Acting GM Trent Baalke sat down with some of the 49ers beatwriters today. Fittingly, the chat was in the team's draft war room. (But a black curtain was drawn over the draft board. Rats!). If you were curious about Baalke, hopefully the Q&A that follows will shed some light on the guy. For those of you unwilling or unable to handle a rather long blog, the key points are these:
* Baalke's philosophy is very similar to that of his friend, Scot McCloughan's, and doesn't anticipate much change in the team's draft strategy. However, some of his answers differed slightly from what McCloughan has said. (All you C.J. Spiller fans should read Baalke's answer about running backs)
* He slammed the door on acquiring cornerback Adam "Pac Man" Jones. He wasn't as firm about Donovan McNabb but said the team wouldn't contact the Eagles. Like Jed York and Mike Singletary, Baalke said he was happy with the QBs on staff.
* Baalke said he has a very good relationship with Mike Singletary. In fact, the two soon will be jetting off together to check out a few college pro days.
I rearranged some of the questions and answers so that the McNabb and Alex Smith material was at the top:
Q: On the 49ers quarterback situation:
TB: I think we're very comfortable with where we're at at this point. I think coach Singletary has made that clear.
Q: Is there any thought about acquiring a veteran QB like Donovan McNabb?
TB: I think first, you have to respect the league policy, which obviously he's under contract with another team, so it's a discussion that, no. 1, we can't have and we wouldn't have.
Q: Wouldn't have that talk with the Eagles?
Q: Because you're happy with the QBs you have?
TB: I think right now. ... The way you have to look at this, we're very happy with the situation we're in right now. I think you're always looking and evaluation players throughout the course of the year. You're always looking at ways to better your team at any position. Right now we're very comfortable with where we're at, and that's where we're going to leave it."
Q: On his philosophy vs. McCloughan's:
TB: I think Scot and I share a very similar philosophy. I think the big thing is - size is important, intelligence is important, competitiveness is important. The intangibles, what they bring to the locker room. All those things are important and Scot and I both shared those beliefs. And I think it stems not only from the personnel side but the coaching staff believes the same thing. And as an organization, that's what's important, that we're all on the same page. With that said, there are exceptions in this business. There are guys that don't meet the height, weight, speed standards, that come in and can be pretty good football players. And I think you've got to evaluate those guys on a case-by-case basis. And when you make a decision to draft or being in a free agent or any type of player as an exception, everyone just has to be on the same page as to exactly what you're dealing with.
Q: On drafting so-called "exceptions":
TB: Certainly I do. And I think the people in this business that have had that same philosophy and said the same thing that you just said about staying away from exceptions because you'd have a team of exceptions ... If you went back and studied their rosters, you would find out that along the way somewhere they had made an exception. So I don't think it's a matter of whether you make one. I think you have to be very calculated when and if you do make one.
Q: On possible changes to the 49ers' draft board:
TB: I think first and foremost it goes back to your first question, did Scot and I share similar beliefs? The answer to that was, yes. Scot is a very good evaluator of talent. A lot of the work we did on this board, we did together. Obviously at that point in time, he was the point man. So where the board is at this stage - 85 to 90 percent set going - a lot of that is not going to change. Now are there going to be a few subtle changes, yes, there will be. But there would be the same changes probably that would have happened whether he was here or not. Because you still have the coaches that have to weigh in on this. You still have a lot more information that we're gathering through pro days to put into this. So there are going to be some changes. And there will be some changes that maybe Scot wouldn't have made, but it's going to be minimal.
Q: On a multi-voice policy toward running the personnel department:
TB: The good thing about the way Scot operated was he wanted people involved. And it helped us learn along the way. It helped me grow as a professional. And once again, I can't reiterate enough - he's very good at what he does and he's been very good at helping me grow as a professional. And I think by the way he operated and the openess with which he operated, is certainly going to help us moving forward. Because it wasn't like he had the key to the safe. He was very open with me. We had a lot of discussions. We talked non-stop for months on this board already. So a lot of the information that we got right now is something that was openly discussed for the last two to three months.
Q: On Baalke's rapport with Mike Singletary:
TB: First of all, when coach was an assistant coach here and I was an area scout and then got promoted to director of pro personnel, we had a very open relationship. Him and I talked a lot about strategies and, you know, Mike's a very inquisitive person. And I've been fortunate along the way to work with some very good people in this business. And we shared a lot of ideas, Mike and I, back and forth. So we had a real open dialogue going already. And when coach got promoted to becoming the head coach ...When he became the head coach, it then became Scot and him creating the dialogue back and forth and me acting as an intermediary on the outside to help Scot and to what as asked of me in the role I was in. Now it's a shift back for me and coach to be put back in a situation where we have open dialogue again. And it's not like we didn't have open dialogue through the course of Scot's tenure or coach's tenure as head coach, it's just now it's a direct line I guess is the best way to say it.
Q: On going on the road with Singletary:
TB: We will. We're going to leave Sunday. We're going on a three-day trip and that's something that coach has gotten a lot more active in - going on the road and getting to see these guys, which I'm certainly OK with. Because the one strength of many that he has is he's really able to look a guy in the eye and sit down and get a good feel for him when he can get his hands on a guy and get in one-on-one situations. So it really helps us from an evaluation standpoint.
Q: When did he realize that he wanted to be a scout?:
TB: I never even contemplated getting into the NFL on the personnel side. I was a college coach in the Dakotas, got out of coaching to pursue some other goals in terms of business opportunities back in the mid 90s. And when I was a college coach, I was the liaison that dealt withy the scouts when they came into visit the university and talk with the players. So I got to know a lot of the scouts at that point in time. In fact, when Scot - his first year in the league - he scouted at South Dakota State a guy by the name of Adam Timmerman. And that's really when Scot and my friendship started. That's how our relationship got started. And this business is all about relationships.
Q: Do you draft a right tackle, or always left at a premium pick and go from there?
TB: Would you spend a high pick on a right tackle versus a left tackle? We're never going to try to not put good football players on this team regardless of the position. Obviously, the left tackle carries a little more weight in terms of value in the NFL. From that perspective, you're going to be a lot more comfortable if you do pick a tackle high, it's going to be a tackle that can fit in on the left side of the line.
Q: Scot said Joe Staley could go back to right side if you take a left tackle like Oher, still the deal?
TB: I think that having a guy like Joe Staley and the value that he has is his ability to play the right and the left. And when you have that flexibility it really creates more options for you on draft day. It doesn't lock you into having to draft a left tackle or having to draft a right tackle. What we need to do is improve the offensive line and it's an area we're going to address. We do have some good football players on this offensive line.
Q: Chester Pitts add versatility if you sign him?
TB: I think if we found any free agent that we felt could come in and help us improve this football team it's certainly something we would look at and talk about. We haven't settled on anybody at this stage. Right now, the roster is what it is. Are we looking to improve it? Yes. Are we looking at some potential free agents? Are we looking at guys in the draft? Most definitely. But as of right now, we haven't made a decision as to what we're going to do to add depth to the offensive line as we stand right now.
Q: Any restricted guys sign waivers to work out?
A: To be totally honest with you at this point, it's something we don't really want to discuss whether they are or they aren't.
Q: What's your idea of the best player available?
TB: I think there's two ways to look at the board. Do you set your board up based on need or do you set your board up based on value. We're a value-based team. Obviously we look at needs but we want the board to reflect the best players down. The board is going to reflect their value as a player, OK? Then we'll address the needs. You obviously want to take the best available player so if there's a clear difference between two players, we're going to take the best available player. It's not always necessarily going to be at the need position. When two players are very similar in ability and they're at two different positions, that's when you can look and say, 'You know what? They're both very similar, let's address the need.' That way, you're always adding good football players to the roster.
Q Jed York said you'd have the final say on draft day. Who has final say in non-draft issues between now and draft day?
TB: I don't think that's any different than the draft. I think the final say will be me. But at the same time, the thing I want to really reinforce, this isn't a one-man band. Coach Singletary is very involved. Tom Gamble has stepped into a role of leadership. I think any time there's a decision made in this organization, it's going to be a collaborative effort. I don't think that's any different than most places in the NFL. That's why there's different people in different roles. As the decisions get closer to being made, obviously somebody has to make that decision but there's a lot of work that goes into whether we sign a free agent, that the area scouts on the college side, the pro scouts on the pro side, there's a lot of work that goes into making decisions in a building. It isn't one guy who just sits there and cracks a whip and makes the decision. There's a lot of consultation, there's a lot of work, there's a lot of thought that goes into it and I'm very confident that we've got the people in this building to rally around and make the right decisions on the football side.
Q: Running back, do you look for a Gore lookalike or someone who does different things?
TB: I think if you look at the league right now, it's certainly gone to a two-pronged attack, guys that complement each other, different styles that bring a little different element of preparation to the defense's standpoint. You're always looking for something a little bit different. But if you look at the backfields that are really starting to have a lot of success, it's not only the two, it's the three-back system that's becoming even a little bit more ... you look at Dallas' situation with a bell-cow back and another guy that can come in and still have some bell-cow ability in Tashard Choice, a little bit different style than Marion Barber, and then you throw Felix Jones in the mix, of course completely different. They all different sets of skills but they're all high level guys and it's very difficult to defense. I think the more you have complementary styles, the harder it is to prepare for.
Q: Do you have a hard-and-fast rule about how tall and big guys have to be? Or, are smaller guys, like a Jahvid Best, on the board for you?
TB: Most definitely, and the funny thing, they were on the board for Scot as well. We have a very similar philosophy. There's that exception rule that we already talked about but the philosophy here hasn't changed. There is no 6-foot policy in this building in terms of players, and you'll find guys like Frank Gore on this team, those aren't 6-foot guys. There's enough guys on this team, there's been a cutoff at the corner position in terms of height that we look at, and we'll continue to look at that. In terms of being for every position a cutoff, that's never been the case.
Q: Favorite discovery you went out on a limb for?
TB: We all like to talk about the ones we hit on, right, and no one wants to talk about the ones we missed so I don't want to get into it because when you make decisions, it's a collaborative decision. We can talk about Dashan Goldson. That was a guy that was targeted early, a guy that we felt really good about, a guy that Scot and I discussed as early as the middle of the football season his senior year as a guy that we'd like to add to the roster. Scot wa son board and we ended up picking Dashon. He's obviously been a very good football player for us. In terms of discoveries, I'd love to tell you all the ones I was right on, but then I'd have to tell you all the guys I was wrong on, and there's been many. I don't think there's anybody in this business who can say they hit on every player they've ever evaluated.
Q: How to separate Scot friendship and moving on?
TB: I think you hit it on the head. You have to compartmentalize it. Scot's a great friend, has been for a long time, will continue to be and I have a great amount of respect for him, not only as an evaluator, but more importantly as a person. I care deeply about him and his family and I wish him nothing but the best. There's no doubt in my mind he's going to come back in this league and be very successful and I'm looking forward to that day. As far as the business side of things, all I know is we as an organization have five weeks, less than now, to get ready for the draft and that's the most important thing there is right now. My focus is there.
Q: This a tryout for you?
TB: Like Rudy in Notre Dame? I look at it like this: all I can control is the job I do day to day. I'm going to come to work every day and do it the way I think it needs to be done with the help of a lot of people in this building and the support of a lot of people in this building. If I was looking at this I was just getting the 49ers through the draft and then I'll be out the door, that's just not my mindset. My mindset is this is going to be a good situation through the draft and after the draft but that's not my decision. That's the decision of the organization and the ownership and I'm going to support them regardless of the decision I make.
Q: Who do you report to now?
TB: It would be ownership.
Q: If you get quarterback play, is this roster a few draft picks away from being a playoff team?
TB: Most definitely. You look at the quarterback play, I'm excited for the opportunity to see Alex in a situation where he has the same offensive coordinator going into a second season with the same system, the same playcaller and even more talent around him. So do I think this roster is in position to make a playoff run? Most definitely. Do we need to add some pieces to the puzzle? Most definitely, but we're going to be able to do that. That's what the draft is for.
Q: Pacman Jones an option?
TB: At this point there is absolutely no interest in Pacman. And I don't see that changing.
-- Matt Barrows