Baalke Film Festival: the reviews

My eyes are bloodshot. My skin is sallow. I can see visions of Navorro Bowman when the lights dim. Yes, I just got out of the inaugural Trent Baalke Film Festival, 80 minutes of nonstop football action, rewind, nonstop football action, rewind, nonstop football action.


First of all, sincere thanks to Baalke and personnel assistant Ryan Myers for taking the time to put together the video, project it from a laptop and explain it to about 10 dumb sportswriters. It really helped to get a sense of what the 49ers saw in the players they drafted.



Before breaking down the individuals, I should note Baalke stressed that while he made the final call, “everybody” was involved in breaking down film. The key, he said, was knowing what the 49ers value in a player, and familiarity with the team’s offensive and defensive schemes. “Who makes the decision?” he asked. “In any organization, if one person’s gotta do it, it’s probably not the right decision.”


Baalke said the Niners currently use the grading scale Scot McCloughan brought from Green Bay and Seattle, a system that started with NFL personnel legend Ron Wolf (and who knows, maybe somewhere before that). “We tweaked it a little, and we’ll continue to tweak it,” Baalke said. “But we’ll keep the same basic philosophy in terms of the numbers.”


OK, on to the cut-ups. And yes, we saw only the positives. The 49ers have no reason to present their players’ flaws in vivid detail. The film session wasn’t a reason to believe all eight of these players will be stars. Rather, if they do turn out to be productive NFL players, this will be the explanation.



True to the scouting report, the he was surprisingly nimble for a big man (6-5, 323). Baalke pointed out one thing that was undeniable: Davis is really quick off the snap. A couple times it looked like Rutgers’ right guard was tape-delayed, because Davis was so much quicker.


Davis was on the left side in all the film.


“Generally, in league circles, the left tackle – not always, but generally – is a pass protector first. He’s a better foot athlete. Right tackles are stronger, more physical, more powerful.”


Davis looked like he could do either. He bulldozed on some plays, and moved well to the target on others. “Lesser athletes, when kicking and sliding, they’re leaning. They can’t get their body back into position,” Baalke said, noting how Davis kept his balance centered vs. a South Florida player (not Jason Pierre-Paul). On the next play, he buried a 3-technique tackle.


Baalke admitted that Davis is not perfect, saying he’d have to learn to play a little lower and use leverage more consistently: “He’s a little bit of a waist bender at times, but those are things the coaching staff can clean up.”


The 49ers like Davis‘ strong hands, saying he has a good punch at the line.


I asked Baalke about reports that Davis was inconsistent at Rutgers, and this is what he said: “Not to make an excuse, but like any player, when you lose focus and are better than the guy you’re going against, it’s hard to keep your focus. We saw plays that weren’t as good as others. But from a physical platform and a maturity platform, there’s no film that’s really bad.”


Baalke then moved on to another play and said, “Watch the foot energy. He moves on the balls of his feet and maintains balance.” On the last play we watched, Davis drove a Texas Southern player 13 yards downfield, almost like that scene in “The Blind Side.”



“This guy finishes stuff,” Baalke told us.


I’ll say. Of all the film we watched, the Idaho guard’s may have been the most impressive. On more than one occasion, he literally threw a defender to the ground like a WWF hero. Yeah, his competition wasn’t always BCS-caliber, but as Baalke said, “That’s still a 270-pound man he’s tossing with one hand.”


“Look at the quickness,” the personnel director said of one combo block (Iupati got a piece of a double-team block, then fired out after a linebacker. “You don’t see 330-pound guys come off the ball with this quickness very often, not in college and not in the NFL. You give Frank (Gore) those kind of holes, and you’ll be winning a lot more games than not.”


Baalke acknowledged that Iupati would need some work with his technique, and that he couldn’t always afford to be so aggressive in the NFL, where opponents will try to disguise plays and trick him. But he showed quick feet and a nice crossover step while pulling from left to right.


And the muscle: There went a San Jose State defender onto the ground. And then a Fresno State dude. “Against lower competition, you’re looking for dominance,” Baalke said. “This guy, it’s not hard to put a highlight film together on.”




Mays plays football like a battering ram. That’s what the 49ers love about him, and what makes some scouts leery.


“He likes to strike, and not always wrap,” Baalke said. “In the NFL, you’ve got to be a wrap tackler.”


Another concern: Mays was anywhere from 13 to 24 yards off the line of scrimmage at the snap. He could take advantage of the alignment in college, because he’s fast enough to make up ground. Here, he’s expected to play mostly in the box, which seems like it will be a big adjustment.


Still, there’s a lot to like about Mays, starting with his physicality and toughness. “When the ball is in the air, some safeties play the ball, others play the receiver,” Baalke said. “Ronnie Lott wanted collisions. He probably could’ve had even more interceptions, but he wanted the hit. Taylor, the more film you watch, the more you can see he wants contact.”


Baalke called him “a big guy who can run.” He also downplayed the in-the-box idea, saying the 49ers’ don’t divide the labor so much among their safeties.


“We want our guys to be mirror-type players,” Baalke said. “We don’t want (defenses) to know who’s gonna be low and high. You have to be deceptive in your game plans.”




Bowman looked really good in the tapes. He diagnosed quickly, and was able to make up a lot of ground in chasing down the ball. He mostly played outside linebacker at Penn State and will be asked to move inside here, but that doesn’t seem like a problem, as he seemed to be filling a variety of roles on the film.


“We love his instincts and we love his feet, his speed,” Baalke said. “He plays physical, and he plays with passion.”


One interesting scout’s-eye view came when Baalke pointed to a play where Bowman chased a halfback into the flat on a swing pass. The personnel director noted that Bowman acknowledged an edge blocker “with instincts, not with his eyes or body.” It was true; he kind of swiveled past the blocker, barely noticing him as he stayed focused on the ball carrier.


On another play, Bowman fought through several blockers at the point of attack and came up with the tackle. “Some guys would give themselves up to the blockers there,” Baalke said. “He gets himself in the play.”


Finally, against Michigan State, Bowman started to his left in space, then squared up to face a runner who burst through the line and cut back against the grain.


“A trait that is often overlooked is when a guy can ‘come to balance,'” Baalke said. “It’s hard to find in an athlete. The good ones have it.”




Baalke attributed a quote to the old scout Red Cochrane: An NFL running back, when he decides to go, it should be like you sped the film up. It’s less obvious when the back weighs 233 pounds, but you saw a little of that from Dixon.


“Right there you see a little bit of burst,” Baalke said as Dixon shot through the line. The impressive part: It was against Alabama, a very good run defense.


“The things you like are his vision, his patience – letting the offensive line do the work,” Baalke added.


One surprise, at least for me: Dixon looked good catching a couple passes. He even adjusted to a bad pass on one play. Baalke pointed to the “laxity” in his shoulders as he made the play.


“Big backs who get out of the backfield present a problem,” Baalke said. “And all three of our backs can do that.”


Dixon carried the ball a burly 910 times at Mississippi State. Baalke said that would be a concern if the back were smaller. The director did say that Dixon needs to learn to “run like a big back” more consistently.


“Does he run a little high? Yeah, you can say that,” Baalke acknowledged. “But when he needs to lower his pads, he shows the ability to do it.”




This wasn’t the most exciting string of video. Byham’s a blue-collar blocker at the edge. He got into his blocks quickly, didn’t quit until the whistle, and caught the ball just fine on those little 6-yard turnarounds.


“We’re looking for a guy with enough quickness and athleticism to engage guys out in space,” Baalke said. “When you’re trying to find tight ends to project to the NFL, it’s very difficult. Most of these guys are undersized tight ends that play like receivers. They’re detached – they’re not asked to pass-block.”


That’s not Byham. He’s a tackle with hands. Baalke compared him to Billy Bajema and even Bear Pascoe, which wouldn’t seem to inspire a lot of confidence.


Baalke noted that Byham has good hands. He just isn’t a force in the passing game because he doesn’t create a matchup problem. You had to like the effort, though, as he worked a defender from Notre Dame.


“You see times when a guy gets into someone and his feet stall,” Baalke said. “You see his feet moving here, and when you do that, the linebacker has to widen with him.”




This guy looks fun. He’s fast and energetic, and for a little guy (5-10, 186), he didn’t shy away from contact.


“What attracts us to Kyle is that he’s a different type of receiver than we have currently,” Baalke said. “He has great quickness and speed, and he’s very competitive.”


In some lines of work, speed and quickness sound like the same thing. Not in the NFL, where quick-footed slot receivers don’t always have the straight-line sprinter’s speed to go deep. Not true of Williams.


“A lot of good slot receivers are 4.75, 4.7 guys,” Baalke said. Williams runs the 40 in the between 4.4 and 4.45.


Baalke noted that Williams will be a tough matchup in the slot, where defenses sometimes try to cover with a safety or linebacker. His hands looked good on the plays we witnessed.


“The other thing slot receivers have to have is very quick hands,” Baalke said. “This guy can snatch it.”


Of course, Williams will be in the mix for punt and kickoff returns. We saw only a little of that, but the guy definitely has an extra gear.




OK, the South Carolina State footage was pretty bad. There wasn’t a whole lot of it. The footage we had was kind of blurry, and the football wasn’t exactly stellar. On the first play we saw, a quarterback missed his receiver by a good 10 yards and threw Adams an easy pick-six.


“A lot of schools, the equipment might be 15 years old,” Baalke said. “You can’t find the (jersey) numbers, you don’t know where they align. You spend half your time finding where he is on the play.”


Adams looked small and fast and confident, but it was hard to get a read.


“The thing we like is that he’s a physical football player,” Baalke said. “He’s not afraid to mix it up. Corners like that are hard to find.”


Baalke answered a few other personnel questions, and later we spoke to undrafted free agents Jarrett Brown (QB, West Virginia) and LeRoy Vann (CB/PR, Florida A&M). I’ll blog some of that later.


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