Catching up with the San Francisco defense

Defensive coordinator Billy Davis sees his unit making strides, but he also knows it must make more if the 49ers are to progress in 2006. Here, Davis covers a spectrum of topics, including the new rotation at safety, the need to continue improving the team's pass rush, the status of Brandon Moore, Manny Lawson and Bryant Young, and what to expect from a new-look St. Louis Rams offense this Sunday.

Q: Is there something you're looking for but not getting from Tony Parrish that has created the situation where he's now substituting with Mark Roman at strong safety?
Davis:
To me, it's more an issue of the whole overall defense. The whole of the team is to upgrade all the personnel. It hasn't been Tony's taken a step back, it's now we have competition at the position, which is a positive for everybody. Tony is one of the best pros we have on this team, and he knows the way the NFL works. It's about competition. I compete for my job. Everybody does. I think it's more an issue that we inserted a man in Mark Roman that has given him a push. That's all that's happened here. They're both competing hard, and they're rotating snaps, and it's actually a positive because we're keeping everyone fresh, and all three of our safeties are getting real good at communicating to get us on the same page, and we got a healthy competition going on. That's good for building a team.

Q: But free safety Mike Adams played almost every defensive snap last week. Wasn't he going to be involved in that safety rotation, too?
Davis:
Mike right now is just a hair (above the other two). All three of them are playing well. They're playing better than we did a year ago. Mike Adams happens to be just a hair ahead and we kept him on the field a little more and rotated the other guys. We feel it's a win-win, we really do.

Q: Did it seem your cornerbacks were close to the ball most of the time in coverage and it took some perfect passes to beat them in the opener?
Davis:
That was the goal going in, because we knew they're a veteran team and we know Kurt (Warner) can put it on the money, and he did. It was a nice game by the corners, and we were real close. We have to get that one more step and not be real close this week. We have to be there to make the play and deny the ball. That's an area we have to take one more step in. We're moving in the right direction, but now we just have to finish making the plays. We're closer and closer, and now we have to make the plays.

Q: How are the Rams different offensively than the were in the past? Is the "Greatest Show on Turf" kind of past tense now?
Davis:
I wouldn't say past tense because they have the same weapons. And they run a lot of the same personnel groupings, which is what most teams do. They take their 11 best players and put them on the field, whatever personnel grouping that is. They've got strength at wide receiver, strength at running back, quarterback. They have two nice tight ends and pretty strong offensive line. So they still are running a lot of the passing attack they had in the past. They're just doing it through Scott Linehan's offense and his philosophy, which is just a little more balanced. They're more balanced, so you don't see the overload of passing that you saw with coach (Mike) Martz. You see more of a balanced attack. But that's still using the same weapons.

Q: Do you think that's more dangerous?
Davis:
Yes, it is. It's harder to defend to a balanced attack than it is an overloaded, either all pass or all run.

Q: With Brandon Moore's effectiveness on the edge in the opener, are you re-evaluating how you might use him?
Davis:
It's not that you re-evaluate Brandon. Brandon has been a multiple player for us. He's got multiple tasks in positions he plays. He plays defensive end, and he showed this week he had a great game rushing the passer against the tackle they had. He plays inside backer for us and outside backer. And that's a unique skill to have, because the training of your eyes is what's complicated about moving from inside to outside. And he has the size and speed to play both. So we have a versatile player that can play multiple positions that we're taking advantage of, that we're putting him in the role of both backup and starter in some cases versus different sets or schemes that we have. So Brandon, he's just kind of a jack-of-all-trades that we can use around and help strengthen our defense.

Q: Is he a pretty smart player to be able to do all that?
Davis:
Absolutely. Brandon can take whatever he's learned in the meeting room and come out and apply it without actually doing it physically yet. Some guys have to get in the meeting room, come out, do it on the field, and then they get it. Brandon doesn't need all the reps to be able to do it well. He can listen to what you're describing, and then go and execute that.

Q: Is he your best pass rusher right now?
Davis:
He was the best pass rusher last week. The best pass rusher kind of takes on his own life. It matters what tackle or guard your up against. Sometimes you're going to see going to see great pass rushers off of a blitz scheme where he's matched on a running back or something. So each week, it kind of takes a different life to it. And last week, Brandon was. Next week it may by B.Y. (Bryant Young), it may be Manny (Lawson), it may be Double-A (Anthony Adams). It could be any of those guys.

Q: When one guy breaks out in the pass rush, does that loosen things up for the guys around him?
Davis:
Sometimes, if they adjust. But that was just a one-on-one that (Moore) was winning (last week). So they didn't try to get any extra help over there. It can, but it didn't. We had a nice plan against them, as far as beating their protections, and in the one-on-one, Brandon was winning.

Q: Do you expect him to have a bigger role in this week's game?
Davis:
He played a pretty big role last week, he really did. He played almost all the sub (defensive packages), all the pass rush downs. It depends on what they throw at us, too. We have different packages, and if they throw different offensive personnel grouping at us, we apply our different plans against that. So, he could have a lot more reps or he could have fewer reps depending on what the attack coming at us is.

Q: What do you have to do to get Manny Lawson more involved in the pass rush to the point where he starts breaking through with his pressure?
Davis:
He just has to keep working as a pass rusher. Even though he's out there taking his reps and everybody's taking them, he just got to win and continue to try to work at getting better at it. Sometimes, sacks aren't a great indicator in my mind. It might sound crazy, but sacks aren't the best indicator of a good pass rush. Because sometimes are getting doubles, and they're taking those double-teams. Other times they're not. I'm not saying Manny's getting doubled. He hasn't been yet. But there's a lot of pressures, and doing your job within the scheme sometimes is just as much a sack. Sometimes you get a sack off another man's great pass rush; the quarterback came to you. All the fans see is, ‘Oh, he got a sack. His numbers are sacks.' When you break it down and look at it, it's who's winning on the most consistent level. And that changes from week to week.

Q: How much is B.Y. going to play that three technique this season?
Davis:
Our plans vary with what we're getting. The fronts that we use match running game and pass protection tendencies. So to just sit in one thing all the time and say he's going to do that … It's a week to week game plan situation with how we run the defense.

Q: Is he still very effective using that technique?
Davis:
B.Y.? Absolutely. He's effective in three technique, four technique, five - whatever number you want to put on it. When Bryant's out there, he's effective.

Q: Is your pass rush at a point starting to establish itself with the three or four guys you have up front, or do you still need to supplement it?
Davis:
You always need a balance. As far as attacking a pass protection, you need a mix of four-man rush, three-man rush, five-man rush. And you need blitzes, along with a four-man rush. Within just a four-man rush, we mix straight rushes with twists and tackle games, and different D-line games, and the whole package is what makes your pass rush work. Sometimes, when you have one guy that dominates, you let him dominate and don't run anything. Other times, you mix them up. And they all need a change of pace, because that offensive lineman that they're going against needs different looks. They need to see me go outside once, inside once, someone has to come pick me as I come along once, so that offensive lineman is not sure what he's getting. And that whole package makes pass rush.

Q: And where do you think it is now in terms of effectiveness?
Davis:
Well, we started off pretty well. We had a three-sack game and some pressures. Through the preseason, we're working up. We finally got a game where they played the whole game. Remember, pass rush is a bunch of little battles within a war. And a lot of time, those battles are won late in that war. You're not going to win them all. The offensive line wins more than they lose. We win one or two a game, or three, and all of a sudden we're having a good pass-rush game. But it's doing in the right direction. It was Week 1. We had three sacks and we have to build off that.


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