INDIANAPOLIS – Trent Baalke fielded questions for 16 minutes on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. He also was interrupted mid-answer as an NFL employee announced, “Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is now available at podium C.”
“That’s interesting,” the 49ers general manager said from podium A. “Dueling pianos.”
The gathered media chuckled. Then a reporter chimed in with, “You guys are always competing.”
Baalke moved on to offer insight into his thinking on the upcoming draft, free agency and the state of San Francisco’s current roster.
Here are five key takeaways from his media session:
1. Future of the Running GameThe team’s salary cap decisions won’t be influenced by
The 49ers are encouraged by the health of second-year running back
As for Gore, Baalke believes that the franchise’s all-time leading rusher remains as passionate as ever about the game of football. “There’s nothing Frank does that surprises me,” Baalke said. “I never met a person, an individual, a player, a coach, anybody that’s been around the game of football that is as passionate about the game as Frank Gore. That’s what drives him. Nothing he does surprises us.”
My Take: Baalke and the 49ers will continue to rely on Gore as the leader of the running back group, but they will encourage a healthy competition between Lattimore, James and
2. Bowman and Boldin Updates
Baalke discussed the team’s depth at inside linebacker, but he said that the club will have to take a “hard look” to see if they need to create more competition in the offseason program.
My Take: Bowman won’t be rushed back to the field. The 49ers will have internal discussions on adding depth to the inside linebacker position and perhaps a dozen or so picks in the upcoming draft could be used to find another inside linebacker with special teams coverage ability. Boldin appears to be one of the team’s “own guys” that Baalke referred to. Both the GM and head coach have said all the right things about bringing the veteran receiver back to San Francisco.
3. Prospects in Arms
If there’s a common trait for 49ers draft picks in the Baalke era, it has to be arm length. The GM isn’t hiding it either.
“I like long arms,” he said. “Last year’s draft should tell you that. I think length is important. It’s important in every sport.
Baalke’s defensive line picks in 2012 all were measured with 34-inch arms or longer. “It’s a trait that’s hard to find.”
Apparently it won’t be in the mix for Baalke and the 49ers in 2014. “If you look at this year’s measurements, you’re not going to see many players in the draft that are 34-inch arm length regardless of position.”
My Take:That will be the first question the media asks the 2014 first-round pick. “How long are your arms?”
4. Putting Stock in Film
Baalke has no problem with the combine. It’s just not the biggest section of San Francisco’s draft puzzle. When I asked Baalke what Pro Bowl safety
“I don’t mean that in a negative way,” Baalke said. “Eric was a young man that we identified on film, and we’re film guys. What they do here, we gather the numbers like anybody else, but it still comes down to the film. What did they do on film? That remains the most important thing for us as evaluators, and it will continue to moving forward.”
5. Brock Paved His Own Way
Brock was signed out of Bellhaven after Baalke’s first draft in 2010. “He was a 500-dollar free-agent signing after the draft and it’s all on him and how he came in and worked at it.”
My Take: Don’t sleep on the team’s undrafted free agents. If the draft analysts are correct and this year’s draft is the deepest in years, San Francisco’s undrafted players will be just as valuable as late-round picks.