Baalke: 49ers' top pick Smith armed to succeed

Baalke: 49ers' top pick Smith armed to succeed
May 12, 2011, 11:15 pm

May 12, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE49ERS PAGE 49ERS VIDEOMatt MaioccoCSNBayArea.comSANTA CLARA -- The yearly cycle of the scouting process culminated two weeks ago with the 49ers' addition of 10 draft picks.On Thursday, general manager Trent Baalke returned to the film room in an annual session with the media to specify what attracted the organization to each of the rookies.Many have observed the 49ers selected a large number of college players who project to different positions at the NFL level. Baalke staunchly defended the tactic as a necessary part of scouting."What you guys see as a projection, to us, isn't a projection," Baalke said. "It's what we have to do to find players who fit the system we play."Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith is one of those players. He mostly played defensive end but also saw some action at defensive tackle in college. With the 49ers, he'll be asked to play outside linebacker."He's lined up all over the line of scrimmage," Baalke said. "That's one of the first things we looked at, the versatility that he brings to the table. At 6-4, 260-plus pounds, the guy can play inside and outside."Dropping into coverage is not something at which Smith must excel, Baalke said. In fact, the ability to rush the passer and set the edge in the run game are the top priorities for an outside linebacker in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme."What we asking them to do on their feet (in pass coverage) is very limited," Baalke said. "When you're talking about a 3-4 cover guy out in space, he's got to be function. We feel Aldon has the physical traits to be functional."What you're asking them to do in drops, relative to what you're asking them to do as pass-rushers and edge-setters is really insignificant. We're not asking them to be out there running man-for-man with wide receivers. We're asking them to occupy a zone. And when you're 6-4 with 36-inch arms, if you're functional on your feet and drop into coverage, you can cover a wide area because of the length and size of the man."Smith had 17 sacks in his two college seasons. But he also shows an ability to remain stout against the run and track down plays from the backside. Smith does a good job of keeping his eye on the ball even while engaged with a blocker, Baalke pointed out. On a couple of the plays, Smith used his 36-inch arms and meathooks-for-hands to reach out and make a tackle. "If he had 32-inch arm length, he doesn't make that tackle," Baalke said.At least two independent draft evaluators questioned the 49ers' selection of Smith with the No. 7 overall pick. Former NFL scout Dave Razzano said he believes Smith lacks the strength to play on the line and is too stiff to play in space. Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com wrote that he sees Smith as a questionable fit for the 49ers. "I didn't see the balance and change-of-direction from Smith that I believe translates into a high degree of success as a 3-4 OLB," Rang wrote.Baalke did not disagree that Smith has some stiffness, but added, "He has unique flexibility to get his body into certain points." Baalke noted that Smith needs to work on keeping his pads low. "He gets high at times," Baalke said. "In the (NFL), he has to learn to come off the ball lower." Over the next several days, we'll cover what Baalke had to say about each of the 49ers' draft picks, along with a short video from inside the team meeting room. The actual coaches film, however, cannot be shown due to an agreement the NFL has with the college ranks.
The 49ers today promoted Jeff Ferguson to director of football operations and sports medicine. Ferguson, who has served as the team's head athletic trainer since 2006, now oversees the 49ers strength and conditioning program, as well as team logistics, equipment and video operations departments."Over the past five seasons, Jeff has proven to all of us at the 49ers that he is a highly capable administrator," Baalke said. "Jeff has always done an exceptional job of caring for our players and coaches, and has a way of bringing the people around him together for a common goal. In his new role, that is ultimately what he is charged with."