Offensive Line Coach Marc Colombo, Defensive Backs Coach Jerome Henderson and Running Backs Coach Burton Burns spoke to reporters Wednesday on a video chat press conference. Here is what each one had to say.
Offensive Line Coach Marc Colombo
Q: Joe was saying last night that he thinks the center competition is "scratch even." What have you seen from your perspective, and then what do you think needs to happen for one of those guys to kind of pull away with the job?
A: I think both guys have been doing a tremendous job at center. Spencer's (Pulley) really smart, he's tough, he's played the position for a while. Nick's (Gates) also smart, tough, just learning the position. They both are very physical football players and they're battling for that starting job right now. I can't be happier with the competition that's going on. Love what I've seen from both of those guys. They both bring a lot of strong traits to the table and they come. That's what we're looking to do ultimately around here is just keep competing.
Q: One other thing. I noticed the last couple of practices, maybe you were doing it all along and I just noticed it, a lot of work on stunts. You're going to have new guys playing next to each other. What's the key to getting on the same page with those?
A: Just seeing multiple looks out there is really important. Our defense does a great job with stunts, so kind of learning how to set properly, learning how to train your eyes, learning how to get proper depth, see what you see. They've done a nice job with it. It's really our job as coaches to keep giving them those looks. The harder we can make it on them right now, the easier it's going to be come when we start these games here in a little bit. Really, our job right now is to keep showing really difficult looks. Our defense does a great job of giving it. We also give each other looks when we're down there in individual period. Again, you're really getting those guys out there, those young guys, and making sure these looks are perfect so we can execute with speed and fast, and really just train these guys to play next to each other, communicate, and that's what it's all about as an offensive line.
Q: I've talked to o-line coaches and they've always said, or a lot of them say, 'I'm going to play my best five linemen. Doesn't make a difference if I have three guards, a tackle and a center. The best five are going to play.' Do you have that theory or do you want two tackles, two guards and a center?
A: That's really a strong theory. Play your best players. You look for guys who can play multiple positions. You're always looking for that. The center-only types don't really exist anymore. All these guys can play multiple positions, and you're really trying to develop that continuity so you have to be careful. There's a fine line there between playing your best five and creating continuity. But we've done a nice job here. Coach Judge does a really nice job making sure we're getting certain reps and getting guys in different positions at times. But also at times, making sure we have a couple lines in there and they're just competing, learning how to play next to each other. The best starting five, that's great. But right now, we're trying to find the guys that are going to get in there, really compete, really grind. There's that balance between continuity and getting that best five in there. We're trying to find that balance right now. These guys are doing a really nice job competing. Now it's about creating that continuity.
Q: What have you seen from Cam Fleming? That's a guy you're pretty familiar with.
A: Cam's an incredible worker. You can watch him out there, he's the first guy out there at practice, he's always working on his pass sets, honing his craft. He's extremely smart, he's gritty, he's tough, he's played in a lot of big games. I like what I've seen from him so far. Obviously, we just need to keep pushing to get better up front. We're always looking for little things to work on, and Cam's that guy. He's constantly wearing me out, 'How can I get better?' That's really what you want to look for in an offensive lineman. I have a lot of confidence, we have a lot of confidence, in Cam Fleming. He's going to give us everything he has, and that's just the type of player he is.
Q: The other thing I wanted to ask you about is we saw a lot of the batted down passes in the scrimmage. We saw B.J. (Hill) come up with an interception that way yesterday. Is that an offensive line flaw or is that a quarterback flaw or somewhere in between?
A: It's the whole unit. Just talking from an offensive line perspective… let's get back a little bit. Our defense does a great job of getting their hands up in the throwing lane. They're coached really well, they're big, they're physical, they can push the pocket. It's a really great challenge for this offensive line. I feel like we have to anchor sooner and really the rule of thumb is, if they try to jump up for a ball, you have to stick your hands in their chest and you have to thump them. You put that on film a couple of times, it'll keep them from kind of jumping up there. But again, our defense has done a nice job with that. It's really about anchoring and being a little bit more firm in the middle. That'll help that so they can't help push the pocket and actually get their hands up there in that lane.
Q: Going back to draft time, I recall Dave Gettleman saying about Matt Peart that the coaches really wanted to work with this kid. Now presumably, you were one of those coaches. I'm just curious what you've seen from Matt, what you saw from him that you wanted to work with, and where he is right now?
A: He's a smart kid, he's big, he's long. I mean tremendous length. He's a good athlete. He has a lot of those qualities you look for in a tackle, starting with length. Matt's done a nice job so far. We're going to keep pushing him to really grind it out, get better at every little detail. That's really what these young guys, it's all about the details. Like what we've seen so far. Him coming out, he just did a lot of nice things in college. You can see where he's headed there. He's doing a nice job again right now. There's just a lot to work with as an offensive line coach. You kind of look at him and you say to yourself, 'That looks like a football player.' Again, he's done a tremendous job. We're going to keep pushing him to get better. Get him on the right side, get him on the left, again, multiple positions with these guys. Have to be able to play both tackles. That's a big deal, and he's done a nice job with that so far. We just need to keep pushing him.
Q: Quick two-parter. You said you wanted your offensive line to be 'nasty.' Have they shown you they're nasty enough? Then Andrew Thomas in 11 on 11, I don't feel like I've seen him get beaten very often. Do you think he's doing extremely well early on for a rookie?
A: The first part of that, we can always play more physical. The first part of that is making sure we get into these fits right in the run game, physical in the pass game with our hands. We're still working those details out right now so we can really get out there and once we learn how to do it right, that's when you can impose your will on the defense. We've done a good job at least with the physical nature of it. We need to clean up the technique part of it. In terms of Andrew, Andrew's done a lot of nice things so far, but we have a long way to go. We have timing of our punch, some of his sets, consistency in what he does. He competes. When he gets beat, you don't have to tell him twice. He's one of those guys, if you give him a coaching point, he'll take the coaching point and we can move on really to the next thing. That's what you're looking for in these young guys. Not making multiple mistakes, doing the same thing wrong over and over. That's what's been really fun to watch about Andrew. You can tell him one thing, and the next time he goes out there, he does it the way you're looking for. That's how you can get better really as a group, as a tackle. He's done a nice job so far. Again, we have a long way to go with these guys. Consistency is really the key right now for these young guys coming out of college.
Q: We can see what Nick Gates can do when he snaps the ball. But what about after he snaps the ball? How are you going to know about his decision-making and his ability, where to slide, who to help, things like that? The stuff that he's just never done before and the stuff that you will not be able to see in a preseason game.
A: It's our job as coaches to give him those looks. Again, our defense does a really good job changing up the looks, giving him all these different things to think about and handle. Nick's done a really good job with that. We need to keep pushing him, keep showing him everything so it's not the first time he sees it we're out there playing a real game. Now, in these settings, these live pads and stuff like that, it's really where some of his really good qualities, his traits show up. Again, it's not seeing it for the first time, that's really the biggest deal with Nick right now. When he sees it, just like the question with Andrew, he's able to correct himself right away. That's a big quality to have in a center, to be able to correct yourself right away so we can move on and show him something else so we're not stuck on the same exact coaching point over and over and over again that you see with some of these young guys. He's a guy that we love what we've seen from him so far. Again, Spencer Pulley's done a great job, too. These guys are battling it out. They both have tremendous qualities up there up front. Just excited in the future for Nick Gates. He's done a really good job so far and we'll keep showing him those looks, keep pressing him to get better. The more difficult it is now, the easier it will be in the games.
Defensive Backs Coach Jerome Henderson
Q: I was wondering what you've seen from Darnay Holmes in camp so far. I know he had an interception in that scrimmage and then he fumbled at the end of the play. But overall, what have you seen out of Darnay, in particular, in the scrimmage, too?
A: The first thing we talked about with Darnay is if you get another interception, stay up the near sideline. Don't cut back across the field where the big guys are. He's been super competitive. He's a really diligent kid. He's one of those guys that you see him out there early every day working on some part of his game. He always has really good questions in the meetings. He's in a really good place right now for a young player. He has a lot to learn. He has a long way to go. But one thing about the kid, he's competing at it very hard.
Q: It seems like a lot of people talk about him and say he plays bigger than his size. Is that something you agree with?
A: Absolutely. He's got some natural body strength and some explosiveness that he plays with. I've been impressed with the young man as a person, too. As a student of the game, he's doing a good job. Again, he has a long way to go but he's on a good early path.
Q: You worked with Darrelle Revis and I believe Joe Haden, two very outstanding cornerbacks. What are some of the characteristics that made them so great? What do you see in the group that you have now that maybe can carry over?
A: When you mention guys like that, things you know at this position, you're going to have to have guys that are really competitive. That they don't want to lose at anything ever to anybody. Then you have to have great confidence, and then a short memory because any of those guys you name, they're going to have bad plays. They're going to have bad moments. You just need to know that I'm going to come back the next play with confidence in my technique, confidence in myself, confidence in my ability, and just go out and play the next play. You have to have a short memory at this position.
Q: How hard is that generally for a young guy who's looking to impress the coaching staff?
A: Yeah, that's one of the things you have to learn, is you're never going to play the perfect game. You just need to keep battling, competing to win the next play. You can't do anything about the play that just happened. You can't do anything about the play ahead of this current play. Just be in the moment, win this play, fight the way to win this play.
Q: Chris Williamson is a guy that I don't think we've talked about at all, and really, haven't really seemed to have seen a whole lot of him throughout camp so far. What are your thoughts on him so far and what he's shown?
A: He's another guy who in the classroom has done a really good job. A really detailed note-taker, asks good questions, smart, he stays into meetings. He's had some little tweaks and things going on that have kept him from being in the live part of practice, some of the live parts of practice, so he's a little bit behind in that way. Like right now, he's up and going full. Hopefully we'll see a lot more of him and you'll see a lot more of him and you can start to see him show up a little bit on the practice field.
Q: You seem to have quite a few safeties that you guys are either high on or giving a large opportunity to. How are you going to differentiate between, and I'm talking about (Montre) Hartage, Sean Chandler, guys like that. How are you evaluating and what do you value among these guys? What are you looking for from somebody who's going to make the team?
A: All of those guys are competing and competing hard. Like you said, it's a… There's a pack of guys kind of really close right now. Right now, over the scrimmage Friday and the upcoming things when we're going at higher tempos, all that stuff will work itself out and guys will start to separate themselves. You'll be able to hopefully see clearly that this guy is the guy over the next guy. But it's a long season. We know that anybody on our roster is going to play, they're going to play a lot of football. My job is to get everybody prepared to play like if you're not the starter now, you may be two plays from now. You have to go in and you have to act like a starter and play at that level. I'm pushing all of those guys to play at a high level, demanding a lot from all those guys. So far, that group has done a good job.
Q: What do you like about Hartage?
A: He has experience in this system, so that's big. He has experience with the system, experience with Pat (Graham) last year in Miami. He's a reliable guy. He's one of those guys that just always does the right thing. He's where he's supposed to be, he executes. He's just really steady and reliable.
Q: Jarren Williams, a guy who wasn't on a lot of our radars coming into camp, but he's gotten a lot of reps. What's impressed you about him?
A: He's one of those guys that has shown some ability. Like you, I didn't know a lot about him coming into this. He showed up and I was like, 'Well, we may have something here.' He's competing hard, he has good athleticism, he has good size. He has a chance to develop hopefully into something and we'll see where it goes. But he's done a good job of at least grabbing people's attention.
Q: What's it like just as a position coach with so many corners with really no or very limited NFL experience? What's that like for you?
A: Well, there's good and bad to that. One, you get to train them the way you want them to play, so they don't come in with this preconceived notion of 'this is how I play, coach.' That's the good part. All those guys have been sponges that way, just wanting to learn some technique and wanting to learn how to play. It's been a pleasure that way. But then the downside is you don't get real life NFL experience, game experience and how to handle the heat of the moment. We won't have the crowds now, but handling 'that's a guy that last year I was watching on TV that I'm now competing against.' How do you handle that? Again, we'll continue to push that group of corners, put them in spots that they have to challenge and compete, and again, hopefully those guys, and they will, they'll start to separate themselves.
Running Backs Coach Burton Burns
Q: You come from college where there are not any preseason games. How much do you think in the NFL a running back like Saquon Barkley and these other guys need to get knocked around a little bit. Need to get tackled, need to show they can hold on to the ball. You're not going to have any of that stuff really.
A: Even in college, a big part of it was practice, and the way you practiced. Not necessarily bringing guys to the ground, but you can practice at a tempo where they are getting some of the bumps that they need to have to be able to play in the game. We're following that format. You try to create some situations in practice where they are going to get bumped up a little bit. It was rare that we had a lot of scrimmages, even in college.
Q: I was wondering what your impression of Javon Leake has been since you have gotten a hand on him and been able to coach him up. Especially with these padded practices.
A: I think he is working really hard. What we try to do is we try to expose these guys to as many fundamentals as possible. Across the board, we try to coach these guys fundamentally. I always have said football plays are football plays, it's the way you run them. I think he has made some progress with improving his fundamentals and paying attention to detail. It's like anything else, it's a transitional period when a guy is coming from college to the pros. It's like it was when he came from high school. He's making good progress, getting in touch with how to fundamentally run plays.
Q: I see you guys working with Saquon on pass protection every day in an individual drill or an individual period. How big of an emphasis has that been through the offseason and camp? How is he taking to the regular drilling on that?
A: I think pass protection is like any other technique that we have, that we practice, running the ball, running routes. I think this has always been my routine and that was one of the three things that we really have to be good at. We just continue to try to work on technique and try to pay attention to the details of how to run the ball, how to run routes, and how to protect. It's not just that we are emphasizing that, we have made it across the board. A coaching point that we wanted to get, not only for Saquon but for everybody else.
Q: You don't think the tape last year showed that he needed to improve specifically there?
A: My opinion about that kind of stuff is I'm never really worried about what happened last year. Let's start all over, we are starting now, today. This is how we want to technically do our job based on the scheme of the offense. I'm not going to judge on what happened last year.
Q: Talking to Dion Lewis last night, he's been praised for his pass protection. His eyes kind of lit up a little bit talking about how it's a three-second fight that you have to win. Is there an art to being a good pass protector as a running back?
A: Obviously, it's technique. It comes out in technique, it doesn't matter how big or small you are, it's technique. It's one of the fundamentals that we are always preaching and coaching every day. Let's have good pad level, let's have good balance. I think that plays into not only running the football, but it also plays into the protection part of it. It's timing, everything is about timing. That's why we continue to work on the technique and the timing and getting in the right position. After a while it becomes as normal as running the football. It's an art, like running a good downhill running play is an art. You have to utilize all your different fundamental skills to get that done.
Q: What do you think about the possibility that Saquon can be an even bigger factor in the passing game than he has been in the past?
A: Obviously, he is a talented individual. He's got great athletic ability, running the ball, catching the ball. I think we are just going to let the flow of the offense take care of all of that. I think we have a good system and we have good balance in our system. We are going ask all of our players to not only have the ability to do not only running the ball, being involved in the passing game. It carries over to the protection thing as well. I think as the flow of the offense goes, we'll just see where his abilities bring him to.
Q: What about his skill set? Do you see that skill set there to be a huge factor in the passing game?
A: He's athletic and he's got great hands. He has a great ability to run routes. Again, we want to involve this guy in every facet of the game. We are going to let the flow of the offense happen and get him involved when we can.
Q: Exactly four years ago today, Colin Kaepernick started his protest and it became public. We've seen the league change their tune. I'm just curious on why you think the league has been so receptive. Can you reflect on the last four years and talk about what the turning point was?
A: Obviously, I was not in the NFL. I have been in college football. I think the whole thing is just a concern, a concern for human nature. Everybody is trying to get along with each other. I'm not sure exactly what the NFL had been doing, I wasn't following it that much. In general, socially, it's a time where people are trying to understand each other better so we can get along better.