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Bill Belichick: The 49ers, like their coach Jim Harbaugh, are ‘physical with an edge’

12.14.12 at 5:34 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Sometimes a football team genuinely takes on the personality of their coach.

Such is the case with the San Francisco 49ers.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked what he remembered about Jim Harbaugh the quarterback, who played for the Bears and Colts, and the University of Michigan, just like Tom Brady.

“We played against Jim a couple times when he was in Chicago, definitely at Indianapolis,” Belichick said of the days when he coached with the Giants and was head coach of the Browns. “Tough, competitive guy. He’€™d definitely stand in there; he had a lot of toughness. He had a good career. They traded him when they drafted Peyton [Peyton Manning]; he was the quarterback. He was there with Marshall Faulk and [Ted Marchibroda] Marchibroda. Good player. He played [14] years; he was around for awhile. Tough guy at Michigan.”

Do the 49ers play the way he played?

“I think, yeah, they play very competitively, they’€™re physical with an edge,” I’€™d say he was a tough guy for a quarterback, definitely. His teams reflect that. He’€™s a good personality, strong personality. They play that way; they play aggressively but with good temperament.”

Belichick said Friday, 48 hours from New England’s latest big game, that his interaction with him is limited.

“We’€™ve talked a few times. It’€™s funny, I think the last time I talked to him he was at Stanford and Bill Walsh was sitting in his office. So we were talking and he said, ‘€˜Hey, Bill’€™s here, do you want to say hello to Coach Walsh?’€™, so I talked to Bill Walsh. That was a few years ago, I think ‘€™05, somewhere around there.”

Belichick said he spoke with Walsh on the phone in that encounter, when the late Walsh was at Stanford.

“I think it was about some of his players, pre-draft type of thing or Combine maybe,” Belichick said.

Does Belichick still see imprints of Walsh on the 49ers organization?

“I think when you watch them play, you definitely don’€™t see that offensively,” Belichick said. “There’€™s an element to the offense, some of the flat backs things they do and all that but no, really I’€™d say this looks like Jim’€™s program. Not being inside the organization, I can’€™t really comment on some of the other ‘€“ the scouting or some of the other things organizationally ‘€“ I’€™m not sure about that. But I’€™d say this looks like Jim’€™s team. Kind of like what he did at Stanford, same coordinators other than Brad Seely, but with Greg [Roman] and Vic [Fangio] as their offensive and defensive coordinators. He had them at Stanford, so it’€™s similar.”

Here is the rest of Friday’s Q and A with Belichick at Gillette Stadium:

Q: Speaking of Brad Seely, whom you had here with the Patriots, it seems like in San Francisco the punter and returners can really flip the field.

BB: Definitely. [Andy] Lee, he can definitely change field position. He’€™s got a huge leg. [David] Akers had the 63-yard field goal this year; we know he’€™s an excellent kicker and skilled. He had the onside kick against us when he was with the Eagles in ‘€™07. Good returners; [Ted] Ginn obviously has done a good job for them, [Kyle] Williams before he got hurt. They do a good job. [Larry] Grant has blocked a punt and was close on a couple other ones. They’€™re solid in the kicking game. They led the league in special teams last year. They’€™re solid, they’€™re strong, they have a lot of physical players. They have some fast players like [Tramaine] Brock and [C.J.] Spillman, some physical guys, like Grant. They have some good balance of speed, size, toughness and good specialists ‘€”kicker, punter, returners.

Q: When you say lead the league in special teams, what do you mean?

BB: [Dallas Morning News columnist] Rick Gosselin does that, where he compounds everything and rates it. I don’€™t know if it’€™s perfect or not, but it’€™s certainly an indicator. I’€™d rather be at the top of the list than the bottom, let’€™s put it that way. They do a good job.

Q: Wes Welker is closing in on five seasons with 100-plus catches. What do you think of that record and what does it say about how dependable he’€™s been over the years?

BB: I think that’€™s what it says the most about, is his dependability and durability. That’€™s a lot of catches for a lot of years. To go be able to go out there and do it week after week against all the different coverages, all the different matchups that we see and all that, it’€™s a real credit to, like you said, Wes’€™s ability but also his toughness and his durability because he’€™s taken a lot of hits out there. Our slot receivers historically ‘€“ Troy Brown, Wes ‘€“ they’€™ve always caught a lot of balls, but he’€™s caught a lot for a long time and returned kicks for us and [he] blocks. He’€™s a tough kid. He’€™s in there on a lot of plays and it’€™s not all catches ‘€“ he’€™s in there blocking in the running game. He had a big block on [Stevan] Ridley’€™s touchdown run last week and has returned kicks for us, punts.

Q: We often talk about a quarterback’€™s growth in a system in his first few years. Can you make the same comparison for a linebacker, like Jerod Mayo who comes in and plays a lot and grows?

BB: Sure, absolutely.

Q: Can you expound upon that specific to that position?

BB: Yeah, I think a lot of times rookies come in and they’€™re talented, they’€™re big, they’€™re fast, they can run and chase the ball, but a lot of times I would say they’€™re just kind of running around out there. As they gain more experience and more understanding of the total defense and where their teammates are and how things fit on different runs, they usually play with a little more patience, maybe a little more recognition in terms of play-action passes and misdirection plays like that. Although, Jerod is very good and has been very good at those, but I think certainly you get better at them through time and understanding the different matchups: which guys really try to knock you off the ball, which guys really try to come and fit up with you and use their athleticism to mirror you, which guys are holders, which guys are cut blockers in addition to the actual ‘€˜Xs’€™ and ‘€˜Os’€™ of the scheme, but how the individual guys play. Same thing with tackling backs. We see a lot of different types of backs: which guys you can really load up on, which guys have a lot of wiggle, which guys are faster than you, not faster than you. So, I think all those things play into it. It’€™s kind of a like a quarterback; the linebacker has to make multiple, multiple decisions on every play. Not only what his assignment is and what the play is, but all the way along the line, different angles, how to take on blocks, how to tackle, the leverage to play with, the angle to run to and so forth, the technique. So many different things happen in a split second during the course of the play, just like it is for a quarterback. The more of those things that you can do right, slow down, get the most important things, not get distracted by all the stuff that’€™s happening, but just really zero in on a target. I think a good quarterback or a good linebacker, a good safety, even though you have a lot of bodies moving out there, it slows down for them and they can really see it. Then there are other guys that it’€™s a lot of guys moving and they don’€™t see anything. It’€™s like being at a busy intersection, just cars going everywhere. The guys that can really sort it out, they see the game at a slower pace and can really sort out and decipher all that movement, which is hard. But experience certainly helps that, yes.

Q: We’€™ve talked about the 49ers defense all week. When your offense goes hurry-up, what do you see from the defenders and how that wears them down? What do you see from the sideline from your perspective? How important is it for you take advantage of whatever you see on Sunday?

BB: First of all, I wouldn’€™t say that the 49ers, that’€™s there’€™s a lot of that they’€™ve seen. There’€™s a lot of it that we can see on film ‘€“ some, not a whole lot. We don’€™t do it all the time either. Sometimes we do it; sometimes we don’€™t. If we feel like we can gain an advantage then we do it. If we don’€™t, then there are certain advantages to not doing it. We can go either way on that. But you know, things we’€™re looking for to try to be able to gain an advantage, that’€™s by scheme or maybe we feel like we have a little edge at that point in time in conditioning and being able to play faster than they are. Maybe it’€™s a communication thing, if we feel like they’€™re having trouble getting aligned or that type of thing. If they’€™re trying to match up, depending on what they’€™re trying to do defensively, it might be an advantage to force them to move quick. Sometimes there really isn’€™t ‘€“ if they aren’€™t moving much, then they’€™re in position no matter where you go because they don’€™t have a lot of moving parts, if that’€™s the way they happen to be playing. It’€™s a little bit of that. Like you said, it’€™s a feel, a way you feel like you can gain an advantage. If you can, great; if you can’€™t, maybe there are other advantages you can gain.

Q: Yesterday Aldon Smith said, ‘€˜We can stop them. This isn’€™t the first offense we’€™ve played against that has talent.’€™ What is your response to that and can you use that as bulletin board material?

BB: Look, they have a good defense and I’€™m sure they expect to play well. We have a good team [and] we expect to play well. It doesn’€™t really matter. It doesn’€™t put any points on the board or give you any blocks, tackles or yards or anything else. It will come down to how the teams perform on Sunday night. That’€™s really what it’€™s all about. The rest is just good for you [media] to work with.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill Walsh, New England Patriots, nfl
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