49ers Shore Up Their OL With Davis, Iupati

You've got to give the 49ers brass this much - they're not vague. So many teams this time of year deal in deception and showmanship, bringing in prospects they have no intention of drafting in for visits while completely ignoring the ones they desire. The 49ers, at least so far, have not operated this way.

It starts, I think, with the coach. Mike Singletary was about as subtle as a 2x4 to the crotch during his playing days, and he's no different now, just because he's the head whistle and the face of an organization.

He doesn't believe in pussyfooting around and he doesn't do coy. All off-season, he, Director of Player Personnel Trent Baalke and Team President Jed York have been very consistent on two messages: One, that the organization believes in quarterback Alex Smith; and Two, that their highest priority in the draft would be to improve their offensive line.

Many people didn't listen. The experts figured it was a smokescreen, like so many other teams engage in. Rumors persisted that the team "loved" Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen, or Texas S Earl Thomas, or this corner or that. Most folks figured that they would either take whichever of the top four tackles (Oklahoma's Trent Williams, Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, Rutgers' Anthony Davis and Iowa's Bryan Bulaga) fell to them, or, if all four were gone, then Idaho guard Mike Iupati. No one dreamed of taking linemen with both picks.

"Honestly we were prepared for that," Baalke would say later. "We talked a week ago and said if we could get of the first round with these two players, it'd be a a perfect storm."

He added, "They fit our identity."

What identity is that exactly?

Again, it goes back to Samurai Mike. Similar to the straightforward manner in he got to know their first round targets - by inviting them over to the complex and actually talking to them (what a revolutionary concept!) - he believes the game should be simple too. No finesse, no trickery. The team that's bigger, faster, meaner and hungrier will win.

Meat-and potatoes football.

The line had more than one weak link last year, no matter how much right tackle Adam Snyder was vilified. Both guards, David Baas and Chilo Rachal, had poor seasons too and left tackle Joe Staley missed half the year with a knee injury. The line couldn't be trusted to pass block, and consequently the offense was kept as conservative as possible. When they did open up by going to the shotgun spread, they still let defenses dictate their calls, running or passing strictly based on how many men were in the box.

Singletary wants to be the one dictating. He insists he believes in having a balanced offense, but also one that can get a couple of yards on the ground even when the defense knows it's coming. He wants the 49ers to impose their will on opponents, regardless of whether they're on offense or defense, whether they're running or passing or whether they're rushing three or blitzing six. He wants his team to be aggressors, no matter the situation.

Thursday was a step toward that, but it remains to be seen if Davis and Iupati were the right choices.

The former certainly has his share of critics. Scouts have called Davis lazy, unfocused and sloppy. They've questioned whether he really loves the game. They pointed out his struggles to keep his weight down throughout his three years at Rutgers and the fact that he was benched last season. There were red flags out there about Davis for sure.

To his credit, he already realizes the weaknesses that have led to his inconsistent play. "I have to work on finishing my blocks, playing with better knee-bend and keeping my head back," Davis told reporters during his conference call.

However, there are positives with him as well. At 6'5 and 323 pounds, with 34-inch arms, Davis is a monster. He's got feet quick enough to play on the left side and positively ideal for a right tackle. When he was on his game, he was the finest pass-blocker in the country.

Did I mention that he's only 20?

Physically, Davis is a marvel. The only questions with him are about his focus and maturity. Singletary believes he, as well as Offensive Line Coach Mike Solari and his assistant Ray Brown, can get through to him.

"The most important thing to do for him is to surround him with the right people," Singletary said. "He doesn't have a lot of people [in his life]. He's not an 'entourage' guy, doesn't like to party. He's kind of a loner."

The challenge will be to surround Davis with positive role-models and influences, both in and out of the locker room.

One such role model may very well be fellow rookie Iupati, who's two years and five months Davis' senior. Born and raised in American Samoa, Iupati's family moved to Garden Grove, California when he was fourteen. He wasn't fluent yet in English and knew little about football.

"I think with some of the things he's been through, coming over and learning a new language, being a defensive tackle at one point, he's a proud young man," Singletary said, adding, "He wants to do things for his family, he knows where he's come from, there's tremendous maturity there."

Iupati's physical maturity was never in question at Idaho, where he earned All-American honors and was named as a finalist for the Outland Trophy last year. He did not allow a sack in 2009 and helped lead the Vandals offense to the 12th best passing attack in the nation (286.7 yards per game), ninth best in total offense (451.4 yards) and 20th best in scoring (32.7 points per game).

The only knock on him is that he didn't play against elite competition at Idaho, which was fueled mainly by a subpar showing at the Senior Bowl. Some question whether he's got quickness to move out to tackle, or whether he's strictly a guard.

"I can play anything," Iupati said, emphatically. "I just need repetition. I know I played guard in college and high school, but I can I know I can transition outside if they need me to."

He added that for now he's most comfortable at left guard, which is also where the 49ers see him playing as well. Singletary stopped short of declaring either he or Davis a starter from day one, however. "Anytime you draft guys in the first round you expect them to play," he explained, "but I don't want to give anything to anybody. They have to compete."

Message received, loud and clear.

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