San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke met with the media today at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Here's a transcript of that session:
How does the offensive line group measure up this year?
I think overall, it's a good group. Top to bottom, there is a lot of depth. But I think there is depth throughout the draft.
Is the OL group lacking at the top end, since so many guys have gone top 5 in years past?
That's up to each individual team to assess. Once again, I think the draft is going to be a good draft. It's going to be a deep draft at a lot of positions, and I think there will be good players to be found throughout it.
How important is an offensive lineman's intelligence?
Yeah, I think obviously intelligence is a factor at every position, You want to build teams that are smart. Smart football teams win games, and that's been proven over time. So it's a factor at the offensive line position, but it's a factor throughout every position.
How does having free agency after the draft alter your strategy?
I think it alters your strategy, but you have to be prepared for any scenario that comes up right now because there's a lot of unknowns. That's exactly where we're at, prepared for whatever scenarios take place.
Does late free agency make drafting a quarterback a higher priority?
I don't think so. Once again, you gotta be ready regardless – you have to have a plan for free agency, you have to have a trade plan, you have to have a plan for the draft. The order of it, obviously, if it was a traditional order, it would make it easier for us to make decisions. But you gotta be prepared. It's an obstacle and we're prepared for it.
What about the strength of the quarterback class? Is it in the middle rounds?
Once again, that's in the eye of the beholder. Where the depth of the quarterback position, or where the depth of any of these positions, is. Whether it's top-loaded, bottom-loaded or loaded in the middle. There's good quarterbacks at every level in this draft. There's going to be guys who get picked later on who become good quarterbacks. There's going to be guys who get picked early that maybe don't have the success to where they've been picked. That's been proven over time. So we're going to evaluate every one of them and put a value on every one of them – like we are with every player in this draft – and be in a position to pick them where we have them valued.
Do you rely on Harbaugh more for the quarterback evaluation?
Well, obviously we do. He's not only our head coach, but he's played the position and he's proven that he can develop the quarterback in places he's been, and he's also proven in his short time in the league that he has an eye for that position. So with that in mind, we're going to use all of our resources.
You're talking about the evaluations he had with the Raiders?
Yeah, the evaluations with the Raiders.
Who were your influences coming up through the ranks?
I think it starts with my first job, with the Jets, and being fortunate enough to work for one of the best talent evaluators in the business in Dick Haley. I learned a lot from Mr. Haley. Also on that staff was coach (Bill) Parcells, who I still consult and learned a tremendous amount from. Coach (Bill) Belichick was a part of that group, and that entire staff. That staff was loaded with talent.
What did you learn from Belichick?
More than anything, just his work ethic and his intelligence, his understanding of the game – every facet of the game and what it takes to play the game.
How much will the quarterback position – and how the needs are addressed – affect who wins the NFC West?
I think it's proven – you need a quarterback. This is a quarterback-driven league and you need a guy that can function at that position to be successful. With that in mind, whoever does a better job of answering that question and solidifying that position on their team is at an advantage. It will come down to who can do that and who can surround him with the best possible personnel.
How important is athleticism these days when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks?
Their ability to adapt to different situations that they come up with. They gotta be able to think on their feet, be able to throw from multiple positions and they gotta do it with accuracy and arm strength. So I think when you're talking about the athletic instincts of a player – his ability to drop back, to feel the defense, to make quick-snap judgments and make them while he is in the pocket, make them while he is on the move, from all different situations on the field.
Did you consult with (Baltimore Ravens coach) John Harbaugh when you decided to hire Jim?
No. I have never met John. As far as how his family background played into it, I am a big believer in pedigree. Jim has been a football guy his entire life. His father was a well-respected coach, so he grew up playing it and wanting to be a coach. He started coaching, as a matter of fact, while he was still playing. He is a football man. He loves the game. He had a big respect for the game, and I think that's the passion that I saw in him. I just have a real good feel that he is going to be successful.
Frank Gore was the bell cow in past years. Will he still be?
Frank is definitely a bell cow. He's a heck of a football player, and a heck of a young man. Coach has come out and said we're going to take every advantage in using Frank, like we have over the years. But we're also going to develop some young guys. We got Anthony Dixon, who we're high on. And obviously we're going to look to supplement that position moving forward, whether it's through free agency or the draft or a potential trade. One of those three scenarios is going to land us another running back.