Nick Mullens Eager for Challenge against Talented Bears Defense

Mullens spoke about his performance against Seattle in Week 14 and discussed attacking Vic Fangio's defense.

At what point do you start looking at the upcoming opponent and kind of start sinking your teeth into that?

“I normally start Monday night. It’s kind of when I start getting things going. Play Sunday, watch the game that morning, take some time to cool my mind, hang out and then Monday night things start to rev up a little bit.”

So, when you start looking at the bears, what kind of jumps out at you?

“They’re a good defense. They have a great front seven and their secondary does a good job of playing with the pass rush. They do a good job of just using the pass rush to their advantage. Their DBs are pretty good. They see things, they jump things quick and we’re aware of the challenge.”

What do you mean by that, just working with the pass rush?

“They can sit on certain routes because they know the pass rush is going to get there quicker. So, they can take a couple more risks. They do a good job of that.”

You were around the building last year before the Jacksonville game, which was the top defense at the time. Can you remember any of the feeling leaving the meeting rooms after that week? Were you guys confident that you had the gameplan to beat them? Do you feel that you can kind of carry that over to another game against the number one defense?

“Yeah, you could say that. I think from me sitting back and watching last year, I think people were so pumped up about how [QB] Jimmy [Garoppolo] was playing, about how we were playing as a team that we were more confident in ourselves than worrying about the Jags defense. That’s how I felt sitting back and watching it. So, I think we’re coming into this game confident as well. We’re aware of the challenge, but we also believe in ourselves. So, we’re ready to go to battle. It’s going to be a great game and we’re ready.”

Knowing that you’re the starter for the last couple of games here, does that give you any peace of mind knowing you don’t have to worry about getting pulled?

“No. That doesn’t change my mindset at all. Never has, it never will. For me, it’s one week at a time, one day at a time, one practice at a time. Just got to focus on what’s next. We had practice today. We had a nice start to the work week. Had some meetings. Just trying to be my best today and I’ve got to try to be my best tomorrow as well.”

Your play has also kind of coincided with WR Dante Pettis’ kind of rise in being a go-to guy for you? What have you seen from him in terms of just his growth over the last month?

“I think he just feels comfortable out there. He’s playing. He’s natural. He’s not thinking about it. He’s just running the routes, making plays, doing what we love to see him do. We knew since he got here that he had a lot of talent. He has a lot of talent. He’s going to do a great job of separating and getting open for us. He’s done a great job of that. He’s becoming natural with it I guess you could say, just relaxed, playing well. We’re pumped up for him. It’s awesome.”

Can you feel his confidence growing week-to-week?

“Yeah, and you know Dante, he’s always loose. He’s always just playing. That’s kind of how Dante is. So, now the more that he plays, he’s definitely getting better.”

Do you think your performance since you took over as a starter here has solidified your place on the team even beyond next year? Do you allow yourself to think about that?

“Who knows, man. That’s not up to me at all. I’m just trying to win ball games. That’s the biggest thing. It’s the funnest thing. It’s the coolest challenge about what we get to do is that we play to win. That’s all we’re focused on this week and the future, just winning.”

Going back to what you said earlier about how the defensive backs kind of rely on the pass rush to get there, they do have a lot of interceptions. There’s got to be a counter-balance, though, right? Can you take advantage of some of that stuff if your protection holds up?

“Yeah. We’re just going to do the things that we do and we’d like to think that we do them pretty well. My mindset’s not going to change. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. Just stick to your progressions, stay calm in the pocket, lead the offense and distribute the football. They do a good job in the secondary, but we’re pretty excited about what we have planned.”

I’ve seen stories and heard a lot on sports talk radio just driving around about would the 49ers consider trading you in the offseason because you’ve increased your value so much. I’m wondering, do you hear any of that? Are you the type of athlete who kind of insulates yourself or do you hear some? If you hear any, is that kind of strange to hear yourself cast in that light?

“No. Who knows, man. To me, it doesn’t really matter. I love the 49ers. I’d be here as long as I could. But, that stuff does not matter. I’m just really trying to focus on this game, this week and just really control the things that you can control. That’s what coach [head coach Kyle] Shanahan preaches all the time. We walk in the door, we see it every day. Control what you can control and let everything take care of itself. That’s how I handle myself and my business.”

You’ve been very effective off play-action this year. Was that a big part of the offenses that you played in in high school and college or has Kyle really added another emphasis on that part of your game?

“Shoot, you look at all of us. All three quarterbacks that have played this year have been very successful in play-action. That attributes to coach Shanahan’s success scheming a lot of great play-action passes up. But, no, I had to learn that skill coming into the NFL. Coach [quarterbacks coach Rich] Scangarello and coach Shanahan have done a great job of teaching me the techniques that they want in play-action. I can always get better at it. My ball fakes, we really try to get the meshes off the fakes as good as we can. Mine can consistently get better. But, that is a very cool part of coach Shanahan’s offense and it’s been pretty effective.”

That’s funny. Scangarello mentioned last year when I was talking to him that for Jimmy, he also had to really learn it and he said that the biggest challenge was that after the fake, finding the guy downfield again. Is that also something that you’ve kind of related to Jimmy with?

“Yeah, definitely. It’s a skill that the more you do it, the more comfortable you get with it. I learned a lot from [Atlanta Falcons QB] Matt Ryan, watching the Atlanta tapes from coach Shanahan’s offense. Matt Ryan, when he comes off of his fakes, he does a great job of snapping his head around to see the field quicker than just casually coming off of your fake. That extra second, you see the field for an extra second just based on getting your eyes around quicker. So yeah, getting your head around quick along with the technique, extending the ball. The stuff he teaches, it really is important. The fake tied with the O-Line’s technique, it’s all tied together and it makes our play-action very effective.”

You’re talking about turning your back to the defense. Is that what you’re talking about?

“Just when you fake, getting your eyes up and seeing the defense quicker. We do it both ways.”

Do you anticipate? Do you know what you should be seeing when you get your eyes back around?

“Correct. You know what it’s supposed to look like and the quicker you can see it, the quicker you can react, anticipate and get the ball out quicker.”

You talked about having a lot of open receivers to throw to. You’re not the only quarterback here to say that since Shanahan came here. Is there an easy way to explain why his offense produces that? Because it’s not with every offense. Is there an easy explanation for that or is it more involved than that?

“I don’t know if there’s an easy explanation or not. I missed two totally wide-open touchdowns on Sunday so there’s more proof in the pudding I guess you could say. We have great coaches here. They put us in great positions to succeed and they’ve done that ever since they got here. So, it’s fun playing in this system and I feel very comfortable in it.”

I don’t want you to beat yourself up so let me ask you about a great throw you made. The 30-yarder to Pettis, your teammates were very impressed with that, the one down on the right sideline. I suppose you don’t rank your throws, but can you just take us through that throw and if you do rank your throws, was that up there with your best of the season?

“I think it’s one of my favorite throws just because of how early I threw it. I pride myself in anticipating throws and putting the ball in the right spot. So sure, yeah, it’s one of my more favorite throws. Dante made a great catch. Pre-snap, I knew I had it. I just had to hold the safety down the middle. It was man-coverage, one-on-one and that’s where you trust your playmakers. Dante did a great job of stemming in vertical and then getting outside. He gave me a spot to throw it and we came up big. So, that was a great play for Dante.”

You mentioned how early you threw that one. Could you have done that a couple of weeks ago or do you need that relationship with Dante or could you have done it?

“Yeah, I think chemistry is definitely important. You’ve got to be able to trust your guys, trust your receivers, know where they’re going to be. So yeah, you could say that. The more you work every day, the more your chemistry is going to grow. I think over the past couple of weeks, it’s definitely grown with me and Dante.”

Kyle was complimentary I think on Monday about how impressed he was with you hanging onto that ball, you took a big hit and hung onto the ball. Is that something you’ve learned over time or is that kind of something, even through high school or college, that you became aware of?

“It’s a good question. I guess it’s more of you’ve just got to realize how important the ball is. I think on the play, my ball security wasn’t even that great, but you’re doing everything you can in that moment to just not fumble the football. There’s certain times in the pocket where things get tight, you kind of understand that you’re about to get sacked. So, it’s very important you hold onto the ball and not make bad play worse. So, that’s important. It’s something that I’ve tried to focus on. If you have a bad play, take the bad play, don’t make it worse. I think you could say that’s a case of that.”

So, was that ever a problem where coaches in high school or college would really stress that to you? Was that ever a problem for you?

“No, I wouldn’t say a problem. I don’t think it’s really been a problem for me. I’ve fumbled before, sure. But, no, it’s never been a problem. But, it’s always important to just hang tough in the pocket and protect the ball for sure.”

Seattle Seahawks DE Frank Clark drilled you pretty good. You’ve taken several pretty hellacious shots. You don’t seem too hesitant to get up. Is that an intentional thing like, “I’m not going to show them I’m hurt,” or are you immune to pain?

“Shoot, I deserved that. I messed up on the play so I deserved the hit. But, no it’s just kind of how I’ve been raised and taught. Just get back up and play the next play. It’s kind of how I’m wired, how I’ve been taught growing up. It’s just kind of how I am. Get hit, put it past you, play the next play. One thing I’ve learned over my career is one play does not affect another. That’s another thing I always try to keep in my mind. If you have a bad play, that’s a completely different case scenario than the next play. If you score a touchdown the next play, nobody remembers that play. So that’s one thing I always just focus on. One play doesn’t affect the other so that’s just kind of how I approach the game and keep my mind strong.”

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