Niners general manager Scot McCloughan discusses the situations at quarterback, running back and offensive line during his session with the media.
Most notably, he talked about finding a running back to share some of the workload with Frank Gore. McCloughan said he’s not talking about a 235-pounder who runs a 4.4. After all, those guys are a little difficult to find.
But here are some of the running backs in the draft who have very good size coupled with decent speed: Chris Wells (
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On to the Q&A with McCloughan . . .
Q: Where does the quarterback situation stand?
McCloughan: Well, from the standpoint of who is under contract for us right now, with Shaun Hill, with Alex Smith both being under contract. Everybody is aware of the Alex Smith situation. Discussions have been ongoing with the player and with his representation. They’ve been very positive. We’re going to keep going forward with it and hopefully get something done . . . with Alex. We’d like to have him back. There is a value in having him back right now. . . . But I’m excited about the way it’s gone so far. I’m very excited about Shaun Hill, the way he ended his season. The way his teammates believe in him when he steps into the huddle and walks to the line of scrimmage, and the way he proved he can make plays down the line, late in games, to help us win and put us in position to win. That’s a good situation to be in. The open competition, I respect. I think you have to have that, until you have, for sure, a proven commodity year in and year out that can go in and do it day in and day out. We’re working our way in that direction. I’m positive about it. I think it’s important to get Alex back because I think at his age he still has a lot of good football ahead of him. We have not seen his best football yet, and hopefully it’s with the 49ers.
Q: Is there a downside to that kind of open competition in camp? Last year the battle
between J.T. O’Sullivan and Shaun Hill dragged out and O’Sullivan got most of the reps. Have you learned something as an organization how to make it more fair and balanced?
McCloughan: Yeah, I have. Again, it’s not the general manager’s decision to make. We’ve got a new coordinator in Jimmy Raye and a quarterback coach in Mike Johnson and it’s going to be vital what they think. In the perfect world, you don’t have an open competition. In a perfect world you have a proven commodity that you know is your guy. That’s the building of that structure, and we haven’t had that on the offensive side, at coaching or at the quarterback position, since I’ve been here. That’s something we need to strive to get to. From the coordinator standpoint, this will be the fifth one in five years, which, looking back, that’s the one thing that’s really affected this offense. If I could change it, I would love to have changed it back then. But we lost the first two (OC’s) to head coaching jobs and that’s going to happen and there is nothing you can do about it. But what is important is not to lose sight that, it is open right now, but when it’s all said and done you want your guy (quarterback) in place and everyone knows from the top on down who that guy is.
Q: How much of a priority is offensive line for you in this draft, with all the talk about improving protection for the QBs?
McCloughan: I think the offensive line and defensive line, you’re always looking to upgrade or
add depth to. We feel good about how the season ended, the way some of our younger guys
went out and played and coming together a little bit. Again, I think the chemistry in coming together and playing together is important. But if there is a good linemen there on either side of the ball, you always think about taking him. If it’s the first round or the seventh round, it doesn’t really matter. But you can never have enough of them.
Q: Is Joe Staley set at left tackle or is there an accomplished left tackle out there that would allow you to move Staley to the right side?
McCloughan: From our standpoint it’s great that we have Joe Staley. As a first-year player, played every snap at right tackle; last year he took every snap at left tackle. If we can get better and move Joe Staley to the right side, then we’ve improved the offensive line quite a bit. If that’s possible, I’d love to do it. I know this – with Joe Staley being out starting left tackle, we can win a lot football games with him.
Q: What do you think he’s better suited at – left or right?
McCloughan: Again, it’s going to prove out that he can play either or. And I think that’s important. The thing that’s great about it is, if a guy is a right tackle only, then it says he’s limited in certain things. With Joe, he proved that he can be a functional left tackle, with upside at left tackle. So I feel good about it. Again, if we’re able to get better than Joe and move him back to the right, then we’re going to go in the right direction.
Q: At running back there has been talk of having more of a shared load with Frank Gore. Singletary said a back who “is not like” Frank Gore. What does that mean, a shifty, change-of-pace back or big pounder?
McCloughan: What I look for, and from talking to coach Sing about it, what we would like to have is a bigger back that can take some of the workload off of Frank. Frank needs to be on the field the majority of the time. But we also understand that our plan is not to have a 16-game season; it’s to have a 19-game season. We have to keep Frank healthy for us to be as good as we can late in the year. I think it’s proven out in this league nowadays and especially in the system that we’ll be running in the run game, that having a second back is vital. I feel really good about this offseason about us addressing that. And I feel really good about us possibly getting a young guy to address that. It’s going to be important not only from the running standpoint but from pass protection and catching the football as well.
Q: Are you talking about another back in addition to a fullback?
McCloughan: The fullback is important for lead blocking. The big back, I’m talking about a back that is 215, 230. I’m not talking about a 235 pound guy that’s going to run 4.4. I’m talking about a football player that has some special teams value but also go out there and carry the ball if we need him to, 10-15 times a game. And be a starter at any time.
Q: Would you get that player in the draft?
McCloughan: It’s a very deep year at the position. And I’m excited about that. If it’s early, it means that he’s the best player on the board and it’s a position of need. If it’s later on, then it means we drafted somebody we think can come in here and make the team. We feel good about bringing back Thomas Clayton this year. I think he’s proven in preseason he has some value. We were able to get him on the 53 at the end of the season. He never got in a game, but I think he’s proven that he can be a back for us as well. It’s a position that’s very important to us. We understand that we’re going to have to run the football to have the success we want next year, and it’s going to have to be a two-back system.
Q: How important is pass catching ability going to be with this back?
McCloughan: I think it’s very important because not only do you have the running threat but you have the receiving threat. A checkdown guy. We’re not going to be an offense that’s going to throw the ball 30 times a game and stretching the field and trying to make the big plays down the field. We’re going to be a possession-type team where the checkdowns are very important. Depending on who the quarterback is and the arm strength, the checkdown becomes even more important.
Q: Where do you stand this year on the veteran free agent quarterbacks on the market? Are they value free agents and could they help the 49ers?
McCloughan: Without getting into any names, which I wouldn’t do, anyone who is in free agency at any position has a value. Some are greater than others. The important thing is now, with our new coordinator, and the system we’re going to run is, which ones fit that. And what value are we willing to go do know that not only will it upgrade the position but it’s a position that it upgrades the rest of the offense. There has to be a chemistry where he’s able to fit in with everybody. It’s hard in free agency because you’re bringing guys in who have been trained in different systems. They’ve been trained to act one way, to call plays one way. And you can’t lose sight of that. There is value out there. It’s a position we need to address. And there is a chance that we do it in free agency. There is a chance we do it in the draft. But it needs to be addressed.
Q: What are your impressions of USC quarterback Mark Sanchez and Georgia QB Matthew
McCloughan: I haven’t studied them enough. I really don’t get into the quarterbacks until I come down there and see them in person, throwing. And the majority of guys here will throw. Then I’ll go back and do some work. The impressions are very positive, from my college scouts who have seen them. It’s a position that’s very hard to figure out. But I don’t think you ever lose sight of production over their careers, arm strength, the athleticism and the fact that they were able to win a lot of football games.
Q: What do you make of quarterbacks who would rather throw to their receivers at their Pro Days?
McCloughan: That’s understood. Which is why some guys would rather have their own private day where they can throw to their own receivers. The accuracy down here is not important to me. It’s just seeing them move around and seeing how they handle themselves and how the ball comes out, the velocity, the tightness, the spin of the ball. Accuracy is not important out there, because there is no timing. They haven’t worked with these guys and they might throw to five different receivers throughout the workout. On the tape it’s very important. But down here it’s how they carry themselves, how they throw the ball, the physical attributes that they have.
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After McCloughan stepped down from the podium he spoke on several other topics:
On spread offenses affecting the evaluation of defensive players: “What you’re seeing now with the spread offenses is a lot of undersized defensive ends. The defenses are adjusting and saying, ‘We don’t need the big run-stopper on the field. We need more speed on the field because it’s all misdirection.’ You see the 220- to 240-pound defensive ends playing with their hands down. The bigger bodies don’t get on the field as much.”
On the 49ers’ need for a nose tackle: “We could always use another nose. The thing I’ve learned about the 3-4 is how important that nose is. If you can get a dominant nose, you definitely go get it. It’s vital.”
On whether he’s talking about replacing Aubrayo Franklin or adding depth: “The way we’re approaching it right now is we have a couple guys on this team who can play in a rotation and can play well enough for us to win with in a rotation. If we have an opportunity to get an impact nose tackle, we’ll definitely consider it.”
On the thought of adding a safety: “If we’re able to get an impact player in the draft or free agency for the price we want to pay him, we’ll do it. We have good enough talent on this team to go out and play and have a little bit of depth there.”
On whether newly acquired Jimmy Williams is a free safety: “Free or strong. He’s up to 230 pounds. . . . It’s bigger than he’s been, but he’s a unique athlete at 230 pounds. He’s not a corner.”
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