Q. I wanted to ask you about WR A.J. Brown. At the end of the game, it looked like he was frustrated on the sidelines, you went over and talked with him. It also appeared he had tweaked something late in the game. Can you shed some light on that, please? (Tim McManus)
NICK SIRIANNI: He was going through a little something with his body that was hurting him. We feel like he’ll be ready to go this week, but he was hurting in that game. That’s why he wasn’t in the game.
As far as the first part of that question, of course he’s always going to want the ball. He’s a really good player. Not really anybody in the pass game really got a lot of targets or a lot of opportunities because we were running the ball so well.
But that’s what you want from your receivers, to want to have the football. Part of the reason why receivers are good is because they want and crave the football. They want the ball to change the game. But make no mistake about it, he was thrilled that we won the football game. Always wants to be involved, obviously, in the plan. He blocked his butt off, and you could see how excited he was when he sprang that block for [WR] DeVonta’s [Smith] touchdown.
But obviously he was really excited and celebrated in the locker room with all of us after the win.
Q. With QB Jalen Hurts going into this game, 24 years old, an NFC championship game, that would be a lot for most young players, but it doesn’t seem that way for him. Where is your confidence level in his ability and his poise in this moment? (Dave Zangaro)
NICK SIRIANNI: No man suddenly becomes different than his cherished thoughts and habits. That’s something, that’s a line [former Colts Head Coach] Frank Reich used to always say to me. What he means by that is just because the moment is big doesn’t mean [QB Jalen Hurts] all of a sudden going to change who he’s been for the past three years that he’s been in Philadelphia. He’s going to have that same demeanor. You just don’t all of a sudden change just because the situation changes.
That’s what we think as a team, and I know Jalen, he’s going to be locked in, and he’s going to work and prepare every day to be ready for this game, and he’s going to be ready to go. I know that.
He’s going to be that same calm, steady person that he is each and every week. You just don’t automatically change.
That’s obviously a really important trait to have as your leader, as your quarterback, somebody that doesn’t ride the waves of the season, doesn’t ride the waves of a game. He stays steady and is truly in the moment of the next play.
Q. Asking about 49ers QB Brock Purdy, I know you’re always scouting late-round quarterbacks and you have the connections to the Iowa State staff. What did you know about Purdy before he came across your screen this week? (Zach Berman)
NICK SIRIANNI: Just that he’s a winner. Obviously, I always follow Iowa State and their program because I have so many college teammates and roommates that coach there. Since [Iowa State Head Coach] Matt [Campbell] became the head coach at Iowa State, I’ve always followed them, and obviously stay in touch with Matt.
But you saw what he did for that program, right. Matt is obviously a great head coach, but he got a great quarterback in [49ers QB] Brock Purdy, and you saw what he did for that program. And all the things he did for them. I checked the score, Purdy had an awesome game, and they won again. That’s what I notice with him, that he’s a winner.
Obviously when you’re close with other coaches like that and you have conversations back and forth, this is going back to when Brock was at Iowa State, like, hey, what are you guys doing on the tape right here, this looked good, this and that. The common theme always from them is hey, we’ve got a quarterback that can lead the way and find the right place to go with the football consistently, who’s just a playmaker.
So that’s what I knew about him going into last year’s draft process. Obviously, I followed him a lot just because of my relationship with the coaches there.
Q. A couple weeks ago you mentioned that QB Jalen Hurts was really sore after the regular season finale. How did he come out of this weekend’s game compared to the last one? (EJ Smith)
NICK SIRIANNI: We feel like he’s continuing to get better. I’ll let him answer how he feels, but we felt like he came out good, and then he can answer how sore he is after this game.
But played a good game. We got through healthy, not only [QB] Jalen [Hurts] but the rest of the team, and yeah, so we’re excited, obviously, about the health of our football team right now.
Q. What’s the likelihood that we’ll see CB Avonte Maddox out there at practice this week, and how do you feel about the secondary’s play, especially when it comes to S C.J. Gardner-Johnson, S Reed Blankenship and S Marcus Epps and how they played against the Giants? (Chris Franklin)
NICK SIRIANNI: First part of the question, we’ll see. We’re hopeful. We’re hopeful, but he’s still got to get out there and run on the field and do drills, so it’s not something that we know quite yet because there’s some unknown of some of the football movements that he has to go out there and do. We’ll see. We’ll have more for you this week on that. I have more media obligations this week, so I’m going to be able to answer more questions.
The second part, you asked how did I feel like the secondary played. I felt like they played really well, and I think we’ve just been getting consistent play out of that entire group. Obviously, a credit to [Defensive Coordinator] Coach [Jonathan] Gannon, Coach [Defensive Passing Game Coordinator/Defensive Backs] Dennard Wilson and [Assistant Defensive Backs coach] D.K. [McDonald], really good DB coaches. I really think Coach Wilson, I had a second to brag on Gannon after the game, and now let me brag on Coach Dennard. He’s just a great leader of men, and he’s able to bring a group together. I look at Coach Dennard like a really good offensive line coach where you’ve got to bring them all together. They’ve all got to play as one, and that’s a really important position to make sure you’re doing this, and Dennard is really good at that.
Obviously we have really good players there with [CB] James [Bradberry] and [CB Darius] Slay and [S] Reed [Blankenship] and [S] Marcus [Epps] and [S] C.J. [Gardner-Johnson] and [CB] Avonte [Maddox] and the depth. [S] K’Von [Wallace] has given really meaningful reps this year, so we’ve got a good depth there, too, so a tribute to [Executive Vice President/General Manager] Howie [Roseman] of bringing all these guys in, but I thought they played an outstanding game just being around the ball and denying the football and then making the tackles necessary.
I thought we played physical, and I think Chauncey has done a really nice job of stepping in the nickel position. That’s so important that we have these guys that can play multiple spots, and that really has helped us as we’ve gotten dinged a little bit with Avonte of being able to move Chauncey in there, and you have [CB] Josiah Scott that we trust, as well, that’s contributed on special teams and has given us some meaningful reps, as well.
You can’t say enough about the coaching that they’ve gotten from Dennard and D.K.. Then again, just Slay is the leader back there of just bringing the guys together, as well. James has been a great addition. I could go on and on about how good this group has been, and I do believe that it’s that iron sharpens iron. We’re really good in the secondary, and we’re really good at wide out, and they’ve made each other better through the battles that they’ve gone against, that they’ve done all year, similar to our O-line and D-line.
You look at training camp, take yourself back to training camp and the battles that [T] Lane [Johnson] and [LB] Haason [Reddick] had in training camp and how much better they made each other. When you have that competition and the depth and the players that we have, that’s a great thing when they’re making each other better mentally and physically.
Q. Curious as an offensive coach how much you paid attention to 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan over the years. Obviously, he’s got a reputation in this league when it comes to scheming and play calling. Curious how much you pay attention to other guys who are in that position and him specifically. (John McMullen)
NICK SIRIANNI: Sure, you always are studying good coaches. Whether that is what makes them go as far as mentally or as far as their scheme or as just a coach, the relationships, all the other stuff about coaching. Obviously with him, he’s always been a guy that has a great reputation in the NFL, and he is a great offensive coordinator, a great offensive mind.
Of course, you watch a lot of their tape. I remember watching — obviously I have close ties with Pierre Garçon, and when Pierre played for him, I remember watching all his catches, just being a Mount Union guy. That was one of my first times to really study Kyle’s offense, and I remember coming away very impressed, obviously, with all the plays that Pierre made, my fellow Purple Raider, but also the scheme that they were getting with him.
I had Brian Hoyer, as well, who also played for Kyle and played meaningful snaps for him in San Francisco, and I believe somewhere else, too. I can’t quite remember where.
I remember how much — when you’re with quarterbacks, you have a lot of different conversations about schemes and all those different things, and I just remember how highly Brian Hoyer thought of Kyle. I remember asking him questions, what did Kyle do in this scenario or that scenario, so just highly impressed with him as a football coach. I don’t know him all that well, just to say hello, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about him as a person, as well. I have a lot of respect for him as a football coach and all the success he’s had. He’s been around the game his entire life. Obviously at a different level at Southwestern High School, I was, as well, so I just got — I know some of the things that he probably had to go through growing up and we get exposed to a lot as coaches’ sons.
Yeah, I have a lot of respect for him and with him as a football coach.
Q. Looking at the advanced numbers here of 49ers Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ defense, he doesn’t blitz much, he doesn’t play a lot of man defense, kind of sprinkles it up with his zone coverages, it sounds a lot like Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s? (Jeff McLane)
NICK SIRIANNI: So, it’s the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked defenses in the NFL, and they don’t blitz a lot, they don’t play any man. Okay, just wanted to make sure I was hearing that right.
Q. Yeah, so what are some other characteristics that really define his scheme? (Jeff McLane)
NICK SIRIANNI: One of the most impressive things about coaches that I see sometimes is when their guys are just like selling out for them, and I really see that with DeMeco Ryans’ defense. I see his players genuinely selling out, and you can see their interactions in the game, right, when you watch it on television. You see those guys playing really hard for him.
Why does a player play really hard for a coach? I think one thing that happens is they really recognize that that coach cares about them as a person. They really recognize that that coach is genuinely making them better. Again, am I in there in meetings and hearing how DeMeco Ryans is making guys better? No, but I see it, that obviously he is doing that and that these guys love to play for him.
That speaks a lot to Coach Ryans, because he’s gotten the most — obviously they have really good players, but he’s gotten a lot out of those guys. It’s no surprise to me that he’s one of the hot head coaching candidates coming up for this year, and I have a lot of respect for that. This is a really well-coached football team, and we’ll have to be on our stuff this week.
Q. On the really good players point, what is your first impressions of their personnel, I guess notably their linebackers, Fred Warner and Drake Greenlaw, and we’re also going to need an update on what your food of choice was for the Niners-Cowboys game? (Jimmy Kempski)
NICK SIRIANNI: Little Caesar’s this time.
As far as the players, man, this is a talented team. Obviously, you mentioned those two guys, and I have a lot of respect for them. Then they have good players all across the defensive line headlined by [49ers DL Nick] Bosa and [49ers DL Arik] Armstead. Their corners, they have the guy from Kansas City that I thought was a really good player there last year as we were watching guys that were free agents. The safeties can really cause havoc in there.
Then not to mention the offensive line that they have and the skill players that they have. They have unique skill players with [49ers WR] Deebo [Samuel] and [49ers RB Christian] McCaffrey and [49ers TE George] Kittle. I really liked [49ers WR] Brandon Aiyuk coming out of Arizona State. I remember thinking very highly of him. You can tell Kyle [Shanahan] does a good job of really coaching the details to the wide receivers. You see them running good routes, really detailed routes.
So again, just going back to their coaches and how good they are, a lot of good playmakers on this football team. A lot of good playmakers on this football team offensively and defensively, and it’s no surprise that they’ve won all these games in a row. They have good coaches, and they have good players.
We’re going to have to have a plan, and obviously that’s what we’re working on now to make sure that their good players don’t wreck the game. That’s what you always — you look at, hey, here’s their really good players, how do we make sure this guy doesn’t wreck the game. But we have good players, too, and we’re excited about the match-ups that we’re going to — I think you’re going to see a lot of really good match-ups in this game of really good-on-good. There’s a lot of good-on-good out there that’s going to be happening in this game.
That’s what the NFC championship game should be. It’s going to be good-on-good, and it’s going to be tight.
Again, we have to put our guys in the best spots to be able to make plays and make sure we’re containing some of those guys I just mentioned.
Q. I noticed the other day you made a reference to QB Jalen Hurts and Michael Jordan and everything, and I was wondering if that was something that you might have noticed about Jalen when you were scouting him, while you were in Indy, he was coming out of college, and also, if you might have talked to Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell about the 2019 game between Oklahoma and Iowa State in which Jalen and 49ers QB Brock Purdy kind of went head to head. (Martin Frank)
NICK SIRIANNI: Jalen won that one, right, 42-41? I remember watching that game.
Q. Missed a two-point conversion or something. (Martin Frank)
NICK SIRIANNI: Matt and I may be good friends, and we are good friends, but every game that Brock Purdy plays well in, I think that’s good for recruiting classes at Iowa State, so he’s not — I’m not asking him because I’m not sure I’m going to get the great info from him or I’m going to get all the info from him because if the Eagles play well, how does that help Iowa State? It doesn’t. But if Purdy plays well, it’s going to help him.
So obviously, again, I’m teasing there, but going back, that game, I do remember watching that game and that both quarterbacks really played well.
Your first part of that question?
Q. It was mostly about your Michael Jordan reference the other day, if that was something you noticed in QB Jalen Hurts when you were looking at him coming out of college and when he finally became that. (Martin Frank)
NICK SIRIANNI: You know, when you compare something like that, you’re thinking about — I mean, Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time, and I get in arguments back and forth with our players. In my opinion, right, because my height of watching basketball — I’m not trying to start a debate here or anything like that, but in my opinion, my height of watching basketball and who I always wanted to be as a kid growing up was Michael Jordan. I don’t think I’m going to get in many arguments that he’s the best basketball player of all time.
But the things that Michael Jordan, you were able to see a lot of things about him in “The Last Dance” about his competitiveness and about just his desire and will to win.
So when you make that comparison, you think — again, when you guys ask me about Jalen, the first thing, as good as he’s played this year, as well as he’s run the football, as well as he’s thrown the football, reading defenses, accurate throws, as well as he’s done all that, what you notice first about him is his will to win, his competitive drive.
That comparison is kind of in that aspect of it. Again, was I around Michael Jordan? No, but I was able to watch from afar when I was a kid, but then also you’re able to watch these documentaries and you see that common denominator of those things — the first thing you asked me about Jalen, I always talk about all those things, all the intangibles that he has.
That’s where that’s coming from is just that will to win. It’s at a different level. He had that big chain on. What did it say? A breed of one. He’s a breed of one. That’s who he is. He’s unlike anybody I’ve been around just with how much he loves this game, how much winning drives him, how much getting better every day drives him, how much leading drives him. He’s special. He is a special dude.
That’s where really I was coming from with that, in the sense of like man, these guys, they’re built different. They’re built different as far as how they go about their business and how they go about prepping for games and compete in games and steady during games. That’s what I was speaking of there.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Defensive Line Coach Tracy Rocker. You’ve talked a lot about the D-line and their production. He doesn’t say a lot to us. What’s he like? How does he resonate with the players? What have you seen from him? (Reuben Frank)
NICK SIRIANNI: I think [Defensive Line Coach Tracy] Coach Rocker is a great coach. He’s very detailed in what he does. The guys trust him. The guys like playing for him. The other day last week, I couldn’t sleep. Obviously just thinking about what I’m going to say to the team, this and that. I woke up at like 2:30 in the morning and I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I go in and I’m in the office at 4:00. I’m like, what else am I going to do, I’m just going to lay here in bed? I can watch some tape on the Giants.
I’m pulling in at 4:00, and walking in right before me was Coach Rocker, and I’m like, I’m a little embarrassed, Coach Rocker, shoot. I was like, man, you know who was going in at 4:00, it was Coach Rocker, and everybody was like, yeah, he always does that, that’s when he goes in.
So, he grinds. He’s doing everything he can do to put these guys in positions to help them make plays.
With Coach, him being the former player that he was, he’s been in those scenarios, been in these big games, he can relate to these guys in different ways, as well.
I have a lot of respect for him and all the things that he’s done, and I’m happy he’s on our staff.
Have you ever seen his hands?
Q. I have seen his hands. (Reuben Frank)
NICK SIRIANNI: They’re jacked up beyond belief. I think that’s how you determine — and then [DE Josh Sweat] Sweaty’s hands are like that, too. You determine how good a D-lineman was by how jacked up their hands were. I didn’t get to see him play in the ’80s, but judging by his hands, he was a monster over there at Auburn.
Q. Given how much you guys stress and rep ball security on the contrast side of that, how much of messaging is taught or is it natural in regards to yards after the catch, especially with two guys like WR A.J. Brown and TE Dallas Goedert, and specifically on Goedert, building on that question, how natural is it for him with the stiff arms specifically? (Josh Tolentino)
NICK SIRIANNI: That’s something you try to teach them where to have the ball, what arm to have the ball in so they can utilize that stiff arm, so there’s a lot of technique and fundamentals to it. And we try to put it in their minds in practice, like hey, you catch the ball, you tuck and get it to the proper fundamentals of how we teach you to hold it, and then you burst for three lines. When I say three lines, that’s 15 yards, right, you burst for three lines to get in that habit of finishing every play.
That’s something that actually — I tell you I like to watch documentaries of all types, and there was a Larry Fitzgerald documentary, “A Football Life,” I think, and basically one of my old bosses, Todd Haley, said to him, ‘Hey, why don’t you be like,’ — in the documentary he was like, ‘Why don’t you be like Anquan Boldin and just become this bull when you get the ball in your hands.’ So our point, we show that every time we talk about finishing, because Larry said, ‘I took that personal and I started finishing in practice and I started finishing in games.’
So, the art of finishing we definitely preach and we definitely talk about.
A lot of the yards after catch, sometimes you’re going to get yards after catch because of the scheme, and there’s sometimes the scheme doesn’t allow for as much. But you have to also understand in yards after catch, a lot of that is innate ability. If you went back and looked at Mount Union in 2003, you saw a lot of No. 25 wide receiver catching the ball and then stepping out of bounds. I had no innate ability to create any yards after catch.
This innate ability is a big part of it, of feeling where to go with the ball, having the ball protected, being able to make the guy miss. [WR] DeVonta [Smith] has an innate ability with the ball in his hands. He’s made some really good plays with the ball in his hands, and we’ve got these guys — you mentioned A.J., you mentioned [TE] Dallas [Goedert], those two guys, they do it differently. DeVonta has this punt returner ability to him, a feeling, instinctual, where the lanes are. A.J. and Dallas have this bull mentality of, come tackle me, I’m a big running back, come tackle me if you dare.
Yards after catch is talked a lot about because what better way for a quarterback than to throw the ball five yards and then let a receiver get 15 more yards off of that. That’s a nice feeling as a quarterback.
It’s talked a lot about. Obviously, you’re always trying to teach the fundamentals and detail of it, but there’s a lot of innate ability of the player, as well.