Trent Baalke held a press conference in the 49ers’ defensive meeting room Wednesday morning. Here’s a transcript.
Q: Where are you guys in the process of putting together your board?
BAALKE: We’re probably 50 percent there.
Q: That’s all?
BAALKE: It’s pretty much set. We’ve got some touch-up stuff we’ve got to do, cleaning some guys up. For the most part it’s set.
Q: Last year at the this time you said you had it down to one or two guys. Is it similar at this point – one or two guys – or is it a larger group?
BAALKE: There’s a lot of variables in this year’s draft, probably more so than there have been in any draft than I’ve been a part of. We’ve got a pool of players, but you don’t know whether people are going to move up, whether people are going to slide back. There’s a pool of players we’re interested in.
Q: What are the variables – the team situation or what’s available in the draft?
BAALKE: I think because of what’s available. I think there’s a lot of value in the draft more so than maybe just top-tier guys. It’s a talented pool. It’s probably a larger pool, but yet not as many clear-cut guys.
Q: You have 13 picks. What’s a realistic number of rookies you’ll draft?
BAALKE: I have no idea what that number is. It depends on the quality of the individual. We could take 13, and all 13 could come in and make the team. Is that realistic? Probably not, but I never say never.
Q: Is it realistic that you use 13 draft selections, or is it more realistic that you trade up or trade for picks in next year’s draft?
BAALKE: It all depends on how the draft falls. Could we pick 13? Absolutely. Could we move up and trade some away? Certainly we could. Could we slide back and pick up more? We could. I guess I don’t have a direct answer to that.
Q: Do you see a convergence of needs and strengths in this draft for your team?
BAALKE: Yeah, I think based on the talent available. I’ve always maintained there are good players at every position and it’s our job to find them.
Q: Would you like to find someone who can compete to be the starting free safety in the draft?
BAALKE: I think there are players who are capable of stepping in and starting in this year’s draft. Do we feel it’s a necessity to do that? I’d say no. We feel very comfortable with the players that we have. Is it an area we’d like to add some depth to and potentially add some more competition to? It certainly is.
Q: Are the safeties in your defensive scheme interchangeable?
BAALKE: I think that’s fair. I think they are interchangeable to a degree, but I think that’s really based on the talents of the individual. If one guy is better at rolling into the box and the other guy is better at covering deep, schematically you’re going to design the defense to take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of your players. Would you like to have mirror image guys so can disguise a little bit more creatively? Yeah, I think so, but that’s the same way with outside linebackers and inside linebackers. The more balanced you are, the less you have to scheme around the limitations of the players.
Q: A lot of people have said you can get a similar player in this draft from pick No.15 to pick No.52. Do you agree with that?
BAALKE: I think I said that earlier. There is a pool of players that many around the league believe have similar value. That pool is large. Could you get the same player at 39 or 45 that you’re going to get at 20? That’s certainly a possibility.
Q: How do you assess last year’s draft? Are you happy with the way that’s shaping up right now?
BAALKE: Yeah. You always say you can’t grade a draft until the third year. And then we’ll now. It takes time for these guys to develop. Sometimes they develop sooner rather than later, but they’re working hard at it, they’re our type of guys, they had a great offseason and this is the year. We’ll see how they come into the offseason program, how they progress with the X’s and O’s in that period, how much stronger they got, how much quicker they got, how much faster they got – there is a lot of development that takes place. This is a developmental league. We’re happy with where we’re at.
Q: Do you slot A.J. Jenkins in as the third receiver right now? Is that where he fits?
BAALKE: I don’t know that we slot anybody into any position right now at this time of year. They’ve got to compete, whether it’s A.J. or anybody else on this football team, they’ve got to compete for their roll. This is the time they do it. This is the start of the year. So we’re going to find out whether he’s the third, the fifth, the second receiver, that’s up to him. And that’s just like it is for every player on this football team. It’s a new year.
Q: Where do you see Glenn Dorsey playing? Is he strictly a nose tackle, or can he play the ends as well?
BAALKE: Well, he played the end positions in a 3-4, so can he do it? Yeah, he certainly can. He’s proven he can do it and has played well at end at times. In our system he’s going to be asked to do some similar things, but yet some different things. When we go into our 40 package, he’ll be down inside. When we go in our 30 package, he might be playing some nose or may be playing some end. The good thing about him is his versatility. He can multi-align in our system. He can play three-technique. He can play one-technique. He can play zero, and he can play the five. And he can play the four. His ability to multi-align is advantageous to us.
Q: How many draft prospects do you personally meet with face-to-face every year?
BAALKE: Realistically, probably 120 to 150. We’ve made some gut decisions around here that have been pretty successful over the last eight, nine years: Dashon Goldson, T.Brown, Chris Culliver, Josh Morgan, guys that all we just had a gut feel that they were our type of guy.
Q: Are you going to draft a quarterback?
BAALKE: I would never tell you.
Q: Let me phrase it in a better way: Is it possible that you might draft a quarterback?
BAALKE: It’s possible that we could draft any position. The answer would be yes. We’re not opposed to drafting any position, whether it’s inside linebacker, defensive line, quarterback.
Q: Do you feel you’re deep enough at quarterback right now?
BAALKE: You’re not going to get a straight answer from me.
Q: I’m a journalist, I’m trying to do my job.
Q: Is that a straight answer?
BAALKE: I don’t know.
Q: Aldon Smith played a lot as a rookie, but A.J. Jenkins didn’t. Is that because the roster is more loaded now?
BAALKE: You would prefer not to be in a position where you have to draft a need. You would rather draft prior to need. So in other words, when you need a cornerback, when you need a running back, when you need an offensive lineman, that year you need them is not the year you pick them. Historically, how many rookies have come in and established themselves as The Man at any position?
Q: Patrick Willis.
BAALKE: Top-11 pick. Aldon – top-seven pick. And I can name a lot of of top-five and top-10 picks that haven’t established themselves as The Man Day 1. It’s not been easy. The teams that have been successful for a long period of time are teams that aren’t drafting to need that given year. They’re drafting a year, maybe even two years ahead of need.
Q: When you look at Nnamdi Asomugha’s tape from last year, do you see a guy who’s still got but was just in a weird system, or do you see some issues there that coaches are going to have to work with him on.
BAALKE: First of all, you never look at someone’s situation and criticize how he was used or anything else. He didn’t play up to his ability, and I think Nnamdi would be the first one to admit that. You try to have a vision for these guys and try to see how they’re going to fit into your system. Always try to take advantage of what they can do, and try to minimize putting them in situations where they have to do something they can’t do or don’t do as well. That’s the job of the coaches, and that’s also the job of the evaluators, to make sure that we’re getting guys that fit our system. We talk about it all the time. You can’t stick a square peg in a round hole. It doesn’t fit. Sometimes with players, we do that. And when we do that, that’s not on them, that’s on us.
Q: Were you specifically looking for a taller cornerback?
BAALKE: I wouldn’t say that. Height is nice, but I wouldn’t say we went out of our way to look for a corner who was 6-1, 6-2. It was a situation where the stars aligned. He wanted to come back to the Bay Area. He and I had three face-to-face meetings, even spent Easter together eating lunch. There was a mutual understanding. He wanted to be here, and we figured out a way to get him here because we wanted him here.
Q: What’s the situation with Charles Woodson right now?
BAALKE: I wouldn’t lead into anything on where we are with Charles. We had a great meeting with Charles when he was in here. He had a tremendous career, and we feel he still can play the game. That’s something we’ll continue to look at. We’ll see how the draft goes and everything else. Charles is someone that we’re still interested.
Q: Did you feel you had to trade Alex Smith?
BAALKE: We were never in a position where we felt we had to trade him. Alex and I and Liz had a couple of great talks. I certainly wouldn’t share any of that with anybody. I did have a great view for what Alex really wanted. It was about what was best for him, but also what was best for the organization. He understood. As a family they understood that.
Q: Did you have multiple bidders?
BAALKE: There were multiple teams involved, but I would say this: Kansas City was clearly the most interested in getting this done and getting it done quickly. I think Alex was here after the trade. He was here working out in his 49er gear. That says a lot about him, and I think that says a lot about the organization as well. We worked awfully hard to make sure that that relationship stayed positive, stayed strong. That was really a focal point throughout the whole ordeal.
Q: You talked about drafting before need. Was LaMichael James pointed toward a time when Kaepernick was going to be the quarterback?
BAALKE: I really can’t. What I can say is this, and I said this I think three years ago: We are big believers in a three-headed approach. In other words, having a group of backs that bring to the table something a little bit different from the other one so you can do a lot of different things. But they need to be able to do enough things the same where they won’t become so predictable on game days. In other words, Player A is in the game so they’re going to run these plays. All three of our backs can run the full gambit of our offense, but they also bring something unique to the table, a different style. So it’s very difficult as a defense to see who’s out there and say, “OK, they’re going to do this,” but then they also have to deal with the different running styles. I think that creates some issues.
Q: Bill Walsh used to say that quarterbacks were so valuable that if you came across a strong one in the draft, you should strongly consider taking him. Do you agree?
BAALKE: I would never sit here in front of the media and say I didn’t agree with what Bill Walsh said, they’d run me out of town. Absolutely, but I really believe this with every position. If there’s a good player there…
Q: He was saying the quarterback position is so much more valuable than any other position that you should draft one.
BAALKE: If there’s one there you feel good about, you’re in a position to take him and your gut says, “Draft that guy,” then I would certainly not disagree with that.
ME: You mentioned trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Was the Brandon Jacobs signing an example of that?
BAALKE: I don’t think so.
ME: So what went wrong there? He was a good fit schematically?
BAALKE: I think if you look at Brandon Jacobs’ situation, he came in, had a real good offseason. The first couple of games in the preseason he looked really good, really strong, and he got hurt. That’s part of the game. Once he got hurt, other guys stepped up, started doing some things, and then it was hard to get him back in the flow, hard to get him back on the field. There’s nothing more to it. I think he was brought in for the right reasons – to fit a role, but when he got hurt, other people stepped into that role and the need wasn’t as drastic at that time.
P.R.: Last one, guys.
Q: You said you met a lot with Asomugha before he signed here. Why was that?
BAALKE: Any time you’re dealing with a veteran player, or any player, I believe transparency is extremely important. In other words, no B.S. Get to the point. Players respect that. Any time you’re dealing with a veteran who knows he’s only got a couple of years left most likely, you want to make sure that what you’re offering and what they’re looking for is a mesh. If they’re not, that’s when things go bad. It was just creating an understanding: This is what we’re looking at, this is where we see a role developing, and we never put a ceiling on any role. We don’t draft anyone in the seventh round and say, “You’re going to be a backup player.” Why can’t he be a Bruce Miller and become a starter? Conversely, we don’t anybody in the first round and say, “You’re our starter.” It’s all about competition. It’s all about earning your position on this football team. That’s the environment we’re trying to create.
Q: Where are Justin Smith and Aldon Smith in their rehab?
BAALKE: Good. Right now Justin has no restrictions or limitations to my knowledge on anything he’s doing. There might be a little conservativeness, which you’d expect at this stage. Aldon is coming along as well. He’s probably not as far along, but he’s certainly getting back to…I hate to put a percentage on it because I don’t know.
Q: But both of these guys will be…
BAALKE: They’ll be fine.
Q: Justin is actually in the weight room?
BAALKE: Oh yeah.