49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

April 29, 2010
At the movies with Trent Baalke

Immediately following the draft, the theme of the 49ers' haul was bulk - nearly every one of the players was one of the biggest at his position. After going over the film of the eight picks with acting GM Trent Baalke, it's clear those players can move that bulk. Quick, quickly and quickness were words Baalke used a lot. Baalke spent an hour and half going over seven to 10 plays from each of the picks. The plays we saw certainly were highlights and Baalke pointed out the aspects of the player's game that prompted the 49ers to draft that player. But he also pointed out some flaws in technique and whatnot that will have to be ironed out by the coaching staff. I found the session useful if for nothing else than it gave me better insight into how scouts watch college game film and what they look for at various positions.

OT Anthony Davis

One of the points Baalke made more than once was that Davis was firing out of his stance with the ball. On a lot of college offensive lines, the center snaps the ball, then the guards pop up and then the tackles. Davis routinely was out of his stance and in pass protection right away.

In one of the first clips we saw, Davis was matched against South Florida's George Selvie, who was drafted on Saturday. Keeping in mind that these were selected clips, Davis fared very well against Selvie, riding him out of the picture on one pass play. "The one thing that you can't change (in a player) is the ability to move people off the block," Baalke said. When Davis got into a defender, he usually moved him out of the way. And his quickness allowed him to seal off defensive tackles in the running game. In one clip, Davis is lined up facing a DT from Texas Southern. At the snap, he maneuvers to the DT's right side, flips his hips and walls off the defenders, giving the running back a roomy running lane through the middle of the defense. You can picture Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye watching that particular play with tears of joy running down their cheeks.

Consistency was one of the knocks on Davis prior to the draft. Baalke was asked whether he noticed a lack of consistency when he went over the tape. "Was it as consistent as you want?" Baalke said. "No. But there's no film that says this guy can't play football." That is, Baalke never saw any tape where Davis was overmatched. What happened is that Davis wasn't as sharp on some plays and against some opponents than he was on others. "When you're just better than the guy you're against, sometimes it's hard to keep your focus," Baalke said.

Rutgers also runs a pro style offense with a lot of inside running and with the quarterback taking the snap from center. That was a plus for the 49ers because it meant they had a lot of film on Davis playing out of a three-point stance and drive blocking.

G Mike Iupati

After watching the film, I actually feel relieved for the WAC defensive linemen that had to face him. On one play, he throws a 270-pound Utah State lineman onto the turf - with one hand. (He looked like the offensive version of Reggie White on the play). He seemed to have a knack of getting defenders off balance and then putting them on the ground as they tried to spin away from him.

Like Davis, the theme was how well Iupati moved for a man his size. Iupati often was asked to initially give a double-team block on a lineman and then get into the second level to take out a linebacker. "In our mind, a guy like that has a chance to be special at his position," Baalke said.

One of the questions about Iupati is technique, and Baalke conceded that there were some things the coaching staff would have to iron out. For example, Iupati has a tendency to get his arms outside his defenders shoulders, which leads to a lot of holding penalties. (See: 2010 Senior Bowl). Another question is Iupati's level of competition. Baalke said that against lesser players, evaluators want to see a first-round pick dominate, something that apparently wasn't always the case with Davis, but seemed to be consistent -- very consistent -- with Iupati. "This guy's not hard to put a highlight film together on," Baalke said. (To see the one-armed toss, fast forward 2/3 of the way through the below video).

S Taylor Mays

Any tape on Mays highlights his athletic ability, and today's session was no different. In the very first clip, Cal has the ball deep in the red zone and Mays is lined up deep in the end zone. The quarterback looks to his left and Mays starts running in that direction. But the look is just a decoy. The quarterback really wants to throw to his right. Mays is so fast, however, that he's able to change directions, run perhaps 15 yards down the end zone line, step in front of the intended receiver and make an interception.

Mays also is shown making big hits both on receivers and running backs. But he lowers his shoulder on those hits and almost never wraps up. Baalke said that's something that Mays realizes must change. "He likes to strike and not always wrap. In the National Football League, you've got to wrap. ... If you're not wrapping, they're still running."

Baalke said Mays does have good ball skills. The 49ers worked him out and concluded that when he sees the ball, he has good enough hands to make interceptions. The issue is that Mays played the receiver far more often than the ball. Baalke said there needed to be a better balance in that aspect of Mays' game. "Taylor has a tendency to want to play the man and strike."

There's been a lot written and said about the 49ers' sticking Mays "in the box" so that he's a quasi linebacker. Baalke said the objective is for both safeties to be able to play deep and close to the line of scrimmage. "We want mirror guys back there," he said. "We don't want them (the offense) to know who's going to be low and who's going to be high. The more balanced you are, the more deceptive you can be in your game plan."

LB Navorro Bowman

Baalke reiterated that the differences between the "Ted" and "Mike" linebackers aren't nearly as stark now as they were when Mike Nolan was coach. Both players are asked to take on blocks, and both have the ability to make a lot of tackles. Similarly, there doesn't have to be a lot of size difference between the players.

In that way, Bowman is lot like Patrick Willis in that he appears to be a very instinctual linebacker who chases down ball carriers and makes plays all over the field. In one of the clips we watched in which Penn State is playing Indiana, Bowman pops outside from his weakside linebacker, undercuts a pass route and makes an interception, which he returns for a touchdown.

On another play, Bowman is trying to snuff out an outside run. A blocker who is moving in from the outside seems to have a bead on Bowman (who is moving inside to outside), but Bowman sidesteps him, accelerates and tackles the runner for a loss. "Good players are going to acknowledge (a blocker) with their instincts and not with their eyes," Ballke said. That is, Bowman doesn't skip a beat while sidestepping the blocker. He's very fluid, not mechanical at all.

It was evident from watching the film that Bowman is a good athlete with very good balance. What also was clear is that he's on the small side. This, of course, was the knock on Willis in 2007 and why some coaches (Nolan and Singletary) weren't that keen on Willis initially. It will be interesting to see if Bowman is in the same mold. The 49ers want either him or Scott McKillop to be the No. 3 linebacker this season and the heir to Takeo Spikes next year.

RB Anthony Dixon

I have to admit, I haven't seen a Mississippi State game in a long, long time and had no idea what Dixon looked like. At 6-1, Dixon is taller than the average running back and has long legs and long arms. Like Glen Coffee, he has an upright running style. Baalke, however, noted that when Dixon ran through traffic and wanted to bowl over tacklers, he knew how to lower his pad level.

Baalke's main critique was that Dixon has to learn how to run like a big back. He has some wiggle and some speed, which were apparent on some of the long runs Baalke showed us. Those are rare skills in someone as big as Dixon, but something that Dixon may have relied on too much at Mississippi State. Which is to say, Baalke and the 49ers want more "one cut and go" from Dixon. That, of course, is Coffee's and Frank Gore's style as well.

Asked about Dixon's stamina, Baalke noted that it had to be good considering that Dixon had an astounding 910 carries while at Mississppi State. I asked if all those carries could be a red flag. (They were for Cedric Benson in 2005). "If he was a small back, I'd say, yeah, it could be a red flag because you have to ask how many carries does he have in his body." But with Dixon's big frame, Baalke said, it wasn't as much of a concern.

Dixon's athleticism also makes him a better receiver than you would think a guy his size would be. In one clip, Dixon catches a swing pass that's thrown too high, quickly gets his balance and moves up field. Baalke said it's an advantage to have a between-the-tackles running back with good hands because defenses aren't expecting the pass. He said that Gore, Coffee and Dixon all can catch.

TE Nate Byham

Byham's highlight package wasn't as striking because he mostly was used as a blocker at Pitt and that's how he'll be used by the 49ers. Baalke said Byham's role will be a lot like Billy Bajema's was from 2005-2008. Byham, however, might have better hands than Bajema. And that's really the key difference between having a tight end vs. a third offensive tackle in goal-line or short-yardage situations. The tight end gives you the option of throwing the ball. Byham caught 10 passes last season and 20 as a junior. At 268 pounds, Byham is easily the heaviest tight end on the team.

WR Kyle Williams

The first thing Baalke said was that Williams was different than any other receiver the 49ers have. He's small and quick, which makes him perfect for the slot position. You have to wonder whether Scot McCloughan, who loves big receivers who can block, would have drafted Williams and signed Ted Ginn Jr.

Williams also has good speed, and the clips showed him making several big, back-breaking plays. On many of them, Williams catches a 15- to 20-yard pass and then outraces the defense to the end zone. Baalke also highlighted Williams' quick hands. On one play against Arizona, Williams is running along the back of the end zone. He gets tripped up by a defender, but he's still able to get his hand up to catch the ball as he stumbles. In another clip, he catches a crossing pattern in traffic but doesn't break stride as he's hauling the ball in.

I asked Baalke whether Jason Hill, who seemed to excel as a slot receiver in the second half of the 2008 season, could play the position. Baalke said Hill had his own set of skills, but he stressed that Williams was unique. "There's nobody on this football team that has the quickness he has in the slot," Baalke said.

Baalke also noted that Williams has handled more than 70 punts at Arizona State and averaged more than 10 yards a return. That none of those went for a touchdown can be seen two ways, Baalke said. After all, if you average 10 yards and haven't been in the end zone, you must be pretty consistent.

CB Phillip Adams

There weren't very many clips of Adams, and the ones we did see were so poor in quality it was hard to see which player was Adams (No. 9). That's probably another reason why small-school prospects have a hard time getting drafted - they're simply harder to scout. The 49ers feel that Adams is raw but they like his toughness. "He's a physical football player," Baalke said. "He's not afraid to mix it up. At the corner position, that's not easy to find."

-- Matt Barrows

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MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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