With his "paw in the ground, scratching, ready to go," Niners coach Jim Harbaugh gives his takes on…
Baalke from the NFL Combine: All things 49ers
Baalke: You've got to do what the skill sets of your quarterback allow you to do. As long as you do that, I think you've got a chance.
Q: Did QB Colin Kaepernick scream "franchise-caliber" to you when you first drafted him? I mean, it seems like you guys worked hard to develop his consistency as a passer once you got him, but in terms of identifying franchise guys, I'm just curious as to your initial thoughts when you chose him in Round 2 a few years ago?
Baalke: Well, it's a lot easier to sit up here after a young man's had success and say, ‘Yes, we pictured that,' but there are a lot of unknowns when you draft anybody. You look at the skill sets, you look at the character of the individual, you look at the intangibles that they bring to the table and you try to see if they fit. If they fit what you're looking for in that particular player, in that particular position. He's a young man that brought an awful lot to the table, as we know, came out of an offense that was not a quote, pro-style offense. And, just a guy that our coaching staff really believed in. We believed in from a personnel standpoint and then it was just letting him develop and giving him an opportunity. [Head] coach [Jim] Harbaugh's done an outstanding job with him, as has [quarterbacks coach] Geep Chryst and [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman. He's still learning, still developing.
Q: What are you looking for from WR A.J. Jenkins this offseason?
Baalke: Production, like we do with all our players. We've always said, you go into the draft and you draft guys and you know what they're strong suits are, you know what their weaknesses are and then it's up to them. And A.J.'s a young man that has worked awfully hard. He's going to continue to work hard. I believe he's either in Atlanta right now or on his way to Atlanta where our quarterback is and some of our other players, and they're going to go at it this offseason. And, the biggest growth of players is always between year one and year two. We expect that that's going to happen with A.J., just as we do with all our young players.
Q: Have you guys had any conversations with QB Alex Smith and his representation since the Super Bowl?
Baalke: We have. In fact, I was out to dinner with [wife] Liz [Smith] and Alex when we got back from the Super Bowl, had a great conversation, had a great dinner and just a chance to sit down with him and go through what our thoughts were and listen to what their thoughts were as a family and really get an understanding of what direction we wanted to go.
Q: How high a priority is to re-sign All-Pro free safety Dashon Goldson, who can be a free agent again this year?
Baalke: We've always maintained we want to keep as many of our core guys together as we can. So, it's definitely a priority. Are we going to be able to do it? We don't know that. We're going to work awfully hard to make that happen.
Q: How do you review your 2012 draft class? A lot of talent. You made the Super Bowl. But, not a lot of starts from the draft class.
Baalke: Well, you know, I think it was [New England Patriots head] coach [Bill] Belichick or [retired NFL] coach [Bill] Parcells who said if you're getting a ton of production and you're having a lot of guys make your team from your draft class, you're probably not in the position to play in the Super Bowl, so maybe there is something to that. I don't know. But, we feel very good about the class. We didn't get a lot of production out of the class, but we had a lot of … if you look at the players that we drafted and the positions we drafted in it, they were coming into some loaded depth at certain positions.
Q: What do you think that draft class can give the team moving forward?
Baalke: I think the question always comes back to the higher picks. We feel very good about A.J. We feel very good about [RB] LaMichael James. We feel good about that group of guys. [G] Joe Looney, who came in off an injury into an offensive line that's a pretty good group. We weren't expecting a ton of production to be honest with you. Did we get what we expected? That's yet to be determined. There's a lot of years left in those guys' playing careers.
Q: What is the key to a successful draft?
Baalke: I don't know that I have a magic answer for what the key is. I think you set your board. You work diligently at it. You try to find football players. And, we've always let the film speak for us. The hype, the weight, the speed. The Combine's nice, it's a part of the picture, but it's a small part of the picture. The big part of the picture is the film, and what they've put on film over their career.
Q: The timing of former director of player personnel Tom Gamble's departure is unusual, coming just before the Combine with the Draft coming up. Could you just talk about why you guy's allowed that to happen?
Baalke: Well, there's a lot that went into that decision. Tom and I had been friends for a long time and have worked together for an awful long time. It was a chance for him to get home. It certainly is a difficult time to lose somebody, especially of Tom's caliber. But, at the same time, sometimes in life, you've got to make those decisions and you've got to let people go home. It was something that him and I had talked about for over a year. It had come up again. So through those discussions we were able to allow that to happen. Tough timing, obviously, but I think both sides feel good that the decision was made.
Q: What are you going to miss by not having Tom?
Baalke: Well, you miss an awfully loyal, awfully qualified individual that helps you set your board, helps you through free agency and the like. But at the same time, it's never one person. It's not me, it's not Tom. There's a bunch of qualified individuals, [director of college scouting] Joel Patten, [national scout] Matt Malaspina, the rest of the scouts. We just got through 17 days of draft meetings and setting the board, so it's never one. It's just like we say with players, it's next man up, let's go.
Q: How much are your coaches involved in the draft process and do you like to keep the separation of church and state there between coaches and scouts?
Baalke: I don't know if we want to keep it a separation of church and state. We're all in this thing together. And coach Harbaugh, I've got a lot of respect for his ability to evaluate talent just as I do with all of our coaches. So, it's a team approach. Now, the coaches aren't sitting in the draft meetings with us. But, at the same time there is a stage when they are brought into the process. And that stage starts with the combine. So, we look forward to bouncing ideas off of one another, getting viewpoints. Because it's all about finding players that fit the system. That's what we're looking for. There are a lot of good players out there. This draft is no different than other drafts. But, at the same time we've got to get players that fit the system. There's going to be good players that don't fit us, whether it's from a character standpoint, a skill-set standpoint, there's just going to be players that don't fit us. So, we're looking for the fit.
Q: What did WR Randy Moss bring to the table this year for you guys? And is he in your plans for 2013?
Baalke: Well, Randy's a pro. And I can't say enough good things about Randy. And I think if you ask anyone within our organization they would say the same thing. One of the first guys to work every day. One of the last to leave. A guy that takes great care of his body. That is probably one of the smartest football players, if not the smartest football player I've been around. Grasped the offense very quickly and was a real leader in that group, in that room. So, we're certainly happy that he was there. Is he going to return this year? I don't know that yet.
Q: You're a Super Bowl team, what do you do with 14 draft picks?
Baalke: Draft them.
Q: Well, theoretically you're good. Do you need 14 rookies?
Baalke: Well, I don't know that we need 14 rookies. We need good football players. And we've always maintained that we're not afraid to move up, we're not afraid to stand pat and pick where the selection is. And we're certainly not afraid to move back. We've been successful doing all of the above. So, how we're going to use them, that remains to be seen. But, certainly enjoy the fact that we're in position to have 14.
Q: Can you characterize how that dinner with Alex was? Was it a good give and take, or was it kind of one-sided or anything you can say?
Baalke: No, it was Alex and his wife Liz and myself. We had a great meal. We had a great discussion. I can't say enough good things. And I think if you ask anyone in our organization they would say the same thing, he is a pro's pro. And I have nothing but great respect for him, his family, and we're certainly going to do everything in our power to make the best decision for everyone involved.
Q: Where does the possibility of trading Smith fit into the process and decision?
Baalke: I think that's part of it. We're going to look at all options available. Are we going to trade him for sure? No, that hasn't been decided.
Q: Will you be looking at a kicker in free agency?
Baalke: We're going to be looking at every position in free agency. We're going to be looking at every position in the draft. And we're going to address the needs that we have through one of those two options.
Q: What are your thoughts on the changing landscape in NFC West? How does a team like the 49ers stay competitive next season with the Seahawks obviously pretty close right there, and Rams kind of an up-and-coming team in that division, too? What are your thoughts on that?
Baalke: Well, we're going to have to go back to work. It's an awfully good division. It's a competitive division. It's a physical division. All four teams play a physical brand of football. They play very well on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, there are a lot of playmakers within the division. And it's a well-coached division. So, in order to stay on top of that division, we've got to get better. We can't stay the same and we certainly can't take a step back because those other teams are coming. We have to have a good draft. We have to have a good free agency period. But, we also have to go back to work. And that's a tough thing to do. Our guys are down a little bit, a little bit discouraged, a little bit disappointed. But, we're certainly going to get back on the horse and ride. And I've got complete confidence in our players to do that.
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