Coach Jim Harbaugh addressed the media on Thursday at 49ers headquarters as his team prepares for Saturday's NFC Divisional Round matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
Click here to watch Harbaugh's press conference
Was today a Friday practice schedule for you?
So, usually you have the walk-through then you go to practice, it wasn’t that open window today. Did practice—did the walk-through go long, or?
That’s the way you had it scheduled?
“Yeah, yeah. Yeah, you guys were—I’m surprised you guys weren’t out there, but you were welcome out there through the 12:25pm... Did [Director of Public Relations] Bob [Lange] try to blame me for that? Sounds like there was some...”
“Yes? Tried to throw me under the bus on that, Bob?”
Did everyone practice that you expected to practice? Everyone but TE
“Yes, I believe so.”
Have you sensed any change in your team’s mood this week, or has it been business-as-usual type approach?
“I don’t know about business as usual, but it’s been focused. It’s been loose. Both of those at the same time. Pleased with our preparation. Confident in our plan. Happy the way the players prepared.”
Have you done anything to keep it loose, to make sure that they’re loose going into this game?
“No, I think our guys do a great job of that themselves.”
Jim, what would you ideally like to see out of your offense on Saturday?
“A lot of things, a lot of things. Score more points than the Saints, number one. Execute, move the ball, not turn it over. And then quite a few other things.”
Jim, this team worked really hard to get home-field advantage for the playoffs. When you’re taking a group, many of whom have never played in the postseason, into a playoff scenario for the first time, how important is it to have that home field where everything stays the same during the week, the preparation, they’re going to their own stadium, how important is that going to be for them?
“Well, I think it’s an advantage. They work very hard for it. They earned it. And they get the benefit of that. So, it’s not to say that teams don’t win on the road in the playoffs, because historically they do. But, I think our team goes into this game confident and bold and with a great amount of respect for the New Orleans Saints team as well. Great amount of respect for who they are, what they do, and what they’re capable of.”
What does that mean?
“Well, the analogy would be like not to overcook it like a burnt piece of meat. That doesn’t taste real good.”
Like preparation? Don’t spend too much time thinking about it?
“That and just go into this thing and trust their own instincts. Trust their gut. Make it about the team. Trust the team. A guy doesn’t have to do too much. He’s got to do his job and has the ability to trust his team because he’s on a good team. Prepare and understand the Saints as well as possible. Focused and loose at the same time.”
Did you sense any more energy level from the team just from the fact that they had a week of rest?
“There’s been great practices. It’s been a tremendous week of preparation and practice, and our guys have been high energy. And I think some of that is definitely a result of having that week off.”
Are you focused and loose?
“I am. I feel like I am. But you know what, it just never really matters that much how I am, or just a coach. Just going to be standing over there on the sideline. To me it’s the players. Where are they at in their preparation, their understanding of this game plan, and what their morale is, how they feel physically. If they feel good, I feel good.”
But don’t they take cues from you? If you seem tense and uptight wouldn’t they be?
“I kind of go off them. Like I said, I ask guys all the time, how do you feel? And they say, well how do you feel coach? And I say, well how do you feel? You feel good, I feel good. That’s kind of how I look at it. Doesn’t matter how I feel, it’s how they feel.”
But how does QB
“How important is that? I think that’s very important. I think there’s a confidence there. There’s a confidence in your own ability. There’s a confidence in your team and confidence in your preparation and your plan, and again, your teammates. That you’re part of it. You’re part of it. You’re a cog. And he’s a big one. The biggest one on the team because he handles the ball every single down. And it’s no different on our team than it is on other teams. He does the most out there. He’s got a lot on his plate and probably by the nature of the position, he touches the ball every single play. And I think that it’s not a feeling, it’s a confident feeling in your team that you don’t have to do more than what the team asks you to do.”
It was about a year ago that you met Alex Smith for the first time I would imagine. Do you recall any of those meetings? And do you remember sitting down with him and looking for certain things in him that you wanted to see before you committed to him as your quarterback?
“Yes. I wanted to get to know him. I had never met him before. I was kind of just looking in through the key hole. But I guess the things I wanted to know, boil it down to one thing was did he want to start. Did he want to be in the fire, or did he want to wear the ball cap backwards and backup somewhere. And I really felt that he had the competitive drive, the wanting to prove himself, and wanting to do it here. And that’s the thing that probably intrigued me the most. That character of wanting to come back and do it here in San Francisco, which is pretty rare. Probably somewhere between rare and extinct, not just for football players but for just about anybody. Most guys would say, ‘the heck with that I’ve had enough, time for a fresh start somewhere else.’ And I thought we could really work with that kid. To me that was special.”
In a year across the league where the running back, his role wasn’t diminished, but it was greatly reduced because of great passing.
“What are we talking about?”
You have Frank Gore in a year where the running backs were not the stars in the league. It was wide receivers and tight ends. Frank Gore has 1,200 yards and he pushed the ball for you guys this year. Is this an anomaly? Are you guys different than other teams? Or is it Frank Gore?
“I don’t know that I’m ready to agree with you that somehow the running backs are insignificant in 2011. I don’t think they are. The team that passed for the most yardage, the New Orleans Saints, has a tremendous running game. Frank Gore is one of the elite backs in the National Football League. He’s had a tremendous year. We’re lucky to have him. Then there’s the leadership that he’s provided this football team. It has been phenomenal. He has stepped up. He has been a consummate team guy the entire year. He’s been a big key to our success.”
The theme ‘overcook it’, did that go to your coordinators, too? Maybe don’t put too much in there? Don’t layer it up too much? Or was it not for them?
“It’s pretty much for everybody.”
Do you think this is, you’re not going to tell me, I know this…
“We’re not going to get into scheme and talk about what we’re doing to do or what we’re not going to do.”
Do you think there is a risk of trying to do too much in a game plan for a playoff game?
“I think every game is different. Every game has its own separate identity. Its own season almost. 16 game plans, 16 different games. Now this is 17. Our approach to it as a coaching staff was to try to get to know the Saints as well as we possibly could. Do the best job that we could of putting together a game plan, in all three phases, that our players would be the most successful in. I feel confident in that. Also, in the fact that our players have understood and practiced it. Combed through it. Troubleshot it pretty thoroughly. Feel confident. Feel like our players can therefore go out and just play. Not have to think as much. There’s a lot of thinking, there’s no question about it, but when they know it, they practice it, then they can play and react at a fast tempo.”
Former Saint C
“I don’t know. We haven’t really made that monumental of a deal out of it. Who’s been in the playoffs, who hasn’t? Is that a good thing, is that a bad thing? How much does playoff experience count? We’ve got guys that had never been there, that’s for sure. But, maybe that’s a good thing. They haven’t been there. It’s like kids that haven’t played a game in a long time. They’re excited to do it. Like I said, I think where we’re at right now mindset that they can go into this game confident and bold and they’re ready to play. They’re ready to go.”
What has Jonathan Goodwin brought to this team so far this season?
“He’s been a tremendous player. First of all, he’s played 16 games for us. He’s started 16 games at, you could argue, the second most important position on the offense. He’s been a block of granite up there for us. He’s done a great job communicating calls and understanding defenses as it’s happening on the field and communicating that to the coaching staff on the sideline. He’s just been a rock for us.”
Given the emotional intensity that comes with a playoff game, have you as a coaching staff and the players emphasized whatever you’ve done to minimize turnovers this year? Have you emphasized that in practice?
“Oh yeah, always try to do that.”
Has it been ratcheted up at all now? Because there’s so much emotion around, has that been ratcheted up at all this week? Maybe you returned to it more as you did in the beginning of the season?
“No, we haven’t overcooked that part of it. There have been no threats of bodily harm. Is that what you were asking?”
Has TE Delanie Walker been ruled out for this game?
“Don’t think Delanie is going to play this game.”
“Vernon? Vernon’s been tremendous. A lot of the things that don’t show up on the statistic sheet, like the way he has blocked for us in all situations in the run game, and in the pass game. He’s been explosive catching the ball for us as well. Made a lot of big plays for us. He’s just an excellent football player.”
You had said throughout the season that the offense was going to be a progression. Was there a time that you saw a big jump in the players as a whole? When they really started getting that step ahead that you can share with us?
“Not one inflection point that I could refer back to. I think it’s been a steady pursuit of getting a mile an hour faster, a percent better, every day. I think that was the goal. That’s what actually transpired with our guys.”
Vernon’s specific quote was that, it was almost like he wanted to quit. It was too much information early on. Did you sense that from any of the offensive guys early on that they were overwhelmed by the playbook?
“No, I didn’t. I did not visibly see that, where they hit a wall or anything. I’ve seen that before in other teams, been on or coached. I didn’t sense that with our guys. I think the biggest reason is that these are smart, smart guys. This group especially. Very football savvy, very book smart, football smart group. That’s been very fortunate for us to have a group like this.”