Q & A with 49ers Coach Mike Singletary

This is time of year coaches dread the most, when they go the longest without seeing their players. It makes them nervous. All men of Singletary's ilk want is for the days on the calendar to go flying by and for camp to arrive as fast as possible, without anyone getting in trouble or too far out of shape.

Heck, for the 49ers coach in particular, the wait must be akin to a kid waiting for Christmas morning, so excited he was by what he saw during the OTAs. He's expecting big things this year and said as much, speaking to local reporters on June 18th, before the final afternoon practice of minicamp.

Q: Why did you decide to cancel the final day of minicamp and what was the reaction of your players when you told them?

A: You know the reaction. These guys have worked hard, worked their tails off all offseason. The attendance has been high with the exception of the guys like Aubrayo [Franklin], Nate [Clements] and Shawntae [Spencer]. I knew they were not going to be here, but I also knew very early on that the last date of this, we were not going to do it, simply because of the guys that have been here, the guys that have worked their tails off. The coaches have done what I've asked them to do. We planned this awhile ago.

Q: Where, in your estimation, has the team made its biggest strides this offseason?

A: Once again, my focus immediately after the season was over was to really look at our offense, really look at what we need to do in order to be the best football team that we could be, putting the pieces around Alex to allow him to execute, to allow him to play, having some people block, having receivers do their job, and I think we did that. That was the goal at the start of the offseason, to make sure on the offensive side of the ball, we felt like we could go out and compete and win any football game that we played in. The other part of that was making sure, on the special teams side of it, that we could find some guys that could help us in the return game, help us with field position. I thought we were able to find some guys this offseason, draft a couple guys that can help us in that area.

Q: One thing we've noticed is that you and the offensive line coaches have been shuttling quite a few guys at center. Who's the favorite to win the backup job?

A: I can't say right now. Once again, it's nice to come out here and see the guys perform in shorts, but [training camp will be] a whole new ballgame. Whoever that center is, behind Eric Heitmann, I'm sure he's snapping real nice right now, but once we get in pads and you've got a guy breathing down your throat that's going to knock the crap out of you; that brings about a different mindset. So we won't really know until then.

Q: But you're planning on giving several guys a look at that spot?

A: Yes, I think they will eliminate themselves very quickly once we get into two-a-days.

Q: We also noticed that your punt return candidates haven't been as sure-handed in drills as you would expect. Is that a worry of yours, that you haven't found the right guy there?

A: It's a concern, it's not a worry. I feel the guys we have will work on it and get what they have to get done. As far as the wind and all of that stuff, I hope none of them ever come up to me with that, but it's a part of the game.

Q: Speaking of the return game, it looks like receiver Dominique Zeigler has been in the rotation during kick return drills. Is that something the coaches are experimenting with?

A: I think it's one of those, ‘the more that you can do' kind of things. Zeigler is a guy that's going to have to fight to make this team. We've got a lot of talent, all of a sudden, at that position, guys are really maturing. As I've said before, as the quarterback position continues to get better, the wide receiver position is going to continue to get better. So, there's just a lot of competition there.

Q: Everyone wants to know how your first round linemen, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati are progressing. How did they fare in 1-on-1 drills, in your opinion?

A: The thing that I wanted to see in the 1-on-1s was how they responded to the speed and guys coming off the edge. I think once we get in pads, I think the favor goes to them. They can grab a little bit more and we'll have a better idea then. But I think they handled the speed pretty well for not being able to grab more.

Q: Another rookie people are talking about is safety Taylor Mays. He came to the team with a reputation of being a fabulous athlete, but one with poor hands and ball skills. What have you seen from him?

A: The only thing I can say about that is everyone has their opinion when guys come out. I think it's just important for him to not really look at anything that's happened during these OTAs and say, ‘Wow, I've arrived. See I told them.' No, you know what? Keep your nose to the grindstone, keep working because what's he done; there's a whole lot there. He is a breath of fresh air in terms of his work ethic, his mindset. He's driving [the coaches] crazy. He's called me a few times. He's called them a few times, ‘Hey coach, what about this? Hey coach, what about that? Can we get together tomorrow? Can we do this? Can I come in on Sunday?' I know [secondary coach Vance Joseph] is like, ‘Man, are you kidding me?' That's the kind of kid he is and I'm excited about him.

Q: We kind of got the impression that he was behind in his understanding of the defense, because he's always been huddling with the coaches when he's not taking reps…

A: That's him. That's all Taylor Mays. We're not saying, ‘Hey, come over here with us.' No, that's on him. But that's his personality. I knew that before we drafted him. I had a chance to talk to a number of different people about him and they all talked about his work ethic. It's nice to see that he's following through.

Q: How does adding someone like Mays affect two young safeties on the club such as Curtis Taylor and Reggie Smith. Is there more pressure on them now?

A: I wouldn't say putting pressure on them. I would say competition has its way of communicating. You bring in a guy like Mays and you can have 100 conversations with a guy, ‘Hey, you've got to do this; you've got to get better there. Yeah, yeah I'm working at it.' All of the sudden you bring in another guy and it's kind of like, ‘Whoa, I've got to go.' You start counting, one, two, three, well we can only keep so many. That position has brought about its own pressure. I think both Smith and Taylor are responding well and I think it's going to be a great competition.

Q: How difficult is it to tell how well the secondary is playing in these drills without pads on?

A: I think if the offensive line and defensive backs can do a good job here in minicamp, then once again, when we get pads on, I think favor goes to them. All of the sudden that receiver gets bigger and there's more to get their hands on when they're supposed to be jamming a guy. If we can do a decent job when we're out here in shorts, than it's going to be that much better when the guys get on pads.

Q: The "Nutcracker" drill was a controversial topic last training camp because a few guys got injured doing it. Will we see it again, or are you scrapping it?

A: We are going to do the nutcracker drill. Everybody knows it. They will be prepared for it. We're going to do some different things. I had the coaches get together and look at the nutcracker and instead of just one guy getting on one side and the other guy getting on the other side and just knocking the crap out of each other, we're trying to get more out of it. It definitely will be in our camp. It's just a matter of changing it up just a bit to get the most out of it.

Q: So you're not concerned about the potential for injuries with the drill?

A: [Head athletic trainer Jeff Ferguson] had questions last year about the nutcracker. When I sat down and explained to him why we did it, then he saw it as a very positive thing. The nutcracker is a drill where an offensive line coach and a defensive line coach are always trying to talk to their players about leverage, a point of emphasis and where the helmet needs to be and where their leverage is in strong points. When you do the nutcracker, a player has a chance to understand it firsthand. You can tell them a million times, but until they actually do it and go through it, you can't really see it. It's like taking golf lessons and you tell a guy you've got to do this and you've got to do that and you've got to do this. He's saying, ‘Well, I'm doing that.' You put on the film and you see that. Obviously, you're head is not down, it's up. If you don't get it on tape, it's not going to happen. I think the nutcracker has been very beneficial for us. Yes, there were a couple of guys that got hurt, but that's going to happen in training camp. But, the best thing I do during training camp is I take care of the guys and they know that, just like I'm taking care of them this weekend. They always know I'm going to give them a bone somewhere.

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