The second annual Trent Baalke (Tri-Baalke?) Film Festival was held today and it was an intriguing feature-length production.
Before a group of about 10 reporters, the Niners’ general manager broke down film of San Francisco’s 10 draftees for more than 90 minutes in a dimly lit meeting room.
Baalke, of course, gave his rookies two thumbs up during the session, but he did note some areas that could stand improvement (Watch the pad level, Aldon Smith. Protect that football, Kaepernick).
Baalke, like Jim Harbaugh, loves talking straight-line speed and hip fluidity and he was happy to do so at length for us scribes. I’m guessing it’s not an idea he picked up from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, one of Baalke’s mentors who would rather be buried alive than spend two hours in a room with lightly washed reporters.
With that in mind, thanks to Baalke and pro personnel scout Ryan Meyers, who compiled the highlight reel.
At least half the session, I’m guessing, was spent watching film on and asking questions about the first two picks – Missouri’s Aldon Smith and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick.
I’ll detail Smith and Kaepernick in this blog and hit the other eight draftees in a follow-up.
ALDON SMITH, DE/LB, MISSOURI (First round, No. 7 overall)
The play was from 2009, Smith’s freshman year. Missouri vs. Colorado. Smith was lined up at defensive end against Colorado’s Nate Solder, the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft.
At the snap, Smith darts right and cuts back left inside Solder, who, completely fooled, wouldn’t make the Pleasanton High varsity if evaluated on this one play. But as Smith closes in on the quarterback, Baalke didn’t talk about his epic juke on Solder. Instead, he focused on his eyes.
“One thing that I’m looking for in a defensive player … is a guy that can play to the football with his eyes,” Baalke said. “You watch Aldon, you can watch a lot of snaps of him, he rarely takes his eyes off of the ball carrier. If you watch him here, he’s looking past the blocker. He’s trying to find the football. He’s feeling the blocker, but just look at his eyes where they stay.”
As the tape continues, Smith lunges to trip up the flushed-out quarterback by the ankle for a sack. That brings Baalke back to other qualities he covets: Smith’s strong hands and 36-inch arms, or “long levers” as he called them. On two of Smith’s sacks we saw today, he used those long levers to drop a quarterback by the leg.
“There’s the length that comes into play again,” Baalke said. “If you’re a 32-arm-length guy, you don’t make that tackle. If you’re a 36, you make it.”
• Remember those mammoth black casts Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis were sporting on their broken hands last year? Smith might have a more formidable club.
In several instances, he used a get-out-my-way rip move to toss aside a lineman and spring into the backfield (some poor 300-pounder from San Diego State wouldn’t have enjoyed this film). It was another example of Smith utilizing his long arms and powerful meat hooks.
Baalke noted that Smith’s technique will have to improve. He won’t be able to dominate NFL offensive linemen on those colossal clubs alone.
“He likes to come off — he gets a little bit high at times,” Baalke said. “And he beats people with the club and his athleticism. In (the NFL) he’s going to have to learn to come off the ball a little bit lower. Get more penetration with his first and second step and not spend so much time in front of the defender.”
• There has been talk that Smith is “stiff” – he lacks some fluidity. Baalke didn’t dispute that assessment, but said it wasn’t unusual. He pointed to All-Pros such as Bryce Paup and Shawne Merriman as having the same stiffness.
“There were stiff,” he said. “There was stiffness in them. So does Aldon have some stiffness? Yeah. But he also has unique flexibility to get his body in certain positions.”
Baalke said Smith’s stiffness would really only show up when he’s in coverage “out in space.” And he doesn’t anticipate Smith dropping back too often. His primary responsibilities, Baalke stressed, were to pressure quarterbacks and set the edge.
“What we ask of them on their feet as droppers is very limited,” Baalke said. “So when looking at a 3-4 outside linebacker, he doesn’t have to be a great cover guy … he has to be functional. We feel he has the physical traits necessary to be functional and you’ll see him do it at times.”
• At 21, Smith is 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds. How big can he get and still be an effective 3-4 outside linebacker?
Baalke pointed to New England’s Adalius Thomas (6-2, 270) and former Patriot Willis McGinest (6-5, 270) as examples of bigger pass-rushing linebackers who weren’t impeded by their size.
• Inside. Outside. Smith lined up at very spot on the line at Missouri.
COLIN KAPERNICK, QB, NEVADA (Second round, No. 36 overall)
It’s Nevada’s bowl-game win against Boston College. The camera angle shows us what Kaepernick is eyeballing as he drops back (a little) in the Pistol offense.
The middle of the field is a human-traffic jam. A few linebackers, two safeties … is that a cornerback over there? … and just one Nevada wide receiver streaking downfield on a post.
Kaepernick looks left, turns back to the right and rifles a throw over the linebackers, between the safeties and into the chest of the lone blue jersey for about a 25-yard gain.
Impressive. Really impressive. But is that the type of high-risk, high-degree-of-difficulty throw Baalke wants Kaepernick making at the next level? Baalke smiled.
“This is life in the NFL right here, right?” he said. “You’re not always going to have a wide-open guy. You’ve got to get it into the holes. These are throws you have to make in the National Football League. If you can’t make this throw in the National Football League, you won’t play long.”
So that was an example of a throw every NFL quarterback has to make.
Next up was a throw not every NFL quarterback is able to make.
This film is against Cal and Kaepernick, sprinting left, throws off, well, no feet (he was momentarily airborne) while his shoulders are turned away from his intended receiver.
The result? A 25-yard completion – it was a rocket – to a receiver bookended by two defenders near the sideline. There were a few murmurs of appreciation from reporters after this one.
“He doesn’t even get his shoulders working across the field,” Baalke said. “He throws totally across his body and throws a BB … There’s not many quarterbacks that can make that throw.”
• Kaepernick’s intangibles – leadership, character etc. – are no secret, but Baalke highlighted his toughness. He cited Kapernick’s ability to “sort through chaos.”
In one clip – I forget the opponent – Kaepernick didn’t flinch and delivered a throw as the pocket crumbled and chaos collected around him.
“One of thing a quarterback has to do is stand in the pocket and not feel and buy into the pressure around him,” Baalke said. “You’ve got be comfortable in your own skin to be able to do that. You’ve got to be tough mentally. You’ve got to be tough physically … you don’t coach that. It’s something that Colin does very naturally.”
• OK, what’s the deal with Kaepernick’s funky throwing motion? Baalke said it’s no big deal. He mentioned that Jim Harbaugh altered how Kaepernick held the ball during their private workout, but stressed that the rookie had a quick release and good accuracy. He compared the variety of throwing motions to golf swings – all that matters is the end result.
• Baalke said defenses will have to account for Kaepernick’s running ability. And he suggested Kaepernick will need to do a better job of securing the football when he’s on the move.
“These guys are being taught to attack the football,” he said.
• So Kaepernick is done with that gimmicky offense he ran in college, right? Not so fast.
Baalke, noting how Harbaugh has reputation for putting his players in the “best positions to be successful,” suggested there could be a Pistol package in the 49ers’ future.