Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, 6.4
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Jeff, since this is our first time talking to you, maybe you could just introduce us to your philosophy and what style of defense you anticipate playing, other than the obvious, we all know it’s is going to be a 4-3, maybe just a little more detail in some of your philosophies?
Yeah, it’s going to be based upon principle, it’s going to be based on technique, it’s going to be based on effort and toughness, and really the essence of this game. We’re preaching this to the players now that it’s going to be about them and it’s not going to be about us. We’re not going to give them magical calls that get them out of things, they’re just going to understand these defenses at the highest level and understand the techniques within the defenses at the highest level, and that going to be the last level, that’s going to be the secret sauce. Simplicity though, and players first.
DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: Jeff, later on in practice it seemed the defense really turned up the heat on the offense. What went into that?
It’s a defense that, like I said, it’s very simple, not to be mistaken with easy by any means, because there’s lots of detail within it and you’ll find early in the development that we’re going to have rough days because they’re going to pick on us. They’re going to know that we’re in six, we’re in three, whatever the case may be because we don’t try to disguise or hide it much. We’re going to get hit but we learn through the burn, but this being the second day of red zone for our guys, they started to recognize pre-snap indicators, started to recognize the stem of the wide receiver, started to recognize some things and understand how they’re being attacked, and go beyond the playbook where it just says curl, now it’s curl attacked by two, or whatever the case may be. They’re starting to feel that a little bit, about the nuances and the finer details that make the difference in this defense.
Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Jeff, C.J. Mosley really hasn’t played too much over the last two years with the opt out and the groin injury in ’19. Have you seen any rust at all? It looked like he had a pretty good day today.
Not at all, I’m so excited about C.J. and what he brings to this defense, and what he brings to this team. He is one of those authentic, alpha leaders. Just knows how to run the defense. He is the field general, he is the old school MIKE that you look to, and very, very excited about what he can do within this defense. Excited for him, just personally, getting back on the field. I know his game is very, very important to him, getting back to some normalcy for him.
Dennis Waszak, Associated Press: Jeff, how did you and Robert (Saleh) click when you were going through that process, and he ended up hiring you to run the defense? What was that like, and how did you guys mesh and what were your conversations like between each other?
Yeah, me and him have always had a longstanding relationship. We worked with each other back in 2011 or 2010, in Seattle. Ever since then we’ve kept in constant contact, always shooting ideas back and forth to each other. I’m really excited to see where he’s taken this defense and where he’s evolved it. I think a big part of it was the fact that I was going to come here, and we had a similar belief system in that this was going to be about technique, like I said, it was going to be about simplicity, and then, at the same time, I wasn’t going to get in the way of running the stuff that they had in San Francisco. Yeah, I’ll add some wrinkles but, the foundation of this is what he grew it into in San Francisco.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: How do you see your safety situation? We all know about Marcus (Maye), he’s obviously established himself in the league. He’s always been more of a free safety, although he did a little more in the box last year. How do you see him in this defense?
He can do it all, I would feel comfortable with him in any capacity. He’s a guy that, to me, he can play deep, he can play the half field, he can play the middle third, he can do that and you feel comfortable with it. I think he’s got range, speed, and athleticism. I think he’s got ball skills and instincts to be a deep safety. But I think he’s got enough size and girth and want to and courage to play in the box. He’ll be a guy that’ll be, it’ll be fun to utilize all the things that he does. He can cover tight ends; he can cover some of the wide receivers in this league. Never met him, but just talking to people within this building and just speaking on the man he is, I’m excited to get him in the building. Excited about Ashtyn (Davis), I was excited about him when he came out of Cal. Really like the athlete, the speed, all that he brings in that way. He’s been, although not on the field, he’s been amazing in the classroom as far as asking questions and being engaged and diving deep. Lamarcus Joyner is a guy that you didn’t know, because he’s vacillated between nickel and safety and he’s hopped around and we’re kind of putting him back in his home at the safety position and he has been, I’ve always known the player, but I didn’t know the guy, and the guy has been amazing for the room. Just the leadership, he’s a guy you got to protect in OTAs like this because he does not know how to not go 100%. He’s providing a fantastic example for our young guys. It’s a group that we’re excited about.
DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: Hone in a little bit more about the cornerback group. There’s been questions about it, so as a defensive coordinator, what goes into helping develop them and putting them in the best position to succeed?
I think just putting them on repeat. Not doing a lot. I think that will benefit them because they’re all young, and they’re all inexperienced. But, they’re all very willing and they’re workers. Being able to just keep doing the same thing over, and over, and over again. Whether it’s the line of scrimmage stuff, whether it’s the book technique, whether it’s the catch. All the different techniques we asked them to do, they’re going to get to do these things over, and over again. We’re not going to say, ‘Okay, you’re going to play two man and jump to trail them now, you’re not going to play lead position.’ It’s going to be just a few techniques, they’re going to put them on repeat, they’re going to master them. That’s the fastest way, in my opinion, to accelerate a young guy. Because we have a bunch of young guys that are very inexperienced but, very willing to work. Excited about what we can find in that room.
Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post: Jeff, can you talk a little bit about you as a former player and what kind of advantage that gives you in understanding the guys you coach? Maybe an advantage over someone who hasn’t been there, done that before, at that level?
I think at times it can help me relate with the player and connect with the player. The fact that I’ve been in their shoes, and sat in the chair, and know what it feels like, so it can give me perspective in that way. Hopefully it gives me a little street cred, the fact that I’ve done it, and played for a while. There’s a level of trust there, maybe, that a former player can generate. Beyond that, other than the headaches that I have, not much of an advantage though.
Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post: Just as a follow, if I could ask. You seem by all accounts to be a pretty high energy guy. Robert, that obviously kind of his calling card, can you talk a little bit about how you meld together in that way? And how, maybe combustible that defensive room might be with the two of you guys?
Yeah, hopefully it’s a relationship where we just feed off of each other and just bring it every day. He’s a head coach now, but obviously he’s going to be extremely involved with the defense. Whether it be in the classroom, whether it be behind the scenes, he’s going to be a part of everything that we do. I love his energy, I always have, and what he stands for, and the way he’s carried himself, and the way he connects with the players, and teaches the players, and motivates the players, so I’m going to feed off of it, as much as the players will. It’s a great relationship, in my opinion.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: How important is the Carl Lawson position in your defensive scheme on the edge? And, also, how does (Lawson) fill it? And, I’m assuming he hasn’t been here so I’m wondering if that is slowing his development at all, having not participated in these practices?
Yeah, this is a guy that’s like, he’s sending our defensive line coach video every day as far as feedback. So, he is a worker. He is just a natural worker, wants to be great at what he does, he’s an absolute technician. To speak to the importance of the position, it’s huge. You look at San Francisco, they went from top 10 to top three, top two, top one, when they added Nick Bosa and when they added Dee Ford. When they finally got speed element outside to compliment what they had on the inside, it just went to another place. We can create a hitch in the quarterback by what we do. The double hitch, because we don’t have a whole lot, doesn’t happen a whole lot. So, having a speed element that can make a quarterback pay when he does hitch, it’s essential. So, he’s going to be a huge part of our success.
DJ Bien-Aime II, New York Daily News: Jeff, just following up on that question. Carl Lawson had about 32 quarterback hits, had a lot of pressures last year. He didn’t have a lot of sacks, but how much of a jump in the sacks department do you think he can make being in this scheme?
Yeah, I think part of it’s a scheme. I think part of it’s the guys that he’s playing with. Not to speak about anybody in Cincinnati, because I don’t know what their situation was inside, but a lot of times edge rushers, they miss because quarterbacks can step up in the pocket. In my opinion, the combination of Quinnen (Williams) and Foley (Fatukasi) and Sheldon Rankins and (Nathan) Shep(herd) and Tanzel (Smart), we have so many interior guys, I don’t know how much of a pocket there will be to step up into. So, from that standpoint, I think he could definitely have an increase in sack total. He’s a fun guy to talk to, though. I know that you guys probably had a preliminary experience with him in his opening press conference with you, but, obsessed with the game, obsessed with the technique and he wants to become the most technical pass rusher in the league. He works his butt off to do that. So, I can’t wait to get them in the building. He’s going to have, I think a tremendous influence on the other guys when they see that, just the work ethic.
Andy Vasquez, The Record: What do you think of Quinnen Williams’ game, and what is the next step for him and how exciting is it to be able to work with him as a defensive coordinator?
Yeah, when you talk about three techniques within this system, I think he checks every box. And then, finally, let this guy just jump out of his shoes and just be aggressive and attack. He’s going to get to do that in this defense, all the time. And, for a guy with the explosiveness that he has, the strength, and the length, and all the stuff that he’s got, to me, he’s the ideal three technique. So, I’m very excited to see him just unhinge and get to do what he’s been born to do. He’s got all the stuff you can’t coach. So, very excited about Quinnen.
DJ Bien-Aime II: Jarrad Davis, you guys brought him in. He says this is a better scheme fit for him. What have you seen from him so far that has allowed you to also think that Jarrad Davis should be a good scheme fit?
Yeah, he’s a guy that, going back to when I was in Atlanta and he came out, absolutely loved the makeup of the guy, and loved the player. Always was super hungry to get him within this system, put him on repeat, let him just master some techniques. Let his speed and his run and hit just go. And, that’s all starting to show up. You can see his time, for whatever the case may be, in the league, so far, was not what he expected the NFL to be. It feels like we’re breathing new life into him and he’s just improving every day. And, you’re starting to hear his voice out there too, starting to push these guys, and starting to command. In today’s NFL, I don’t know if you can find a better tandem as far as people in terms of have him and C.J. inside. I think what they’ll be able to do as far as the culture is concerned is going to be off the charts. So, always has been excited about the player that he could be in this system and very excited about finally having that opportunity to work with him.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Jeff, I just had a question about the other side of the ball. With the rookie quarterback, you’re going to be the one, kind of introducing him to the NFL defenses, now and in August, until game time. What’s your philosophy there? Do you throw the kitchen sink at the kid? I’m sure you’re having conversations with Robert about this as well. Or do you try to set him up for some success sometimes, how do you approach that aspect of it?
Yeah, I have Mike (LaFleur) in my ear every day asking for different things and I get it. And, we all get it, because his success is all of our success. Defensively though, it goes back to the foundation of what we want to be. And that’s based upon fundamentals and technique and I’m going to keep saying these things because it’s what I believe in. I think it’s what Coach Saleh believes in and it’s what we want to create here. So, we’ll never have the full kitchen sink. But, at the same time, I think we have enough variety to really help him develop. He’ll be able to see the six and the three and the man and he’ll see enough stuff where he’ll get a good feel for what an NFL defense looks like and feels like and we’ll have enough rush where he’ll have to navigate a pocket. But that is definitely part of how we structure practice. It’s definitely a part of how we create our install plans. We have to help him develop and be part of that process. So, it’s part of the conversation at all times, it’s an important one. It’s a good question.
DJ Bien-Aime II, NY Daily News: Jeff, what’s the competition been at the other, you have Carl Lawson on the other side of the defensive end. What’s the competition been like with the other side?
You got JFM (John Franklin-Myers), you’ve got Vinny Curry, you got Ronnie Blair, now. You got (Bryce) Huff. (Jabari) Zuniga has come out here. You got the rookie in (Rashed) Hamilcar. It’s a good competition, they’re all hungry, they’re all working their butts off. Huff is a guy that’s flashed a little bit, and he’s earned himself some more reps. I’m excited about what he potentially could become. Ronny Blair is, just do it all for you. I think Coach Saleh said it best when he said, “’If you like winning, you like Ronnie Blair.” Because, he’s just versatile and he’s such a student of the game and he’s such a great example as far as the work ethic and toughness that he brings. Vinny Curry is why you coach football. Zuniga finally got a chance, an opportunity to get out there today for the first time. And, he looked good. So, I’m excited about that group shaking out. They’ll all push each other. Who lines up opposite Carl has yet to be seen, but you’ll have a good player opposite, just seeing that group as it is right now.