Nolan Comes Home

San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan was the Giants' defensive coordinator under Dan Reeves from 1993-96. Now he returns to the Meadowlands as the head coach of the 49ers. Here's what he had to say regarding his homecoming and team on Wednesday.

You have had some injuries to contend with, how does your squad look going into this Sunday?
Now is this a Tom Coughlin question or yours? How does your squad look? Let me ask you that first. I will tell you if you tell me. Our squad is all banged-up and nobody is playing. I am kidding, although I did learn that trick when I was at the Giants. It is a good one, though.

Not a lot of production out of your running game and most of it is from Frank Gore. Are you trying to do something to fix that?
Obviously you have to do something; you have to try to. Offensively overall we have been ineffective, whether it is the running game or passing game. We need to do a better job in those areas. I would love to say it starts with somebody and I guess if I had to, I would say it starts with the line, as it all does. Even the passing game starts with the line. The pressure that the quarterback has gotten late in his drops, things like that, he also had some bad throws, but it starts there. Outside of that, I think everything is involved, from play calling to the runs, who is blocking; the whole thing. Whether it is the running game or the passing game, our issues offensively have been collective. It would really be a nice thing if I could say just one area needs to be corrected, but thus far everybody has been sharing in their responsibilities. The same thing is going to go for the way we fix it; everybody has to step up his game. It would be nice if I had one game. ‘I confess, he did it,' would be a good approach.

In the offseason you signed Nate Clements. What does that do to your defense and secondary?
It has meant a lot as far as our productivity on the field. Nate is an outstanding player, an outstanding person; he is great in the meeting rooms. He is a real pro. I have been fortunate enough to coach some of the best corners ever to play in the game. Most of them I coached even later in their careers so I got to kind of see the final product as opposed to the developmental part of it. Whether it was Deion, or Dishman, or Darrell Green, or McAllister, there have been a lot of guys. Anyhow, Nate rates right up there with those guys, and what I like about Nate probably more than all those other guys is he probably has a more complete game than any of those guys. He is an outstanding tackler and like I said, he is a real professional from the standpoint of how he prepares for the game. He doesn't see himself as a one-dimensional guy. He is a joy to be around. He is a mature person, loves the challenge, so he has meant an awful lot to us. All those things that I just mentioned I think rub off on other players. One day if we get 22 of those I would be as happy as a pig in poo.

How would you assess the pressure placed on Alex Smith and do you think the pressure would be different if he wasn't such a high pick in the draft?
Yeah, I think for any quarterback if they are a free agent or a seventh round pick or something and they come in, the expectations are not really high. Whether it is your Eli Manning there or Alex for us, the expectations on a first round pick, particularly the first guy taken in the draft, are very high. I think that it does change some of the things. Alex still has a way to go. He is developing well; he is an intelligent and competitive guy. As all quarterbacks do, they are cut to do some things better than others and I think the key from a coaching standpoint is that we utilize the strengths that they have and not try to put a square peg in a round hole. Like I said, whether it is an Eli or whether it is our guy, I think all those issues are the same. Different quarterbacks, different strengths and weaknesses, but being the first guy picked in the draft adds pressure, but so is the position, that kind of comes with the territory.

Will Alex play this weekend?
I sure hope so. You know they have questionable, doubtful, and likely to play, we have added a new one, it is called ‘hopeful.'

What about Vernon Davis?
Hopeful. Both of those guys have been out, as you all know, for three or four weeks. We were fortunate to have a bye week last week to let the guys heal up a little bit more, but I really don't know, seriously, at this point. We will see how practice goes today because we kept them out last week as well. They got in some drills on Monday but I really couldn't give you a definite answer, not because I am holding back but only because I don't know.

Since they both were first overall picks do you see any similarities between Smith and Eli?
No, just the pressures that they face. Like I said, whether it is quarterback-driven or the first guy in the draft-driven, that is about the only similarity. They do play in huge markets. Whether it is New York or San Francisco, you get a lot of scrutiny as far as how good or bad you are doing. I know you are all well aware of that by where you are at, so that exists. Outside of that they are two different types of players. I would guess they are both different types of personalities as well. Really outside of just playing the position and being in huge markets I don't know what else would be… like I said they are different types of players.

Is there anything to be learned by what Eli has gone through here and how he has been improving?
I think there is for all quarterbacks. As a matter of fact, before we ever drafted Alex, I actually have a relationship with Peyton, Eli's older brother, and his father Archie played for my father down with the Saints. My ties with the family go way back. I actually called Archie watching Eli and what he is going through. Way back when I think it is important to look at what those guys go through so that you can help them out. Whether it is the way they start their career, how you start them with different people, all those things early on were real important. I don't know what the Giants did with Eli but I would imagine they did a lot of those similar things as far as making sure that the offense was structured properly to utilize his talents, get a coordinator and position coach and everything else, try to get a veteran presence around him, the right kind of veteran presence, all those things. It has been less Eli-related than just the position itself is unique.

Is the Giants defense different or unique in any way or are they just performing it well?
I think they are just getting better each week. Obviously everyone is aware they brought in a new defensive coordinator from the Eagles, an outstanding coach. A lot of people spoke very highly of him a year ago. As a matter of fact, I was looking for a coordinator a year ago and I remember his name being mentioned by many people. He comes from a good place where they play very good defense. They started this season a little slow in the first two games but that happens and they have been building ever since. Each game is a new game though. Obviously I would like to think that we are going to give them a good challenge. I know statistically we don't match up, but at some point we are going to get untracked as well. Outside of the fact that he is a good coach, I know he has a good scheme and they seem to be playing well. It will be our job to come in this week and try to win a ballgame, whatever that takes.

Do you find any wrinkles in the pass rush that you haven't seen before?
No. Not really. The game on the field is player-driven. Coaches, it is our job to put guys in the best positions possible to make those plays. It is player-driven. They have two outstanding pass-rushing defensive ends. They have some tough inside players that can take up blockers and do a good job inside. Obviously as always some guys are a little more active than others. They have a tough, hard-nosed attitude on defense, they are physical, but it just gets down to players. As you all know, you have two ends that are outstanding performers, and not only do they make the plays, but when you spend a lot of time trying to block those ends it means somebody else has an opportunity to get to the quarterback as well. I think that the scheme that he is using utilizes the players well and they are playing better and better as they go along.

What is your impression of your team this year?
Obviously we started the season with a couple wins and since then we have fallen short three times. We have not played particularly well enough in those three games either. I wouldn't say that we have been robbed of anything because even when it is a close game I would like to think that we would win it, as we did in the first two games against St. Louis and Arizona. As I was saying earlier, our defense and our special teams have been doing very well, playing outstanding most of the season, and our offense has sputtered. We have been inconsistent, but a lot of that is shared throughout the offensive staff as well as players as far as some of the things we need to do better. Everybody has a lot of confidence in the scheme we are doing and things like that, but we just need to do a better job. Overall as a football team it takes three phases to win a game and if one of them is coming up short it is the responsibility of the other ones to pick it up. Like I said we haven't been able to do that in a few occasions. We have a good, strong character group that stays together and at some point we will get back on winning ways, but right now we have had a couple losses.

Nowadays quarterbacks have to play earlier after being drafted, how tough of a transition is that and is it being underestimated?
There is nothing underestimated about a quarterback's job. It is a difficult job. Some guys are more qualified and capable than others, but the quarterback's job is important, as we all know, but is also a difficult job. The mental aspects as well as the physical aspects are huge, it is not even comparable. If you were to put a defensive player in a quarterback's meeting to listen to it, to be honest with you, I think a lot of them would have their eyes wide open thinking, ‘My goodness I had no idea this guy has to know this much stuff, or articulate it back in the huddle.' It is an important job, but that kind of goes with the territory.

Do you think losing Norv Turner has had a large impact on how the offense has done?
I think it has an effect on you because anytime there is change, it effects you in some way, but we have maintained a structure the same as we did before. If there is anything that maybe is different, it is the way certain things might have been presented and the way the game is called, but those are things that sometimes are a growing pain issue that you go through. We do have a first time defensive and offensive coordinator, but I have a tremendous amount of confidence in them. They are both very intelligent, hard-working, dedicated guys that do a very good job. I think I would be lying to say that it doesn't make a difference. Some times because it is just the way it is. It would be foolish to say that there is no difference. I would be lying because change is change. Norv had a better opportunity obviously, he took advantage of it, I don't fault him a lick. I am glad we have the people we have; we just need to perform better. I am confident that these guys will do a good job; we just have to get back to doing a good job.

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