X's and O's with Nolan: Pre-Lions

As head coach Mike Nolan gets his team prepared to play the Lions on Sunday, he took a quick break to respond to questions from our fans.  If your question wasn't chosen this time, try again! Coach Nolan will be back next Tuesday with more answers.
To ask a question, send it to xandowithnolan@niners.nfl.com

Q: Hey Mike, I was wondering why Deshaun Foster hasn't been used more in the running game in the first two games of the season? He provides an excellent change of pace to Frank Gore and if the two were used interchangeably in the rushing attack it might help keep the defense off balance. I was also expecting to see the 49ers come out in more split back formations with both Gore and Foster in the backfield because both can be excellent rushing and receiving threats out of the backfield. Will we see more of Foster throughout the season? - -Reshaad ShiraziA: DeShaun is a good player, and I think he has made our offense better. He has not played too much yet, but it is still early in the season. I think as the season progresses you will see more from him. He is a big back and can be a difference maker.

Q: Coach Nolan, why is that our defense is not able to put pressure on the quarterback? We are giving the quarterback so much time that he picked our secondary apart with is third string receivers. Imagine if Matt Hasselbeck had his starting receivers what he would have done with the time he was given in the pocket. Coach, we should constantly put pressure on the QB's in order for our defense to be successful. We came out with just one sack. Do you think the 3-4 defenses will put pressure on the QB's? We have very good pass rushers with us and why not make use of them properly? Thanks, M.R.Raghavan
A: We did not hit the quarterback as much as we did in the first game against Arizona, but we did force Seattle to throw the ball quickly and some of the things we did defensively caused the quarterback to hesitate while making his throws. Matt Hasselbeck completed just 50 percent of his passes and had the lowest quarterback rating of his career last Sunday. Their big tight end John Carlson made some plays against us. We had him covered, we just did not make the play.

Q: Thanks coach for taking the time to answer my question. It seems that we have been playing a lot of 4-3 defense lately, and I have not seen too much of Manny Lawson on the field on Sunday. Is Manny injured or his on the hot seat for some unforeseen reason? Thanks again. Chris, Honolulu Hawaii.A: Manny is not on the hot seat. We utilized a defensive package this week that substituted another defensive back in place of Manny at linebacker to help counter Seattle's attack. It had nothing to do with Manny. It was designed to be the best way to beat the Seahawks.
During the week when Manny knew he would not play as much, he asked to be put in on special teams. I think it shows what kind of player we are dealing with Manny. As we saw in the game he is an outstanding special teams player. He blocked a punt in the game. It was the second blocked punt of his career. He blocked seven punts in college. Manny is a hard-working player.

Manny is a little bit like an Ed Reed of Baltimore. Ed Reed's a great football player. If all he did was special teams, he'd be blocking punts, returning them for touchdowns, he'd be doing all that kind of stuff. But you need him on defense. Manny, in a strange way to me, is a lot the same way. He's got a lot of playmaking ability in him and wherever you put him, he has an ability to make it.

Q: Coach, I know you don't like to speculate on injuries, yet this is regarding RT Jonas Jennings. With Jennings potentially out for a significant amount of time and Barry Sims stepping into the starting role, will Chilo Rachal begin to get some reps in practice at the tackle spot?  The reason I ask is because of the depth in the middle with: Heitmann, Wragge, Snyder, Bass, Wallace, & Rachal, with Rachal being the only interior lineman with tackle experience in this year's pre-season .  Keep up the good work coach, we're all with you!! - East Coast Vinny

A: While, Jonas is out this week, his return is day-to-day. We do have versatility on the line. Wragge can play center, guard and tackle, and Snyder can play guard as well as tackle. If it got to the point that we felt it was necessary, we could move Chilo to tackle. He did get some work at tackle during the offseason. Ideally since he is a young guy learning his way in the NFL we would like to keep him at guard and let him master that position first. 

Q: Coach - How do you keep a player's mind in the game when they make a great play that ultimately hurts the team such as Manny's punt block? Manny certainly did a great job on the play. What did you say to him and what could have been done to prevent Seattle's first down? I heard it on the radio and couldn't tell if players were asleep or if nothing could have prevented Jordan Babineaux's recovery and 1st down.
Also, has anyone tracked down someone like Tiki Barber to assist Frank on ball protection. I remember Tiki having fumbling issues and being able to correct them. Are Frank's fumbles something that can be fixed or are too many teams spending more time trying to force fumbles on Frank than any other back because they know it is/was a problem before? - Thanks, Dan M, Maryland
A: Manny Lawson made a great play on the punt block yet Seattle recovered and managed to get a first down to keep a drive alive. It is a very rare play. In fact, I am not sure I have ever seen a play like that where we block the punt and the opponent recovers for a first down. I think as we proved through the game, we are a mentally tough team. Going down 14-0 with the play on the blocked punt as well as the fumble recovery for a touchdown and our ability to recover on the road was big for our team. It shows a lot of character, but it also showed that our guys do believe in what they're doing and I think that will pay dividends going forward.

We work on ball protection every single day in every practice. On both of Gore's fumbles, he ran into one of his blockers. Then in the process of trying to make a play, he lost the ball. There is a fine line between trying to make a play and being put in a situation where you lose the ball trying to make a play. Frank understands that.

Q: First of all, our offense looks very promising and the defense is pretty solid. Thank you for putting together a good squad this year. I have been a Niners fan forever, and this is the first season in many that I really believe that the Niners have a playoff quality team! That being said, here are my questions: *
1. Why are we not running more out of passing formations inside the red zone?

A: We have an extensive play book. I would not pass judgment after just two games. I think as the season goes on you will see more of what we are capable of doing as an offense as a whole as well as what we can do in the red zone.

2. At the end of regulation, we could have run the ball for a few more yards, then spiked the ball, and then kicked the field goal -- maybe the field goal is 38 instead of 41 -- why didn't we?A: We were on the road in a hostile environment and well within in Joe Nedney's range. We felt it was the best plan to get the victory.

3. Why not some tight end screens to Davis? He is such a powerful athlete -- need to find ways to get the ball in his hands. 

A: We do go into a game with certain plays designed for Vernon. Sometimes the way the game goes dictates what we are able to do. While Vernon is an explosive player, this past week, his blocking played a huge role in our ability to get the ball down field. We had five passes of more than 25 yards. Vernon played a big role in our ability to give our quarterback the time to make those throws on those particular plays.

4. Why were we not paying more attention to the Seahawks' rookie tight end?

A: The Seattle tight end did a real nice job against us. What bothered me most is that we did have him covered. He just made the plays against us.

5. Why does it seem that the Niners start every game with a few major gaffes that must be overcome by the next 35 minutes of game play? Are the players too fired up? Do we need to play with more caution at the start until the players settle in? Maybe some 'bend-but-don't-break defense for the first few sets? - – Nicholas HolderA: If it was a consistent reason it would be easy to fix. I hope it is not a consistent issue like it has been in the first two games. It is something we talk about, getting off to a fast start.

Q: Hey coach, I'm worried about our run defense... Julius Jones and Edgerrin James pretty much had their way with us.... And with guys like Reggie Bush, Lawrence Maroney, Brandon Jacobs/Ahmad Bradshaw, and Marshawn Lynch coming up in the next month.... this has to be a real area of concern. Why are we having so much trouble in an area we've been pretty good at the last couple of years? those 14 play 10 minute drivers are going to be a problem when the real power run teams come to town. - Chris Penoyer
A: The run defense is an area where we were very strong last season. In the season-opener
we did do a good job. We held Arizona to just a 2.8-yard average. Edgerrin James did have 100 yards, but he did so on 26 carries. To me it is more impressive when you look at what Frank did against Arizona. He had 96 yards on only 14 carries for a 6.9-yard average.

We gave up some yards rushing against Seattle last week. I do think we could have tackled better. But the way Seattle attacks on offense, the key was stopping the passing game, which we did.

Q: Congratulations on yesterdays win coach! My question is what will be done to address the deficiencies with the offensive line with respect to the multiple sacks over the last two games ? J T is getting killed back there. - Dennis BursbyA: If the sacks were centered on just one area it would be easy to fix. We would replace that
player. Sometimes we had a breakdown on the line, sometimes the quarterback held the ball too long and sometimes Seattle just made a great play. So the responsibility is shared throughout. We are aware of the eight sacks. Obviously, you do not want your quarterback to get hit that many times. Sometimes when you are trying to make a play, the quarterback can end up taking a sack. I think the offensive line did well in the game. I think that they can get better. But I would not put all of those eight sacks on them because that is not where it belongs.

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