Big, bad Baas offers instant O-line upgrade

When you use the No. 1 overall pick in the college draft to select Alex Smith as your franchise quarterback, it's a good idea to also grab players such as David Baas to protect him. That's what the 49ers did in the second round Saturday, and that's what Baas plans to do as soon as he arrives in San Francisco. "My goal is for nobody to touch him," Baas said after the Niners made him the No. 33 overall selection.

"So I'm going to do whatever it takes for that goal to be complete and let (Smith) develop and help the team win," Baas continued. "He's going to help this program tremendously. I'm excited to be able to go out and protect for him."

Baas ought to be able to help the program out, too.

At least Mike Nolan thinks so. The 49ers' coach said Baas was the only player that remained on San Francisco's draft board that the Niners had slotted for their precious pick at the top of the second round, which many observers expected them to use on a skill player.

Instead, they went for the bruising 6-foot-4½, 320-pound Baas, who was the Big 10 Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2004 after leading Michigan to the league championship.

Baas wasn't projected to go so high – even he said, "It definitely caught me by surprise. I was looking more at second-round middle pick." – but the 49ers paid that no matter, even though they just signed Eric Heitmann, a three-year returning starter, a few days ago to start for them at right guard in 2005.

Now Heitmann's starting status falls into the tentative status.

He'll have a hard time holding off Baas, whom Nolan sees as a powerful cog who will upgrade the strength on the right side of San Francisco's line.

"He will line up at right guard and will compete and earn that position," Nolan said. "The right side of our line needs to be a little bit more power-oriented. At 6-4½ and 320, I think we nailed it on that pretty good. Power is his strength. And he's athletic."

And that's not all.

"He's got the intangible things," Nolan said, using one of his favorite terms. "He's the kind of guy that lines up and makes guys on both sides of him better. We've got a guy here that, athletically, brings to the table everything you want. He's very intelligent and has a great work ethic. To me, it's a player that comes in and begins to compete right away. He's certainly talented enough and tough enough."

The Niners have Baas slated to play right guard, but he also is versatile enough to slide in comfortably at either left guard or center. Baas started the first three games last year at left guard – where he had an impressive 90 knockdowns as the starter in 2003 – before switching to center, where he played the remainder of the season.

"My team needed me to move to center to win a championship," Baas said in explaining the selfless move early in his senior season. "And that's what I needed to do to help out the team, so I was more than willing."

After being a first-team All-Big 10 selection three years running at left guard, Baas said he sees no problem shifting to the other side as a pro.

"That's not an adjustment at all," he said. "I moved from left guard to center in a week and played that for almost a year, so I don't think that's going to be hard at all. I played right guard in practices at Michigan. I can handle whatever they throw at me."

He can handle it, and he also can throw it back at opponents.

"You always have to start a play with technique, so I always rely on technique," Baas said. "But power and aggression and toughness is my game. I love to get after people. So I'm ready to go. I'm fired up."

A San Francisco line that struggled mightily in 2004 can use a little of that. Or a lot of it.


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