O’Connell Asked 49ers’ Defense to Tone Down Aggressiveness During Joint Practices

Photo: Kym Fortino - San Francisco 49ers

Last week, the San Francisco 49ers came to TCO Performance Center and ran joint practices with the Minnesota Vikings, leading up to the preseason contest between the two teams, on Saturday. There were ups and downs for both squads, during their two days of combined practices. But the Niners aggressiveness was noticed early and often.

Niner defensive backs, especially, were all over the Minnesota wide receivers. In 1v1, 7v7 or 11v11, it didn’t matter. Every single video that came out of those joint practices featured SF defensive backs either falling over or grabbing MIN wide receivers. Sometimes, both.

KOC Asks DeMeco Ryans to Call Off His Dogs

And according to Ben Leber (former Vikings linebacker and current sideline reporter), Kevin O’Connell wasn’t happy about the Niners’ exaggerated aggressiveness. So much so, he told their defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans, to tone it down. This, Leber worried on KFAN’s Power Trip Morning show (Monday), may have been a sign of weakness out of the Vikings’ rookie head coach (07:45 mark – transcribed below).

“There was a time where O’Connell went over to DeMeco Ryans, defensive coordinator for the Niners, and basically had to have a conversation with him about how aggressive the 49ers defense played in one of the practices. That, to me, was a little bit shocking. Because I don’t think you ever have to go over to another coach and say, ‘I think your guys are playing too hard’.”Ben Leber on Power Trip Morning Show (KFAN)

Leber was so put off when he heard about O’Connell’s request for less aggressiveness, that he dug into this Vikings sources to find out more. Why would KOC make such a move. What Leber was told by Vikings officials, made him feel a bit better.

Post-Whistle Aggressiveness

Apparently, it was aggressiveness AFTER the whistle that was bugging the new Minnesota Vikings head coach. At least, that’s what Leber was told. Still, Ben wasn’t done with O’Connell’s handling of the Niners’ over-aggressiveness.

“The clarification I got was, it was not so much during the play, it was the things that were happening afterward. DeMeco coaches his guys to go after the football at all times. I heard there was a frustration from the offense because the guys would execute the play, the whistle would be blown, and then one or two defensive players would come over and try to punch the ball out. A little extra pushing and shoving afterward. It made me feel a little bit better.”Ben Leber on Power Trip Morning Show (KFAN)

Oh, well contact after the whistle is different, right? Maybe, but not enough to satisfy a still-flummoxed Ben Leber, who quickly turned his gaze back to KOC. He even went deep into how O’Connell could’ve better handled the Niners’ fighting spirit. Ben makes some great points during his rant, too.

Leber’s Coaching Lessons for KOC

When games start to matter, good defenders are going to try rattling the Vikings’ offensive players. They will punch at the ball and, oftentimes, get away with extracurricular activities both before and after the whistle. If that’s the energy brought on by the Niners last week, KOC should have used it as a chance for his team to grow. Instead, he gave off an impression of weakness. And a former NFL defender immediately picked that up. How do you think current defenders will see it?

But at the same time, I still don’t think that you have to go over to the [opposing] coach and be like, ‘Hey, your guys are being to rough with our offensive players‘. It shouldn’t take you very long to realize that that’s the way they’re coached. If you got a bunch of defensive backs punching at the ball and going after it, you bring your guys back and say, ‘you see what those [DBs] are doing? You’re going to get that in a football game. You’re going to get that in a real game. These guys are coming to work on their trade, which is to get the ball out and create turnovers. We need that.’ So, accept the challenge. Don’t go up to the defensive coordinator, at the end of practice, and be like ‘your guys are too aggressive’.”Ben Leber on Power Trip Morning Show (KFAN)

O’Connell made it clear to Minnesota Vikings players that fights would not be tolerated during joint practices with the San Francisco 49ers. But that was a message reportedly echoed by the Niners, to their players, too. Yet, they still brought that fire. A fire the rookie Vikings coach wasn’t willing to match.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan