Kyle Shanahan Explains the Origin of His Unique Play-calling Verbiage

Coach Shanahan Wednesday Press Conference

Shanahan spoke about playing the Seahawks twice in a three week span, broke down Nick Mullens' growth as a quarterback and explained using "chocolate door" in his play calls.

Opening comments:

“Alright guys, injuries; [DL Cassius] Marsh is still in the protocol, won’t practice today. [LB Mark] Nzeocha, groin, won’t practice. [S Jaquiski] Tartt, stinger. [CB] K’Waun [Williams], knee and [T Joe] Staley, just a vet day. All those guys won’t be practicing. Limited today is [LB] Malcolm [Smith], same thing, Achilles, [RB Matt] Breida, ankle, [C/G Weston] Richburg, knee, and [OL Laken] Tomlinson, hip. Go ahead.”

You look $25,000 lighter up there today. Have you talked at all to the NFL about what you would expect as a coach, to be the protocol when a situation like what occurred in Seattle occurs again?

“Yes.”

And?

“What I would like? For common sense to prevail and allow the guy to get his shoe that was thrown, and stop it.”

Keep the shoe and stay on the field or allow for a substitution?

“Or give us time to sub, yeah. There’s not a rule for it. I don’t know if I can say what they said. I’m not trying to lose any more money. But, I’d like something to be done about it and I think they will next time.”

Do you have the right to appeal? Will you appeal?

“Yes, I will. Yep.”

All of the above?

“Yes.”

Will there be a hearing set for that?

“I’m not sure. I don’t know. I just said I’d appeal, so I think they’ll tell me when. Hopefully we can do it talking instead of writing a letter. I’m not as good at that type of stuff.”

Is there something that a player can do? Would it have made sense for LB Fred Warner to sit down on the field and put the shoe on just to make it obvious that he was--?

“They told us there was nothing the player could do. So, that’s what I told Fred. Next time, just make it more obvious. We’re going to get the penalty anyways, so hopefully, sit down and make it as obvious as you can. Hopefully then common sense will prevail.”

Seeing a team two times in three weeks, does it make it easier, harder?

“Both. But also, just especially the two teams and the style that we play with, there’s no secrets. We both know each other’s’ scheme. We played each other I think 10 days ago. We both have watched the Monday night game that happened to see what’s different. Nothing’s different. Both teams do the same thing and they’re going to, so I think both teams know what to expect. I think that makes it a little bit more fun.”

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said one of the things that you do well as an offensive designer and play-caller is adapt to a quarterback’s skillset. He said you’ve done that well with QB Nick Mullens. What has that process been like for you, just given that it happened midseason and things like that?

“It’s the same as it always is. I haven’t changed quarterbacks a lot midseason. But, it’s even the same when you use the same quarterback. You always try to go with their skillset. But, their skillset isn’t always the same week-in and week-out. It depends what kind of coverages and things you’re going against. So, you always want to do what they do best, but based off what the defense is giving you. You try to not put them in too tough of situations that’s out of their comfort zone. Sometimes, based off the looks you have, you have to on a number of plays. But, you just try to make things as easy as possible.”

He seemingly went undrafted maybe because of physical tools that he might not have. But, did you get a sense that mentally, with his processing and things like that when you were evaluating him, that he could possibly be in this position that he’s in right now?

“Oh, yeah. We thought that’s what gave him the best chance. You have to have a certain amount of talent to play in the NFL. Some guys have more than others, but the people who play quarterback in this league consistently and hang around, you have to have the requirement to get into the club. It’s how you play the position, which it’s really tough for people just to see. You’ve got to know what they’re being asked to do, the progressions they’re going through, what type of coverages there are, how good their team is, how good their protections are, their skill positions. You can judge a quarterback, but then a lot of it has to do with defense, too. I mean, just situations you put them in. That’s why it’s always tough to go off of wins, losses, stats, anything. There’s so many variables that go into it. But, quarterback is one of the hardest things because you do need a skillset to play in this league. But, that’s why I think people are all over the place with how they get them. You really truly don’t know how a guy is from processing standpoint because it’s not an IQ test. The smartest guys aren’t the best guys always. It’s just a feel and reaction thing to how you are in the pocket. I’ve never been around anyone who can be good at that stuff if they don’t prepare more than the majority of humans. Nick definitely does that. But just working hard at it, I don’t care how hard I work, there’s no way I was doing it. It’s not just about working hard. He’s got enough to be successful and he’s as detailed and deliberate in everything he does.”

Statistically, and based on the amateur eye test, he’s been better than QB C.J. Beathard this year. You said they’ll be even going into the offseason, for whatever that’s worth. Why won’t you say, ‘Well, he might be better?’ Why doesn’t he have the edge as you look to the future?

“It starts coming out of how they were in college, the ceiling and who you think has the most ability. Then, it goes to practice each day. Some of the throws and the plays that people make. That’s where C.J. was ahead of him and beat him out. Nick got his opportunity because of injury. He’s been very consistent in games. He’s played very well, and that’s why he hasn’t lost it. I’m glad that he’s made this hard on us. That’s the goal. C.J. made it a little bit easier throughout the process of competing in practice and making some of the plays that he did. That’s why he got all those opportunities. Now that Nick’s gotten it, he has shown that. He’s gotten better each game. He’s played very consistent and I’m very excited that it’s not an easy decision anymore.”

As you’ve no doubt seen through the years, the guy that gets drafted has, for a variety of reasons, might get the benefit of the doubt in those situations just because, hey, we didn’t expect this guy to be any good. I assume that has nothing to do with how you’re going to look at that position in the future.

“I think you look at everything we’ve done. We drafted a running back in the fourth round and we played an undrafted guy over him the whole year. Then, let him go the next year. I think we’ve done that. [DL] Solomon [Thomas] hasn’t played the whole year. There’s times we’ve put [DL] Sheldon [Day] above him and things like that. All you’ve got to do is look at our track record. We do what we think is right and a lot of things go into that.”

Were Mullens’ perceived physical limitations the main reason he wasn’t on most team’s draft boards?

“You’d have to ask them.”

Was he on your draft board? If not, was it because he was a little bit shorter or his arm wasn’t perceived as being as strong at the time?

“We didn’t think that he was going to get drafted. When you don’t think someone’s going to get drafted, then you don’t think you need to draft him, which makes it nice. We liked him. I didn’t know much about him right away. Our personnel guys brought him to [quarterbacks coach] Rich Scangarello and Rich liked him a lot. He liked him on tape and then going through the process, he got a feel for his mentality and the extra things that you guys are talking about that you can’t really see on tape. That’s why he targeted him early. I loved the tape. Didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him, but definitely liked him when we brought him in here for his 30/30 visit which kind of matched the feeling we had on him. When it’s like that, like I said, we felt the same way about Breida. We liked him a lot, didn’t think he would get drafted. You try to place all of that stuff into everything. We liked [TE George] Kittle a lot, but was pretty sure he wasn’t going to get drafted in the second round. So, you don’t go draft him in the second round. You try to weigh all that stuff out because you want to get the guys you want. But, you’d like to get them as late as possible so you can help your team in other areas.”

The reason you had a sense with Mullens is just because he didn’t fit that prototypical height, weight, speed, velocity thing? Or why did you have a sense with him that he would go undrafted?

“Just because I’ve been around the league for a while. You study 30 guys every single year and usually less than 10 of them get drafted. So, you’ve got a feel on the type of guys that get drafted, the type of guys that don’t. It only takes one so that’s something you try to play out. That was the thing that we had with C.J. I felt pretty strong that C.J. wasn’t going to get drafted until the fourth round so we felt pretty good that we could get him right there at the fourth and wanted to wait. We were getting there and there was one team we were worried about and it only takes one team and you’re not sure. Someone offers you something that you don’t think is much to trade up five spots and it’s, ‘Man, I wish we would have waited five spots and kept whatever that seventh rounder was two years late or something.’ But man, what if he would have went in those four picks? So, that’s just the whole thing that you’re constantly doing and that’s why every question you guys ask for the whole draft weeks, everything anyone tweets out, that’s why there’s someone in some room in some building reading every single little comment trying to decide are we telling the truth, are we lying, are we ignoring, who did we bring in, because everybody is trying to figure out how do we get who we want as late as possible. So, that’s why you can go crazy in that time.”

Nick’s been so good at tempo, getting in and out of the huddle. Did that work against him at all with the kneel down situation where he’s just eager to snap the ball?

“No, that has to do with, has he told you guys the exact story?”

He said he would never do it again.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal because we won now. It would have been a huge deal. You’ve got it measured out with the time and stuff. We can all add and I ask someone else to do it in the heat of battle just so I don’t mess it up. But, it was very easy, we could kneel it out. On one of the, I think it was second down, he kneeled it with like five seconds instead of at one which was the first lesson for him to learn. So, when we did that, it went down and you could see on the play clock, it’s at 18 seconds, but on the game clock there is 19. So, you know there’s a second that you have to gain there and we shouldn’t have. But, he kneeled it like four seconds early. So, that happened and we’re realizing that when it’s third down and everyone’s headsets are off, which I’ll never take mine off again. But, the headsets are off and we’re all hugging and stuff and then someone tells me so I yell to Nick, ‘Hey, you need a slow knee.’ That’s something we go through when you’ve got to step back and kill a second before you take a knee. I’m yelling it because I’m a little panicked and Nick, very calm, just hushes me and tells me to chill out. So, I’m like, ‘Alright, he’s got it.’ Then he was relaxed and he snapped it and did exactly what he was supposed to do, did a slow knee, took almost two seconds before he did it. The problem was when we were telling him that, he’s not thinking much and you tell him and he looked right up at the scoreboard, you can see it on tape, the scoreboard says third-and-12. It’s fourth-and-12. So, he’s like, ‘Alright, I don’t know why Kyle is freaking out, it’s a slow knee, I’ll do a slow knee.’ But, he snapped it with five seconds on the play clock thinking he was going to be able to do it again on fourth down. But, that was fourth down. So, he lost track of the downs just like [New England Patriots QB] Tom Brady this week lost track of whether they had a timeout left or not. It does happen. I wish I was on that so I could have had him go through the whole thing. But, it’s a good learning lesson for him that you snap it at one second no matter what, that you don’t pay attention to the scoreboard because they’re not always on it, and that your coach should never take his headset off. So, I’m going to try not to, unless we’re up a lot.”

When the Broncos ran their last offensive play, were you aware at the time of what had happened in Miami with the Patriots?

“Yes.”

Was that going through your mind?

“Yep, it was a very bad feeling that ended and we quickly enjoyed, but it was a very bad feeling.”

The mic had you mic’d up saying to CB Richard Sherman, “You’re two away from free safety.” Can you elaborate on what exactly he’s two away from?

“Just knowing K’Waun didn’t work out before the game and that one of our safeties was playing nickel. I knew a couple injuries and we’re going to have to put someone back there. So, it was Sherm. Sherm likes that, that stuff excites him. So, I was telling him that it might happen. We were just two away and he was telling me that it was also two away at receiver, too. So, that’s what he said back. That’s just us having fun with each other.”

He’s also probably two away as a punt returner. He’s had a punt return almost every year when he was at Seattle. Have you thought about using him as a punt returner before season end?

“No, but it sounds like you’ve been talking to him. You’re pumping him up for me. But, we might have to. He’s two away from everything.”

Do you have a random word generator that helps you get chocolate door and X dragon for your play calls or is there some fun inspiration there?

“No, they all mean something. I can’t tell you what those mean, but they relate to the type of plays we’re running. It’s not just totally random words. Chocolate had to do with Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory which has to do with the play, that would be obvious but I can’t say it or you’ll know our groupings.”

Is there an advantage to having something very obscure and distinct to where, “Okay, I hear chocolate and I know exactly what that is,” where it can’t be confused for something else?

“Yeah, you just try not to make people memorize too much. They’ve got enough stuff going on. Stuff changes and you give a game plan each week and it’s alright to make them memorize 10 new things, but if you have them memorize all of this different stuff, they might get it right there but in the heat of battle they can hesitate and maybe go the wrong way. So, you try to get words that sound just like the play that we’re trying to do that one word can tell a lot of people stuff.”

What’s DL Kentavius Street going to do at practice this week?

“He’s doing everything. Today, we’re only doing two live periods and the rest is walk-thru. So, we’ll see him out there. I’m pumped to get him out there today so he’ll get two live periods and see how that goes and we’ll adjust based off of that.”

Do you know where along the line he’ll play?

“We’re going to put him inside. He’ll play a little inside probably in pass-rush situations and we can put him at big end, too. He’ll be running the card team so he’s not playing our defense. So, we’re going to put him at all of those D-Line spots.”

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