Dirk Koetter Talks O.J. Howard, Facing 49ers and Mike Evans' Improvement

Head Coach Dirk Koetter spoke to the media on Wednesday during Week 12.

(On tight end O.J. Howards injury and what’s ahead for him)

“I think still the sky’s the limit for O.J. One of the most explosive tight ends in the league. Numbers wise his average is – including wideouts – I think it’s something like the fifth highest in the league. He had three explosives going in on the game and just the way he got tackled on the last one – just poor luck. That’s two years in a row, a low tackle – legal tackle, but a low tackle nonetheless – is going to cost him games at the end of the year. I think O.J. improved a ton this year, but I still don’t think he’s scratched the surface of how good of a player he can be. Target wise, because he’s on a team with very talented wide receivers, you look at say [George] Kittle – we play this week from San Francisco – gets more targets because he’s more their feature guy. That’s just luck of the draw. It doesn’t affect how good of a player O.J. is.”

(On if Howard’s injury will affect his career)

“No that was actually the good news I was talking about on Monday. There was some original thought that it was a more serious injury than it was. They sent his MRIs, X-ray, etcetera for second opinions and it confirmed good news that it wasn’t going to be something that required surgery and could possibly affect him long term.”

(On how he feels about the depth at tight end)

“You don’t take a guy like O.J. out and the fact is that Cam (Cameron Brate) is a really good football player. There’s not five more guys waiting in the wings. That just doesn’t happen. Anybody that’s on our team, I always have confidence in him. Antony Auclair will play a bigger role; Alan Cross will play a bigger role. Those guys have done a good job in the role that they’ve had so far. They’ll now have bigger roles. We’ve got a guy on practice squad that if he ever got his chance I think could come up there and do some things as well. Before there was an O.J. Howard, Cam Brate was pretty good player. Cam will have – I mentioned those other guys will have bigger roles – Cam will have a much bigger role.”

(On how much pride he takes in putting together one of the best offenses in the NFL)

“It’s frustrating that we have the record that we have because I think we’re a better football team. It doesn’t matter what I think about that – the record is the record. Numbers are numbers, you’ve got to get the wins. I think everyone in our building would trade all the numbers in the world for more wins. Can we move the football? Yes, we can move the football. Can we be explosive? Yes. When we stop turning it over, it will probably lead to more wins.”

(On wide receiver Mike Evans’ performance this season)

“I think the biggest improvement Mike has made this year is he went through a two-game stretch where he was a little banged up, but other than that two-game stretch the best thing that Mike is doing more than the whole time that I have been here is he runs every route to win, whether he’s the primary or not. He’s really increased his stamina level and I always look at the play thing at the end of the game – the percentage – and Mike’s playing over 85 percent of the plays which to run that many routes full speed – especially because we’re not running very many short routes – that’s impressive. Mike’s got himself in great condition and then the mental toughness that he’s developed to be able to run those routes full speed. When Mike runs those routes full speed, his size, speed, athleticism, makes him tough to cover.”

(On if the organization looks at the next couple of games as an evaluation period for quarterback Jameis Winston)

“I don’t know the answer to that. I just don’t know for obvious reasons. I think Jameis is still a franchise quarterback, but that decision will be made by somebody else at the end of the year.”

(On if one bad game was the reason why Winston was the backup quarterback)

“We’ve talked about this before. The reason most people don’t switch quarterbacks in the NFL is because they either don’t like their backup or they don’t trust their backup. I’ve had quarterbacks be hot and cold before and we stuck with them because they were really our only quarterback – you weren’t going to put your two in there. That’s just not the case this year because of the way the year started. We can beat this horse a million times – he said, she said – that’s just what it is. I think Jameis at times has played outstanding football going back to the preseason, at time when he’s been back. Both of our quarterbacks have played fantastic football at times, but both of our quarterbacks are turning it over at too high of a rate. They’re both capable of playing at a higher level at a more consistent amount of time. In our offense, we have to have great decision making at quarterback. It doesn’t help us when we’re playing from behind a lot. If we’re playing with the lead more often, some of those things might be different, but it isn’t. It is what it is.”

(On who would get his Pro Bowl vote if he was voting)

“Just on the Bucs or should I go through all 44? I haven’t given that one second of thought. We have some good players. The league, from a statistical standpoint, this league is on fire. For all the guys we have with good numbers, there’s guys that are just crazy, off-the-charts numbers. Because we’ve played two quarterbacks, if you combined our two quarterback’s numbers, that’d be one thing. You don’t do that. We just talked about Mike and the season he’s having, but there’s receivers with crazy numbers. I don’t know. I would have to give that a lot more thought than I’ve given it.”

(On if he’s had any interaction with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan)

“No, very little. I just through the last couple years got to know Kyle just through the Atlanta rivalry here with us. Mutual relationship with Matt Ryan, but that’s it. He’s done a great job. He’s done a really good job.”

(On if offensive skill positions in the NFL are at an all-time best)

“Yeah I think the depth at the wide receiver position – the depth and quality at wide receiver and tight end – is at an all-time high in this league. Crazy good. Every team has guys. I’ll use [George] Kittle as an example. What was he a fifth-round draft pick? I think he’s first or second in the league in yards after catch. There’s just an incredible amount of guys and I don’t know if that because college football’s opened up in the spread – that’s probably helped the tight ends a lot. I just think there’s so many good pass-catchers in this league right now.”

(On if Winston and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick have handled the ups and downs of the season with professionalism)

“Sure, I think that’s very fair to say. I think everybody on our team has been professional through the ups and downs of the season. That’s what I would expect. It’s pro football. The one thing I would just say is I think if you’re upfront with guys and you’re always telling them how you see it – that doesn’t mean they have to agree with everything you do. I think if you’re upfront with guys and let them know how you see it, and then show them things on tape I think it’s easier to be professional about it. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of secrets out there, as far as our organization and how we do things. I do appreciate every player on our team’s professionalism and those two could easily have chosen to go a different direction.”

(On if Winston’s errors come from decision making)

“Yes. Decision making, sure. I mean, we’ve talked about it many times. It was no secret when Jameis came here – came out of college – Jameis is such a fantastic competitor. He has never met a play he doesn’t think he can make it a good play. I’ve yet to see the perfect game plan or the perfect game called, and we have to give the defense credit in the NFL – they’re pretty good too. They’re paid and coached as well. I think in college Jameis was able to overcome that a lot and in the NFL it’s harder to do. If he had the right team around him, that might be different, but when you’re picked number one you’re usually not going to the best team in the league when you come out. I think that’s something Jameis has improved on, but I think to be at the elite level where he can get to, he’s got to improve in that area.”

(On if he could live with a quarterback that turns the ball over if the defense is getting takeaways)

“All games would be different. If it wasn’t four to zero, if it was 3-2, 2-2, 4-3, we can play that ifs and buts game all you want, but we really don’t know. That’s a good theory, but that’s not how it’s happened. When it doesn’t happen that way whether it’s offense, defense, special teams, you’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got. That’s just reality.”