Trent Baalke held a press conference Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. Here is a transcript.
Q: Frank Gore will count $6 or $7 million against the salary cap this season. Is that reasonable?
BAALKE: The simple is there is no reason it can’t be. We’re in a good shape from a cap standpoint. There really is no decision to be made. We can move forward exactly as is if that’s what we choose to do.
Q: Any progress with re-signing Anquan Boldin?
BAALKE: We’re just getting into that. Like we’ve always maintained, our No.1 objective in the offseason is to take care of our own guys, to identify the guys we feel we need on our football team moving forward, and then finding a way to make it work and make it fit from a financial standpoint.
Q: What is your philosophy on distributing information and keeping things close to the vest? What advantages are there do doing that?
BAALKE: The local guys would tell you there are a lot of advantages. I don’t know what advantage there would be in giving out information. We try to keep as much information to ourselves as we can. It’s a unique process. There obviously is a lot of information coming in and going out. There are certain times when smokescreens are being made. The No.1 thing that I’ve learned is the less you say, the better off you are.
Q: How do you make sure there are no leaks?
BAALKE: We’re constantly evaluating what is in the papers. We have our P.R. department looking for those kinds of things. If they find out it’s a team source that made a decision to let something out of the building, we address it. Our coaching staff does a very good job of keeping things close to the vest. Hopefully, we will continue to do that.
Q: How much attention do you pay to the maturity level of the prospects?
BAALKE: I guess we’re in the age, social media. We pay quite a bit of attention to it. As we narrow the board down over the next several weeks, we will start identifying the players who we want to look at their social media, take a look at their accounts, how active they are, what they’re saying, what they’re doing. We do address it.
Q: What are you looking for when you look at that?
BAALKE: Just how responsible they are and their use of it.
Q: Why is it important to be strong up the middle on defense?
BAALKE: I think you want to do that in every sport. Baseball tries to do it. Basketball tries to do it. I think football is no different. You want to take away the middle of the field. The best way to do it is having strength up the middle. If you can do that in the game, you stand a very good chance of winning week in and week out. So we place a big emphasis on that.
Q: How much stock do GMs put on the trade value chart?
BAALKE: It’s the standard. Everybody uses it. So, you have to understand it and you have to take a look at it. You’re always trying to win. We’re in a competitive business. Sometimes it’s just not worth it. Sometimes it makes sense to disregard it and make the decision you think you need to make to get the player you want. The No.1 thing is targeting the players that you want, identifying those and finding a way to go get them.
Q: Do you use the standard chart or your own?
BAALKE: We’re one of those teams that uses our own chart. There are other teams that use their own chart. There are several teams that use the same chart we do. But you have to understand both of them because some teams aren’t willing to talk to you on your chart – they only want to go with the standard chart that has been used for a long time. There is flexibility in it.
Q: How do you replace NaVorro Bowman while he’s out?
BAALKE: Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody are both on the football team and both have done a nice job. Nick is a young guy who still is developing at the linebacker position. Wilhoite is a guy that has stepped in and played well when called upon. We’re going to address that. We’re going to take a hard to look to see if we need to infuse a little bit more competition into that position. The No.1 thing regarding NaVorro is making sure he’s 100 percent before we bring him back. No individual on our football team is going to be rushed back to action. When he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go. If that’s the middle of the season, or the middle-to-late part of the season – whenever that is, that’s when we will bring him back to the field.
Q: How has the running back position evolved?
BAALKE: I don’t want to answer for 31 other teams. I’ve maintained for a long time that that position has evolved a little bit. You see less and less of the bell-cow backs and more of a rotation system. There are certain teams in the league – and we were one of them last year – that did predominantly use one back. But it’s getting harder and harder to find those guys, and it’s getting harder to hold up at the NFL level.
Q: Is it because more high schools are moving to the spread offense and aren’t using running backs like bell-cows any more?
BAALKE: I think that certainly is a factor.
Q: Has Gore surprised you the past couple of years?
BAALKE: People always ask me that. There is nothing Frank does that surprises me. I’ve never met a player, a coach, anybody that has been around the game of football that is as passionate about the game as Frank Gore. That’s what drives him. So nothing he does surprises us.
Q: You drafted Colin Kaepernick a few years ago. Why is it so hard to get that position right when drafting?
BAALKE: It’s a tough position to play. Drafting it, getting it right – if anyone had the answer, they would be doing it, right? It’s a tough position. There is so much that goes on from a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint. It’s just a very difficult position to play. Some have mastered it, some are at that level of trying to master it and some never will master it. The position was difficult from the beginning and it’s still difficult.
Q: How big of a role does Jim Harbaugh play in evaluating quarterbacks?
BAALKE: Jim plays a big role in not only the quarterback position, but we’ve always worked hard together to try to identify the players at every position that fit our system. The most important thing is bringing guys in that not only fit your system, but fit the DNA of the type of players you’re looking for.
Q: How has Harbaugh’s role changed as far as evaluating players in the draft?
BAALKE: There has been no change. We continue to work hard at it. What we’re trying to do is get it right for the 49ers. The best way to get it right is for everyone to be on the same page and to work hard together and try to make the best decisions you can for the team and the organization as a whole.
Q: With so much information out there about players, who do you keep it from getting over complicated?
BAALKE: Have you ever read the book Blink? Keep it simple. The first time you look at a player, your gut usually is right. Through the process, you gather more and more information and you watch more and more film. Sometimes the process is so long that you end up talking yourself out of that first impression. I always go back to the book Blink. If you’ve read it, you understand where I’m coming from. If you haven’t, you should. It’s a great book.
Q: How important is arm length when you’re evaluating a player?
BAALKE: I like long arms. 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 has a 36-inch arm length. All of the guys last year on the D-line were 34 or more. I think it’s an important trait. It’s a trait that’s hard to find. If you look at this year’s measurements, you’re not going to find many players in this year’s draft that have 34-plus arm length regardless of position – O-line, D-line, linebacker. So it is a trait that we certainly look at.
Q: What did Eric Reid do at the Combine last year that stood out to you and improved his draft status?
BAALKE: Nothing, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. Eric was a young guy that we identified on film. We’re film guys. What they do here, we gather the numbers like everybody else but it still comes down to the film. What do they do on film? (Question from Grant – why do football people say, “on the film,” as opposed to, “on the field?” As far as I know football is played on a 100-yard field, not 16mm film). That remains the most important thing for us as evaluators.
Q: How much do you stay in contact with Aldon Smith during the offseason. What kind of support system does he have?
BAALKE: I just talked to Aldon yesterday as a matter of fact. He’s in Vail having a good time. We keep in contact regularly. We’ve got a great support system. Aldon has done an outstanding job of utilizing that support system.
Q: Is Colt McCoy a guy you want back?
BAALKE: We’re in the process of addressing all of that with our free agents.
Q: What did you think of Quinton Patton’s rookie season?
BAALKE: Any time you get injured it takes away from your growth as a player. It was a little bit of a rocky road for him. But the amazing thing about him is how resilient he is. I talk about Frank and how much he loves the game. I think if you asked everyone on our football team, “Give me the top two or three guys that love to play,” Quinton’s name probably is going to come up quite a bit. He loves being on the field, loves practicing, loves being in the building, he’s a great teammate and a hard worker. He’s going to bounce back from that, and I think you saw it toward the end of the year that he already had started to make a leap.
Q: Could he play the slot?
BAALKE: I think he could play inside and outside. He’s a very smart football player, he works very hard at the game and his skill sets translate inside and out.
Q: What are your expectations for Tank Carradine and Corey Lemonier in their second years?
BAALKE: Tank is in a good place, he really is. He has worked awfully hard. Tank is pushing 290 pounds right now. He’s had a great offseason really that started at the beginning of this year. He got on the active for a little while then was put back down. He’s done an outstanding job and we expect big things from Tank.
Q: What is the plan for LaMichael James?
BAALKE: All I can say is it’s a crowded backfield. Frank had an awfully good football season. Coach mentioned yesterday – A++. Frank had that kind of year. It’s tough. There are certain game plans where LaMichael was meant to play a little bit bigger role than he ended up playing, but that’s the game. Every game you go into with a plan, and sometimes that plan changes based on what you’re seeing and what the other team is doing. You’ve got to be flexible. And it’s up to LaMichael. It’s up to every player. We tell every player, “It’s up to you to earn time on the field.” It’s not about what he hasn’t been doing, but more about what Frank has been doing.
Q: Do you think Vance McDonald will expand his role last year?
BAALKE: If you watch us play, you understand how complicated that position is and how many different hats Vance had to wear this year as a rookie. It’s a very difficult thing. When you have as much volume as we have and he’s put in as many positions as he’s put in, it’s such a learning curve. It really takes away from your physicality, your physical traits because you’re thinking your way through the game. I think there is going to be a big jump with Vance next year. The game is going to slow down for him. And we felt very good about how he played this year especially when you consider all of the things we were asking him to do.
Q: Was it rewarding to the scouting department that an undrafted player like Tramaine Brock turned out to be a gem?
BAALKE: I think it’s more rewarding for the player. We’re really proud of the player. Tramaine is a young man that has put an awful lot of work into his craft. I look at the development he has made as a player and as a person, how can you not be happy for that individual? He has earned everything he has gotten. He was a $500 free agent signing after the draft. It’s all on him because of the way he came in and worked at it.