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Eric Mangini Talks 49ers Defensive Identity, Need to Create Takeaways

The San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator fielded on a number of questions on Thursday about his unit's performance through five weeks of the regular season.

Take a look at what Eric Mangini had to say.
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Opening comments:

"So, another talented group coming in, another good quarterback. Facing [Baltimore Ravens QB] Joe [Flacco] a lot of different times, I've always been really impressed with not just his presence in the pocket, but his arm strength. So, we're onto third downs today, working a little bit on the red zone. And then, in the early part of the week we installed the first and second down game plan, addressing some of the things that we need to address defensively to improve, being able to take advantage of our opportunities, being able to eliminate the self-inflicted wounds, starting there and then pushing forward to Baltimore."

With all the changes that the players are talking about the defense this offseason, how do you think they've adapted to what it is you're trying to get them to do?

"I think for the most part they've done a good job of working at it and they've done a good job of understanding what we're trying to get done. With any new defense, new scheme, new group working together there's steps and we've got some young guys as well. So, I have no complaints at the way that we've worked at it and the way that they've studied it and those things. We just need to obviously improve the execution." 

And that's where, you mentioned the working at it and understanding it. Then where is the lapse there as far as transferring that over to the game?

"I don't think it's one thing. And I think there's been times we've done a lot of really good things. When you go through a game and you have those opportunities to make plays, you want to be able to take advantage of them and some of it is ill-timed penalties that we've gotten. Some of it's me needing to improve as well. It's not one guy, it's not one person, it's not just one area. It's the constant push to address the things that come up and also the way that offenses are attacking us because that's changing and evolving with each opponent."

How long does it take to get this defense down?

"I don't know if there's a set timeline on it. Every time I've been part of a transition it's different for different teams. Been a part of quite a few and I wouldn't say that there's one overriding pattern on it." 

Baltimore Ravens CB Shareece Wright was open yesterday about saying that he's assisting the Ravens in any way he can. Does that mean that you guys have to do things differently because he's so familiar with how things work on gamedays, etcetera?

"To some degree you do that. I've been in situations where we've had a guy that's come from a team that we were either going to play the next week or the week after and some of their feedback is valuable. Some of their feedback is so specific to their group, to their area, that you get some insight, but it's really segmented. It has the backend component to it, but what does that coverage equate to up front. That's where I've always had a little trouble with as you go through and talk to guys from other clubs. You get part of the picture, but you don't necessarily get all of it. But, being aware that, and Shareece is a smart guy, a good guy, a consciences guy, definitely take that into account."

Do you expect LB Gerald Hodges to be active this week and what's the role that you see for him as you've gotten to know him in this defense, you see him filling in?

"Yeah, Gerald was able to get a decent amount of reps yesterday just by the personnel that we had practicing and he's done a good job with it. Whether or not he can come in this week, we'll have to see more towards the end of the week and also see where he fits in on special teams, because that's always a part of the discussion with guys that aren't necessarily starting. As those two come closer together where he's carved out a role there as well as a role on defense, that'll get him active." 

What do you see in terms of LB NaVorro Bowman's pass coverage?

"It's like all of our pass coverage. There's been times where it's been really good and outstanding and then there's been times where it hasn't been what we wanted. But, I can tell you that it's not unique to NaVorro. And all that stuff works together. It's how long do you have to cover for? How quickly is the rush getting there? Is the rush affecting the quarterback? Are we able to bat any balls? All that stuff ties in because the amount of time you have to cover, there's a set route and then there's a route that happens after things break down, which makes it harder."

Are you seeing him wear down as the grind of the season goes on?

"No. And I think [head coach] Jim's [Tomsula] done a good job of trying to give him some time and NaVorro is great about communicating where he's at, whether it's with me or with the trainers or with Jim. And, we're all working together. What he's come back from is not an easy thing at all and he's done a great job when you put it in perspective of what he went through and how hard he had to work to get back there. What he doesn't want and we don't want, nobody wants is take any steps back with that. So, we're trying to be as conscientious and as open collectively about it to get him in the best spot to play on Sundays." 

Hodges was a converted safety in college. Was that something, were his coverage skills something that attracted you guys to him? What's your general scouting report?

"You know, it's funny you wouldn't, he had a couple plays yesterday where he came up and he fills quickly and he has some thump to him. So, you wouldn't look at him and go, 'Hey, OK, this guy was at one point in the secondary.' I don't know the system that he was in, sometimes those converted safeties in college systems are really guys that never leave the box. So, they're college safeties, but they are more linebacker types. That being said, you love guys that can run and cover and has the versatility to go up and play with guards and deal with the big guys."

Are you expecting LB Ahmad Brooks on Sunday?

"That's another one that we'll have to see towards the end of the week with Ahmad. And, Jimmy is taking the lead on that. So, whenever Ahmad is back we'll be excited and happy to have him here. Every situation is different. It's such a tough time right now." 

Do you have a sense of who the identity of your defense? I mean, after the Green Bay game everyone said, "The defense, that's the strength of the team," and then Sunday was pretty rough.

"I would say it's the ebb and flow of the season. Week 1, defense was great. Then there were other games where we had a better performance than other ones. What I think is really important, I've always stressed to the players is win, lose, perception, none of that is as important. It's what you take away from those things. It's how we're pushing forward. It's how well we're improving. And, sometimes it's the young guys seeing things for the first time. [S] Jaquiski [Tartt] who's really played in the backend, is now playing some of the dime defense underneath. All of that stuff you've got to go through and see for the first time. So, some of those man-route combinations. Even a guy like [DB] Jimmie Ward who had some experience last year inside at the slot, there's things that you show him, you coach him, you teach him, but it's that feeling it, feeling the speed. That part, you wish you could accelerate it. You always want to with young guys, but it takes some time."

CB Tramaine Brock had that interception in the end zone. You guys almost had a couple more interceptions. But, you haven't had a fumble recovery yet this season. Is that something where you guys--?

"Yeah, I'd love some more fumble recoveries, some more batted balls, some more sacks, some more, all those things. We were talking about that too yesterday or actually I was talking with the guys this morning in the meeting is in practice you go through the drill work and that's one level of simulation and you try to get it as real as you can. But, then at practice, it's so important to go through the fits, go through the angles. You've got to build up muscle memory. You've got to get your body trained to consistently pressuring the ball, consistently having the awareness of where the quarterback is in the pocket. Am I in the strong lane? Am I engaged with a blocker? If I am, then my hand's got to go up. I think it was [boxing trainer] Cus D'Amato that said, 'You've got to rep it so much that you can't mess it up even if you want to," just talking about jabs. It's the same thing. You've got to train your body over and over again. It's so important to do it outside of the drill work so it's reactionary and it's just part of what you do."

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