49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner took a timeout during preparation for Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the Packers to tackle some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Describe your on-field mentality.
A: I feel like when I’m on the field in between the white, it’s all business. I’m not thinking about anything else other than I’m trying to beat the man in front of me. You gotta have a little dog in you. People talk about being a savage and being a dog, there’s gotta be a little light switch that turns on when you’re in between the white.
Q: Is being a Mike linebacker fun?
A: Oh, of course, yeah, it’s the most fun position on the field. … Just being able to be in front of the guys every single play, be in the middle of everything, I mean, all plays are coming to you.
Q: You like wearing the green dot — which denotes you have the speaker in your helmet for coaching play calls?
A: Oh yeah, I love it. It is a big responsibility, but I feel like I’m built for it. It’s something that I take a lot of pride in, being able to prepare week in, week out to make sure everybody’s in the right position.
Q: What do you pride yourself on as a player? What do you want 49ers fans to say about you?
A: I want people to talk about how I play the game. I think effort’s one of the biggest things for me. If you turn on the tape and you see [jersey number] 5-4, you better talk about how hard I run to the ball, how I play with passion. … When you talk about guys like Ray Lewis or the Luke Kuechlys or Bobby Wagners, those guys play with a certain amount of passion, and I feel that’s what kind of separates me as well.
Q: What did you think of Kuechly’s retirement?
A: I was pretty surprised at first, but I listened to his video he made, and I’ve kind of thought it over, and I realize that he’s been through a lot in those eight years that he’s played. And he’s played at an extremely high level, and obviously, he feels like he can’t play the way he wants to anymore, so that’s why he’s stepping away. But it was for sure a shock at first.
Q: What’s it like being a linebacker behind that defensive line?
A: (Chuckle) It is lovely. We got one of the best in the league, if not the best. There’s been a big investment in that room, they’ve put it on tape for sure this season.
Q: What makes rookie defensive end Nick Bosa so good?
A: He’s a rookie, but I think he prepares and plays like a veteran. I think with how flexible he is, his hand usage, his strength obviously, I think he’s one of the best to do it as a rookie for sure. I don’t know all the rookies in the history of ball, but the dude’s been having an outstanding season.
Q: How about defensive end Arik Armstead?
A: Very versatile — he could play inside, outside — extremely physical, can set an edge and make the play. The dude has taken a huge leap from his prior years to this year. Run game and pass game, he’s very disruptive.
Q: Defensive tackle and 2018 Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner?
A: He’s more interior but extremely disruptive. They’re both very tall and big, but they move like they’re little guys. One of the best leaders on our team, we all look up to him.
Q: Outside linebacker Dee Ford?
A: Ever since he joined the building [in a trade from the Chiefs this past offseason], he’s worked his tail off. The speed jumps off the tape. His get-off is unbelievable. I know tackles are quivering every time he lines up on that side.
Q: Veteran Pro Bowl defensive back Richard Sherman?
A: The ultimate leader. If you talk about a guy who leads by example, by doing everything the right way, the way he works, prepares, everybody looks up to him in this locker room. He’s still playing at such a high level, even at 31, it’s unbelievable.
Q: Outside linebacker Kwon Alexander?
A: I can go on and on about Kwon. Ever since he stepped on the team [this past offseason] he’s been a huge piece for us. It’s not even about him being on the field, it’s just the value of him being a leader, bringing this energy, this swag to the group. It’s contagious, and I think things work a little differently when he’s on the scene. I can feel a big difference on the defense just because of him being back out there last week compared to when he was out [after suffering a torn pectoral in Week 9].
Q: Sum up defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
A: Relentless. The way that he prepares week in, week out, the guy is a defensive guru, he’s extremely smart, he’s very detailed about the way he goes about everything. Everybody sees on game day how he’s so fired up and fiery on the sideline, but day to day he’s a pretty reserved guy, but on game day he lets it loose.
Q: Tell me why this game will not be too big for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
A: I think it won’t be big for anybody because we’ve kept a level head and we treat the week of preparation the exact same throughout the year. There is pressure and there’s high stakes on the line and all this other stuff, but if you just worry about one play at a time, you’re gonna be all right.
Q: Why is George Kittle the best tight end in football?
A: His mindset is different from everybody else’s. Every time he steps in between those white lines, it’s on. He can joke around, and be this funny guy during the week, but when it comes to putting the pads on, putting the helmet on, it’s go-time. He’s obviously an outstanding athlete too, don’t get me wrong, this guy runs 4.5 and can jump out the house.
Q: Describe coach Kyle Shanahan.
A: Similar to Saleh, he’s very detailed. His preparation is unlike anybody else’s. He’s such of like an offensive genius. It’s kind of crazy to look at when he’s explaining things at our team meetings about the offensive side of the ball, things that we don’t see every day. Just everything about him just oozes confidence.
Q: What do you know about the tradition of the 49ers?
A: Every time you walk around this building, you see pictures, you see the legends that have played here before us, you see pictures of Super Bowl trophies. Everybody’s always talked about since I’ve gotten here, the fans always talk about this “quest for six.” Even though we were 4-12 last year, the confidence in the mindset has never wavered. There’s always been this belief that we can get back to being on top, and we’re right there. It’s just a matter of time.
Q: What kind of atmosphere are you expecting on Sunday?
A: One of the wildest I’ve ever played in for sure. They’re saying this is gonna be the biggest sellout that we’ve had at Levi’s Stadium, and I expect the fans to be loud like they’ve been all year. I know it’s gonna be a tough game for Green Bay, especially on offense when we’re on the field.
Q: Describe Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.
A: He’s one of the best to ever do it. His arm talent and ability to create plays inside and outside the pocket is unbelievable.
Q: What impresses you about Green Bay running back Aaron Jones?
A: Just how explosive he is. Very dynamic, he runs the ball extremely hard. I know we did a good job of containing him last game, but I know he’s coming out with the right mindset this game and we gotta make sure we’re ready to go.
Q: If you could compete against any running back or tight end in NFL history, who would it be?
A: The first name that popped in my head was Tony Gonzalez, as a tight end. I played against Marshawn [Lynch] a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty cool — even though he’s later on his career, maybe. Back when he was more in his prime, but that’s a beast right there.
Q: If you could pick the brain of any linebacker in NFL history, who would it be?
A: Oh, Ray Lewis, for sure. That’s I think one of the best to ever do it for sure — just the passion he played with, the speed, the physicality, the way he prepared, his mindset, it was all there, leadership.
Q: Who are linebackers you like watching now?
A: Bobby Wagner, being in the same system, we’re in the same division, it’s pretty easy to gravitate towards him. Early on, last year in my rookie year I studied him a lot, and I still do. That’s one of the best in the league right now.
Q: What drives you?
A: My family, that’s kind of like my “why,” my “why” always drives me to get up every morning and chase greatness. My mom, everything she’s done for me up to this point, just everybody around me that’s been there for me since Day 1.
Q: You were raised by a single mom. How difficult was it for you?
A: We didn’t grow up with much. She did an outstanding job, honestly, of just making sure that things just felt normal for us. But now looking back, she had to sacrifice a lot just to make sure that we had what we needed. Luckily I don’t really have a lot of memories of what happened back then just from having bad memory, but what she did was outstanding as a single mother.
Q: What is your favorite BYU moment or memory?
A: Probably when we went into Nebraska my sophomore year our first game of the season, we won on a Hail Mary on the last play of the game [33-28], it was a pretty crazy game.
Q: Who are athletes in other sports you admire?
A: I read up on basketball players a lot, obviously like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, reading up on the type of mindset they bring to the game … watching guys like LeBron [James].
Q: Boyhood idol?
A: In San Diego, Junior Seau was a legend. Growing up, that was a guy everybody looked up to.
Q: Describe the Harlem Jets athletics.
A: We had a camp for new kids just to let them know like there’s more to life than football, try to set them up to be successful in whatever they try to do.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Steve Jobs, MJ, Bill Gates.
Q: Favorite movies?
A: “Pursuit of Happyness” and “Step Brothers.”
Q: Favorite actors?
A: Will Smith and Will Ferrell.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainers?
A: Chris Brown and Michael Jackson.
Q: Favorite meal?
Q: A message for 49ers fans.
A: I appreciate the love and support they’ve given us this season. Obviously we’re just getting started, this is one more game and we’re in the Dance. But we’re focused on the Green Bay Packers, come out, be loud for Sunday, I can’t wait.