Surprise! General manager Trent Baalke didn’t reveal what player will be behind draft door No. 7 in eight days during his 30-minute pre-draft meeting with the media today.
But he did say the 49ers could trade up in the first round … or they could stay put … or they could trade back. You get the idea. Baalke, unsurprisingly, was tight-lipped regarding his draft plans, but he did offer a few insights.
I’ll hit them quickly before heading to the field for the 49ers’ local pro day:
• Want another surprise? There were a few questions regarding free-agent quarterback Alex Smith. Baalke has been far more reserved than coach Jim Harbaugh when it comes to discussing Smith publicly. Your up-to-the-minute feelings on Alex, Mr. Baalke?
“I have confidence in Alex,” he said. “And once again we’ve been through this and I don’t want to keep beating this Alex Smith thing up. It’s up to Alex to make the decision on whether he wants to be a 49er again. I think Jim’s made it clear. We’ve made it clear through the process that the olive branch has been extended.”
The olive branch, of course, is a one-year contract the Niners offered Smith prior to the lockout, as reported by the Sacramento Bee. What’s the benefit to bringing Smith back, Baalke was asked. After all, he’ll have yet another offensive coordinator and a new offense to learn – factors that are often cited for his largely disappointing six-year career.
“I think there are a lot of reasons,” Baalke said. “He understands this building. He understands the system that coach is interested in running from a dynamic standpoint. They obviously hit it off in their discussions. I think there’s a lot of comfort in having someone, especially when we’re in the situation that we’re in where there are so many unknowns.
“… Coach is very comfortable with him. I’m very comfortable with him. Will Alex choose to come back here? You’re going to have to get him on the phone and ask him that question. But he’s certainly a guy that we would like to throw into the mix.”
As opposed to Harbaugh, who has praised Smith’s physical ability, Baalke, obviously, didn’t mention Smith’s quarterback skills.
• Baalke, a Bill Parcells disciple from his days as a scout with the Jets, still values big and physical when it comes to evaluating draft prospects.
“Will you make exceptions at times? Certainly you will,” Baalke said. “… The littler the player, the more special they have to be. They have to have a special trait to overcome their lack of size.”
• Baalke said this draft class is probably the most scrutinized in a long time due to the lockout, “There’s nothing else going on. It’s allowed the coaches to really focus in on the draft whereas in the past they were multi-tasking at this time of year,” he said.
• Harbaugh, who has sat in on draft meetings, knows the Pac-10 prospects well, but didn’t recruit as many of the draft prospects as, perhaps, other college coaches might have, Baalke said. The reason? Stanford’s stringent admission requirements.
“It’s a little different if you’re at Alabama and you’re dealing with all the five-star players coming out of the high school ranks,” Baalke said. “It’s a little bit different, but he certainly knows the Pac-10 players very well.”
• Baalke hasn’t spoken with running back Frank Gore due to the lockout, but has heard Gore is progressing well in his recovery from a fractured hip. He termed Gore’s outlook “good.”
• Baalke said the 49ers’ draft board is nearly set. He expects it be finalized this weekend.