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5 Takeaways from Trent Baalke's Press Conference

Posted Feb 21, 2014

49ers.com's senior reporter offered his take on five interesting storylines born from the general manager's chat with reporters.

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.”

Maybe so. 

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 Game

The team’s salary cap decisions won’t be influenced by Frank Gore’s cap number, reportedly north of $6 million for the 2014 season. “We can move forward exactly as is if that’s what we choose to do,” Baalke said. 

The 49ers are encouraged by the health of second-year running back Marcus Lattimore and how he’ll be able to join the team’s offseason program. Baalke noted that third-year running back LaMichael James is in a “crowded backfield” and will have to earn a greater role moving forward. 

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 Kendall Hunter to see who emerges as the running back of the future.

2. Bowman and Boldin Updates

NaVorro Bowman will likely be ready by midseason of 2014. Baalke reiterated what Jim Harbaugh said on Thursday. There’s no rush to see No. 53 back on the field if he’s not at full strength. “When he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go,” San Francisco’s GM said. “If that’s midseason or middle-to-late season – whenever that is – we’ll bring him back to the field.”

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. 

Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody are both on the football team and both have done a nice job,” Baalke said. “Nick is a young guy, still developing at the linebacker position. And Michael Wilhoite is a guy who has stepped in and played well when called upon. We’re going to address that."

As for Anquan Boldin, Baalke said the team is just getting into the process of evaluating pending free agents. “Our No. 1 objective in the offseason is to take care of our own guys, to identify who we feel we need on our football team moving forward and then find a way to make it work and make it fit from a financial standpoint,” Baalke said.

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. Aldon Smith – great leverage player because you can’t get to him – he’s 36-inch arm length.”

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 Eric Reid did to move up the draft board at last year’s combine, Baalke politely responded with, “Nothing.” 

“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.”

My Take:The eye in the sky doesn’t lie. If someone blow up at the combine this year by running the best 40-time ever – or maybe they have 34-inch arms – check the film before slotting them as a future member of the 49ers. Baalke wants the film to do the talking for a prospect.

5. Brock Paved His Own Way

Tramaine Brock was quite the story for the 49ers in 2013. From college free agent to starter, Brock’s rise in the 49ers program was a sign of the scouting department identifying unknown gems. 

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.”

Baalke downplayed the scouting department’s enjoyment of the process. “I think it’s more rewarding for the player. I’m really proud for the player. Tramaine’s a young man that has put in awful lot of hard work into his craft. I look at the development that he’s made as a player and as a person and how could you not be happy for that individual? He’s earned everything he’s gotten.”

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.