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Chalk Talk: Shanahan Discusses RBs, Hardy

Andrew Hirsh:It's pretty clear at this point that Devonta Freeman's emergence isn't a fluke. How has his success affected your game planning?

Kyle Shanahan: It honestly doesn't change much. I have a lot of confidence in Tevin. The main reason with Devonta is he didn't play all through training camp; he was hurt. We felt very high on Devonta after OTAs, but he practiced like three days and didn't get cleared to fully practice until—I want to say the Thursday of the Philly game. So it took him a while to get fully healthy, and when Tevin went down, he got his chance to really stay in there and get going, and as everyone saw, he did. I had a lot of confidence in our backs going into this season, so it hasn't really changed. It just feels good to watch (Freeman) do it.

AH: Would it be fair to say Devonta is a genuine featured back at this point, or are you still going with the 1A/1B mentality?

KS: Yeah, Devonta's earned the shot to start. I'm not a big believer in rotating guys every play. I think that's tough on players. But I have no problem with who's in there. I think they both can do it. Devonta's definitely getting the bulk of stuff, but if something happens in a game and Tevin goes in there and does a good job, we're not going to stop him just to stop him. So it really doesn't matter to me; it's not a bad problem to have.

AH: It's only Devonta's second year in the league, but a lot of guys have talked about the leadership he's brought to the team. When Tevin fumbled in New Orleans, I thought it was great that Devonta was the first guy to grab him and give a quick pep talk. Have you seen that leadership quality from Freeman, as well?


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KS:** Devonta, I think, being a leader is easy for him because he's extremely genuine. He's a very good person. He really cares about football, and he doesn't really have to talk for you to see that. This guy gives everything he has, and it means the world to him. He has genuine excitement for whoever's successful; he just wants to win. A lot of people can talk that way, but Devonta doesn't have to. It's very genuine, you can see it, and when you have someone who's that genuine of a person, who's also as good as he is, it's very easy to lead.

AH: It seems like the relationship between these two backs is going well. During his first media availability after being drafted, Coleman said he planned on starting; Freeman, being the competitor he is, said he had the same plans. There was a sense that their dynamic could become somewhat combative, but from my point of view, that hasn't been the case at all. How do you feel about their rapport?

KS: I think they're great. They're both really good people, they're both really confident—which they should be. They both should believe that they should be the starter, because I think they're both NFL starting backs. They're good people, and they also can respect each other and have respect that the other one is pretty good, too. I think it's a healthy competition between the two that brings out the best and I feel they both can learn from each other.

AH: When Coleman fumbled in New Orleans, you didn't hesitate to put him back in. How important is it to show him that one tough play won't have a long-term effect?

KS: You can't panic as a coach when those things happen. They're part of football. If it continues to happen, then you have to do something about it. You have to overcome adversity, and you have to give people the chance to do that. Tevin's been able to get in there—he didn't get that many carries (afterward), but when he did, he protected the ball. Hopefully he'll learn from that.

AH: Shifting to the passing game, there are only two QBs who have thrown more play-action passes than Matt Ryan so far in 2015. How has that become such an effective part of the offense?

KS: We're putting the defense in a bind. You want to be able to run the ball, and you want to force people to stop the run. Then you have to study, "How are they going to stop it?" And once they do stop it, it vacates a lot of holes in the pass game. It also makes it a lot easier for the O-linemen to block when guys are defending the run and not just teeing off on the seven-step drop. You get more time to throw, and you don't get as many people out on the route, but if it's an eight-man front, you have a good chance of getting people more open.

AH: Ryan has had a pretty good year under center through six weeks. What do you think he needs to do to reach the next level?


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KS:** Just to keep learning. The more reps he gets, the more he plays, the better he'll get. Matt plays at an extremely high level right now. I've got a ton of confidence in him, and I believe in him so strongly that I think the sky's the limit for him. I don't think he or myself will ever think he's there, because we always want him to get better until you have that perfect game, and I don't think anyone can ever have a perfect game, so we'll always be trying to get a lot better.

AH: A few weeks ago, you said Justin Hardy was moving in the right direction. Any update on his progress and when we should expect to see him in a game?

KS: No, that has to do with injuries and stuff and how it goes. There are only so many people you can get up for a game, but I'm excited about Hardy. I think he's going to help us in the future, and I think he can help us sooner than later. You never know with injuries, but if something does happen, I won't hesitate at all to put Hardy in, and I don't feel like we'd miss a beat.

AH: You mentioned earlier at your press conference that Dick LeBeau's defenses presents a lot of issues. What are some of the most important ones to focus on as an offensive coordinator?

KS: Just staying out of third and longs. They have a good third down package. Being able to stay balanced, too. If we're one-dimensional in anything we do, they're going to get after you. So you have to keep them guessing, you have to make them defend the whole field and stay in manageable situations.

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