Eric Mangini took the opportunity on Wednesday to discuss the roles of young defenders like Garrett Celek and Eli Harold, plus preview Sunday's matchup with the Detroit Lions.
The San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator shared his thoughts on such topics in his weekly press conference.
Here are some of the key takeaways.
Did you ever question if NaVorro Bowman would return to Pro Bowl-caliber play?
"Well, I think anytime you come off an injury like that you don't know how it's going to respond and that's tough. What he did, what he's done, is really hard to do. It's hard to do physically. It's hard to do mentally. He's gotten progressively better. I remember the early parts of him practicing, just him going through and feeling the movements again. Just that process of simple things like change of direction where you're not thinking about it because a lot of the rehab is very defined and now he's got to react and that part of it. From where we were there to where he is now, I'm really happy for him, really, really happy for him and it's a great story."
Does Tank Carradine have the skill set to play outside linebacker in 2016?
"I've seen over the years tons of transition from D-End to outside linebacker and typically early on it's a little bit rough because you have to, it's a different world standing up and seeing things from a two-point stance. A lot of guys have successfully made that transition. And even with some of the bigger defensive ends, I worked (former NFL DE) Shaun Ellis some at outside linebacker in New York and he was 290 at the time. But, as you start to understand your drops, where you need to get to, understanding your strengths and weaknesses within the context of where you have to get to, all that stuff gives you a chance to do that and do that well.
"Tank has a really great opportunity to be a great edge-setter as an outside linebacker because of his size, his strength. Tank is a guy that did the signals a couple of weeks ago, the guys review the signals and they have to get up in front of the group. And he was, he worked at it, he was impressive. It's small things like that with Tank where you see his work ethic, you see how important this is to him, you see how much he cares. So, all those things are really encouraging from my perspective, whether he's just going to play more of a true end or some sort of hybrid end, outside linebacker type role."
What has Eli Harold done to earn more playing time?
"The best indication of Eli's improvement was the play towards the end of the game where he drove the tight end back into the back and made the tackle for a loss. To me, if you're looking for one play to summarize Eli's improvement, that's the play because as an outside linebacker you've got to be able to set the edge and you've got to be able to be disruptive while setting the edge. That to me was one of the most exciting plays he made all season because it was low, good leverage, good hand placement, good finish, understanding where the back was, understanding where the run fit was.
"It was all of the things that you're looking for from a young guy and for a guy that just because of his build right now, he doesn't have that strength that he's going to get. Really encouraging. And I think it was either the play later or a play earlier he had that really nice chase play when they were backed up. That you will see a lot of from Eli. That he has just built into him. But, that one play where he drove that guy back I thought, 'OK, we are getting really close to really turning a corner with him.'"
What have the Detroit Lions done differently to play their best football over the past six weeks?
"They've done a great job of attacking weaknesses. Some of it is formational. Everybody has got to deal with (Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson) Megatron. The backs are really explosive. You look at a guy like (WR) Golden Tate, very effective run after the catch player. So it's not forcing things. They're not forcing things. They are looking for an answer, the answer's not there, they are going quick to the back or quick to Tate, mixing in screens.
"They operate really well in space. All three backs average over eight yards a catch. So, you've got the big-play issue. You've got the plays Golden Tate can make outside. You've got the backs and they're not forcing things that aren't there and because they aren't they've been really effective at moving the chains and turning small plays into explosive plays. Space on a fast track with the group that they have, that's tough. That's going to be tough."