By Dean Michaels, NFL Writer

49ers Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio talks about the 49ers' 3-4 defense, the Dome Patrol, and more.


Super Bowl XLVII - 49ers' Media Day - Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio

On returning to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome where he used to coach for the Saints:

"It feels good to be back here. It's where it all started for me in the NFL. I was here a good nine years. Still, it's overriding that it's the Super Bowl, but it's nice to be back here."

On the opportunity to be in the Super Bowl:

"It's special. There are only two teams that make it this far each year. We happen to be one of them. It makes it special. This group of players and team makes it even more special. It's been a good group. We've had a good two-year run here and to culminate it with a chance to win it all is special."

On the advantages of running a 3-4 defense as opposed to a 4-3 defense:

"Everything seems to have a run. I can remember when I first came into the NFL here with the Saints, there were only three or four teams running the 4-3. Everybody else ran the 3-4. Then there came a point around the mid-1990s to late 1990s where it kind of flipped. Then slowly here in the 2000s, it's become pretty balanced -- almost 50-50 (percent:

3-4 versus 4-3. The 3-4 does allow you some versatility. You do have another guy on the field who has pass responsibility as his job description, so you can mix and match a little bit better that way. The angles are a little different in the running game as for the offense to block it, but really it comes down to the players. You have a front-seven, and whether it's 3-4 or 4-3, the good teams will make it work. In my opinion, there are some advantages to the 3-4."

On whether more teams are running a 3-4 defense because colleges are producing smaller pass rushers:

"Yes and no. That's one of the arguments personnel people had against being a 3-4. They felt it was hard to find the outside linebackers to play that position because colleges weren't playing (the 3-4). We're all a product of the college system to some degree. They're our farm system. It is hard to find those guys. That's why when you find them you have to latch on to them. We have two good ones here in Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith. And you always have to end up projecting some of those guys. Aldon Smith actually played more defensive tackle in college than he played defensive end in college. He had never been a linebacker at any level, but we had to project that and foresee that. We did. Luckily we were correct and he was able to do that. Invariably, there are a lot of projections going on."

On comparing his current group of linebackers to the "Dome Patrol" he coached in New Orleans, which included All-Pro linebackers Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson:

"The 'Dome Patrol' was a great group. I think the one thing that was great about them was those guys started together for seven straight seasons and these guys have only started together one season because Aldon wasn't a starter last season, (although:

he played a lot. They're into their second year as a group. I keep telling them they have to get to the point where they're together for six or seven years, so I can compare them to those guys. Hopefully we can keep them that long together. I think we can and there are great players in both groups. I've told our linebackers here that. I've been asked that question already a lot this year and I knew it would get asked here. I knew at some point I'd be able to give a favorable comparison."

On finding linebackers who work well together in a 3-4 base defense:

"It is hard to find those guys. As the inside linebackers go, I think our inside linebackers can play in a 4-3 just as equally as well. It's the outside linebackers that are hard to find. Again, we have two good ones here in Brooks and Smith. We had two really good ones back here in the day in Pat Swilling and Rickey Jackson. Swilling and Aldon Smith's careers have paralleled a little bit. Pat was a pass-rushing defensive end at Georgia Tech. He had never been a linebacker. He really only played rush end in sub-(package:

situations for us his first year here with the Saints, and then we groomed him into being a full-time player his second year. That experience kind of helped me with Aldon because I knew I didn't want to force it on him too quickly. Also, we didn't have the offseason his rookie year with the (2011)-lockout, so he lost a lot of work there. There are some comparisons between those two guys. And Ricky Jackson, Ricky Jackson was just the opposite. He played 3-4 outside linebacker in college for four years at Pittsburgh and then was here his whole career. He played that position his whole career. He was groomed for that and was ready to go. (He was:

a great player, a Hall of Famer. There's always a different story between all outside linebackers you find."

On LB Patrick Willis and DT Ricky Jean Francois:

"Patrick, as everybody knows, is a great player. He was before we got there and I think he's improved the last few years. Ricky is our fourth defensive lineman. He can play any of the three spots up front. He replaced Justin Smith when Justin missed his two games, went in there and did a really nice job for us. He had a big play in the New England game that helped seal the win there. He had a big play in the Arizona game when we were struggling in that game, which we had to win to win the division. He has played well. He's a darn good player and he's a very valuable player for us."

On Ravens QB Joe Flacco:

"I was there when Flacco was drafted in Baltimore. Right from the beginning, I was very impressed with him. He has a big arm, throws the ball very easily and naturally. He's calm. He's knowledgeable. The game is not too big for him. In fact, I told (Baltimore Head Coach:

John Harbaugh early on in the process the first offseason we were there with him during OTAs, I told him he has his horse that he can ride the next 10-to-15 years as his quarterback in Baltimore. I thought that then and I still think that."

On the growth of Joe Flacco into one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL:

"He has had the benefit of playing in the same offensive system for five straight years, so he's grown into that. I know the first year he was there, there was a special emphasis made not to throw the ball inside too much with a young quarterback. He now throws the ball inside equally well as outside. He's one of the few quarterbacks in the NFL that can throw the ball outside the numbers -- the deep-outs, the deep-comeback [and] the deep-ends with proficiency. A lot of times you're afraid to do (that:

or don't have quarterbacks that can do that, so he can stretch the defense that way with his throws outside. He kind of reminds me of Troy Aikman in that respect. When Troy was in his heyday, they'd run the ball, run the ball, then throw the ball outside deep and make you pay for playing the run too much. Joe is the perfect fit for their offense."

On whether the linebackers are the "heart-and-soul" of their defense:

"We have a great group

Of linebackers). I don't know if they're the 'heart-and-soul' of our defense. We're 11 guys playing as one. Our defensive linemen are a huge part of this defense as is our secondary. We have great linebackers. There's no hiding that. They're on the field all the time. Whether we're in nickel or base, they stay out there. Those two outside linebackers become our ends in the nickel and our two inside linebackers stay in the game. They're out there all the time. They're really great players. They're athletic. Our inside linebackers are athletic enough to play in the passing situations. We feel fine about leaving them out there [and] matching them up against tight ends and even wide receivers at times. They allow us some flexibility."

On the importance of having linebackers who can stop the run and cover against the pass:

"It will always be important. Your linebackers are your primary tacklers. We have two good ones in [NaVorro] Bowman and Willis. I think what people are alluding to is the old traditional linebacker, the big thick linebacker who plays the run game between the tackles very physically. Sometimes those guys don't have the place to be a full-time player anymore because of the passing game and everyone spreading it out with four wide receivers or running empty backfield sets. Those types of guys have lost their spots, but our guys are athletic enough to stay out there."

On how much it helps to work with Defensive Line Coach Jim Tomsula:

"It helps a lot. Jim is a great football coach. He was one of the coaches we kept from the previous staff. You never quite know how you're going to mesh when you haven't worked with a guy before, but it was pretty evident that Jim and I see football the same way. We have the same philosophy of doing things, so it's been a really clean, natural fit for what he believes with the defensive line and what I believe. That part of it is great."

On comparing the 49ers' linebackers to Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs:

"They're right there with them. They're the upper echelon of linebackers. I think our guys are, too, and they're right there with them. Suggs is very similar to Aldon Smith. I used him as a comparison a lot of times in explaining to our guys how we needed to bring Aldon Smith along. Suggs didn't play in a base (defense:

his first year in the NFL, he just played nickel. The next year, he was groomed into being a full-time player and that's what we did with Aldon Smith."

Super Bowl XLVII - 'D' the Key for 49ers' Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio