Why isn't David Baas starting for 49ers?
Coach Mike Nolan had a simple enough explanation after the Niners' 34-27 loss in Arizona. The 49ers had only eight offensive linemen active for the game, and Baas - who has been working at both center and guard - was ticketed as the top backup at center behind starter Eric Heitmann while Tony Wragge was designated the top backup at both guard positions and Adam Snyder the top backup at both tackle positions. So, when 10-time Pro Bowler Allen went down with MCL damage in his left knee on the sixth play of Sunday's game, the 49ers went with Wragge as his immediate replacement, and stayed with the second-year guard as he held up well through the course of the game. But now that the 49ers have had time to regroup after the loss of Allen during this week's preparation for Sunday's home opener against the St. Louis Rams, Baas still doesn't appear to be the top candidate to move into the starting lineup in place of Allen, who will miss the next 2 to 4 weeks of action. In fact, when Nolan was discussing what the team will do this week on the left side of its line, where Allen is out and tackle Jonas Jennings is listed as doubtful on Wednesday's injury report to play against the Rams, Nolan didn't even mention Baas' name as a possibility. The coach said the Niners would continue to work Wragge, Snyder and tackle Patrick Estes at those left-side positions while also leaving open the possibility Jennings could return to his starting position if he's able to practice by the end of the week. That left the impression that Baas was an afterthought when Nolan was asked about him specifically several minutes later. When asked if Baas also was a possibility in the left-side equation, Nolan responded, "He could be. He could play guard. He'll compete at guard a little bit. I didn't mention him earlier, but he could be in it. Forgive me for not mentioning him, but I should have." You're forgiven, coach. But when pressed further about Baas, Nolan didn't exactly give him a ringing endorsement. While San Francisco's other three first-day draft picks from 2005 - first-round quarterback Alex Smith, third-round running back Frank Gore and third-round offensive lineman Snyder - already are established as building blocks on the team's revamped offense, Baas has yet to provide that kind of impact. "Surprised? I wouldn't say surprised," Nolan said when asked if he was surprised a guy drafted as high as Baas hasn't made a bigger impact on the team. "I will say that Eric Heitmann has done a pretty good job out there. I would like to see David a little bit more involved than he is, but I feel good about him if he has to go in at center. If something happens to Eric, he would do a nice job." But Baas ostensibly was drafted to be a key cog in a rebuilt line by now. Is Nolan disappointed Baas hasn't taken the starting job? "No, because I like Heitmann in there," the coach responded. "If I had two guys and no one would take it, and we were kind of going, ‘Man, I need someone to take this job,' I might feel differently. But Heitmann is clearly the starter. Eric does a nice job. I like Eric. He's not as physically talented maybe as David is, but Eric is a good player. He's got a good look about him. When he gets in the game, bullets are flying and he's not like, ‘What's going on?' Not that David is like that, but I'm not as assured of David as I am of Eric." Baas started training camp working at both guard and center, but when two-time Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry was placed on injured reserve a few weeks into training camp, Baas' focus became center. That's OK with Baas, who said he's willing to play wherever the 49ers need him. He also doesn't buy the notion that he still has to win the confidence of his coaches to get on the field and in the starting lineup. "I think I'm still doing a good job," Baas said. "Especially at center, I'm still learning. I think I'm just getting better and better and they know that I'm a good football player so whatever the situation may be, it's their decision. Whatever I can do to help. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and getting better, and I'll be ready wherever they need me at. If they need me to step in there at any time, I'm ready to go." Baas would be ready at center or guard, he said, though he has been working far more in practice at center. During team drills Wednesday, he worked at both positions, though Wragge, Baas and Snyder all took snaps at left guard. "I've been working on center a lot more," Baas said. "They want to establish me there and I need work there, so that's what I've been focusing on, is trying to be the best center I can be. I still have a ways to go and that's what I'm doing every day at practice, is trying to improve myself. I just have to continue improving. At guard, I go out there and I'm kind of rusty in a way, but whatever position they need me at I'm just going to do my best." Heitmann and right guard Justin Smiley both were holdover starters when Nolan arrived last year, and many believed the 49ers drafted Baas to replace one of them by now in the starting lineup. But both have held onto starting jobs - even though both are at different positions than where they started most of last season - while Baas was pushed out of the regular starting lineup when Allen arrived in the spring. Now, even with Allen out, he still hasn't pushed his way back in. "I mean, everybody wants to play," Baas said. "But there's certain things that happen and you just have to keep going, keep pressing, getting better, and your time will come. You never know what the future is going to bring. You just have to be ready." When asked if he expected to start Sunday against the Rams, Baas responded, "I'm not expecting anything. I'm doing what I can do, and they'll make the decision. And if it's me, that's fine. If it's not me, I'm going to do whatever I can to help this team win. Whatever I'm needed at, and wherever I can play, that's my future. "My role is where this team needs me at. If they want me at center, I'll be at center. If they want me at guard, then I'm going to be at guard. Either one, I think I can do a very good job at. It's their decision."
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