in Tennessee

Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher talks Titans and 49ers and Sunday's game between the two 2-8 teams

Q: How are you dealing with a trying season?

Fisher:
You aren't going to buy this, but I'm having fun. This is a fun group to work with. They love practicing and playing, and they think they can win. We've been in a lot of games that were very close. I can point to two or three plays in at least four or five of these games that were the difference-making plays. If we had made a play, we win, and when we didn't make the play, we didn't (win). It's been a really challenging experience. I talked about it in training camp, with the youth on the team and how quickly we were going to be able to come together as a team. This team has taken on a very interesting personality. It loves to play, and I think in time this team's going to be pretty good.

Q: Miami head coach) Nick Saban said that it's not about this year, it's about next year. What approach do you take?

Fisher:
This is all about today. It's about going out and having fun, but also having the best practice that we've had all year. It's not a matter of brow-beating the guys and beating them into going on the field to practice. It's about creating an environment where they want to practice and want to get better. That's kind of what we're doing. This is a week-to-week deal for us. Every week is an opportunity to try to win a ballgame. I believe that most of your improvement comes on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and then you do the best you can on Sunday. That's the approach we're taking. Despite the fact that we've lost however many in a row, these guys are playing with confidence and they expect to win. They know you can't win them all, but they know if they keep working they're eventually going to get back on the winning track.

Q: Why haven't you been able to play in games for all four quarters?

Fisher:
They've made some plays. Jacksonville made some plays in the second half. They decided they could not run it and made some nice throws. Jacksonville has some very talented receivers, and we have some young corners that haven't seen some things before. They just made some plays. We put some pretty good defensive effort up. We didn't start well against Oakland. We gave up 17 points, but then settled down and made it really hard on them for the rest of the ballgame. I thought we did a nice job against Arizona. I thought defensively, we handled Cincinnati as well as anybody. We turned the ball over. What happens is that when you're sitting where you are, there are a lot of things that pop up, and in four of our losses our offense turned the ball over for touchdowns. Those are hard to overcome. As long as I can see improvement, especially out of these young players, I think we have a fighting chance.

Q: What players give you optimism in the future?

Fisher:
We drafted five defensive linemen last year, and they're all on our roster and they're all playing well. They're in their second year. (Tennessee DE) Travis LaBoy and (DT) Randy Starks, and of course (DT) Albert (Haynesworth) are playing well. (DE) Kyle Vanden Bosch has been a real surprise for us. He's really revitalized his career. He's healthy and playing well. I think the defensive line is playing consistent. Every week I get All-Pro efforts out of (LB) Keith Bulluck. In the secondary, the two young corners are coming on. I'm starting two rookie corners, and in each passing week they're getting better. (CB) Pac's (Pacman Jones) return skills are exceptional. He's needs to be a little bit more consistent in handling the ball, but Pac's got some special qualities about him, where he can make game-breaking plays. If you jump over to the other side of the ball, we've had three rookie receivers the past couple of weeks. We finally got (WR) Drew (Bennett) back. The young receivers are battling and playing well. Our offensive line is experienced, even though we've got a rookie at the right tackle. I think Mike Roos is going to be a fine player. We feel our special teams units have improved over the last year, primarily because we've added some returners, and I've got a place kicker. We definitely miss (K) Joe (Nedney) over the last couple of years, so when you have a guy that can kickoff and take the duties away from the punter, I think you have the chance to do some things. There are some areas where we have gotten better, but there are some areas where we've fallen off a little bit. We're not getting the explosive plays we were getting out of (former Tennessee WR Desmond) Mason and some of the other receivers over the years, but we're confident we've got young players that will be able to do that.

Q: Are you surprised at the year Joe Nedney's been having?

Fisher:
I was not surprised at all. I knew that if Joe could get healthy and stay healthy, he could be one of the top kickers in the league. The problem with us was, from a salary-cap standpoint, we were going to have a difficulty agreeing to terms with the veteran minimum. We were in a difficult cap situation. I think there come a point where Joe was injured in the opening game or right before the opening game two consecutive years with season-ending injuries. It was a combination of the injuries in two consecutive years we were without him and our salary cap situation that didn't allow us (to re-sign Nedney). I saw Joe kick back in December of last year and knew that he was well on his way to being healthy and productive.

Q: Did you ever think that Jim Schwartz was going to join Nedney in San Francisco?

Fisher:
I thought both Mike Heimerdinger and Jim Schwartz had exceptional interviews. I felt like they were both in the running. In retrospect, it was a great experience for both of them. It was an honor and a privilege to spend some time with Mr. York and the rest of his staff. Obviously they made a very good decision. I've been very impress with the way Mike (Nolan) has handled his team.

Q: Have you become more of a statistics guy since Jim Schwartz has become part of your staff?

Fisher:
No, I've always been a stat guy. I believe that over the years I've come to realize what stats are important and which ones aren't. Jim does a real good job with his numbers and does a real good job with our defense.

Q: How is Norm Chow fitting in and do you like what he's doing with the offense?

Fisher:
I do. He's done a nice job. The routine adjustments everyone could expect, like the hashmarks, the play clock and the two-minute and things like that, weren't a problem for him one he got in the first couple of preseason games. He settled right down, and I think he's done a nice job. The plays are coming in. He's given the guys a chance. He has a great deal of respect for defenses in the National Football League and their speed. He has a respect for each weekly challenge and he does a good job preparing our offense.

Q: Did you have an interest in Alex Smith in last year's draft?

Fisher:
We felt like he was very, very talented, but we didn't think he was going to fall. We thought we would not have an opportunity to draft him, but we did evaluate him and thought he had the potential to become a good quarterback. We just felt that, as with most quarterbacks, it was going to take time. With young quarterbacks, their success depends on how you get them the right experience, what your philosophical approach is, and most importantly the kind of players you have to surround him with.

Q: What are your impressions of Niners running back Maurice Hicks?

Fisher:
After going out there and playing in the preseason game, I personally stood by the printer and waited for the waiver wires for 10 days to see what was going to happen out there (in San Francisco). I thought they were loaded and didn't think they could keep him. I would have loved to have had an opportunity to claim him because I was very, very impressed with what he does. You maybe just see him as a runner, but I just saw him as recent as last weekend with those two big plays, and he does a lot of good things in a lot of other areas, as far as special teams and everything. He's just a good football player.

Q: Does he give this offense an element of speed that they might not normally have?

Fisher:
He does. With (RB Kevan) Barlow and (RB Frank) Gore, these guys are strong, power runners. Barlow is probably a little more powerful than Gore; Gore has exceptional run skills that I think are only going to improve. They're basically going to hit it the way they're supposed to hit, and they're going to make their big plays. I've gone back as far as Indy and watched him in the run game and he's done a great job. When you come back with a changeup with Hicks, he's liable to come out at any place. It puts pressure on the defense. You have to know who's in the game. What teams typically try to do around the league if try to flatten out a north-south runner, and try to contain and turn a very quick runner into a north-south runner. It puts different types of challenges on the defense.

Q: Have the 49ers shown a two-pronged approach, whereas before they were solely a run team?

Fisher:
I agree with the approach of Mike. If we all had our preferences, we'd run it to control time of possession and keep our defense off the field, then make you big plays to give yourself a chance to win. Last week they did throw the ball better. They've made plays in the passing game. I've looked at a lot of games. Lloyd has made a lot of plays. You can see the potential there, and I thought last week was one of their best efforts. The ball was up in the air, and they made plays. You still have to run the football to win ballgames.

Q: Can you talk about how Drew Bennett has developed?

Fisher:
Drew came in at the recommendation of our scouting department as someone that might be able to help us get through camp. The day he got there until the end of camp, all he did was make plays. He's just continued to improve. He's got a very good sense of route-running. He can adjust out of frame and catch balls. He's very difficult to cover. Unfortunately he suffered a dislocated thumb, and we lost him for a couple of weeks, but he's very close to getting back to full speed.


Niners Digest Top Stories