Baalke: 49ers' top pick Smith armed to succeed

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Baalke: 49ers' top pick Smith armed to succeed

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."

49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

CHICAGO – The 49ers trained for the expected low-30s temperature and snow at Soldier Field with a week of workouts in the 80-degree heat of Florida.

However, the team’s specialists got some practice handling wet footballs during the 49ers’ final practice in Orlando, Fla.

Special-teams coordinator Derius Swinton and his assistant, Michael Clay, made a game of it. Long-snapper Kyle Nelson had to execute 10 perfect snaps to holder Bradley Pinion for field goals. Then, Pinion moved back to punt formation, where another 10 in a row were required.

But they had to be perfect while Swinton and Clay squirted water on the ball and at the hands of Nelson and Pinion, who also received a blast of water in his ear hole at one point.

“We always look up to see if there’s a chance of rain or snow, and we go, ‘Wet-ball drill,’ ” Nelson said. “They (Swinton and Clay) get to have fun, squirting water on us and use the water bottles.

“They make it as bad as possible.”

Nelson and Pinion teamed up to execute perfectly on all 20 field goals and punts.

“If I can do this, in a game it’s going to be even easier,” Nelson said. “They make it a lot harder in practice than it is in a game, so when we get to a game, everything is not as fast.”

The weather conditions on Sunday against the Chicago Bears will likely challenge Nelson, Pinion and kicker Phil Dawson as much as anyone. Dawson has been tracking the weather forecasts for more than a week to get mentally prepared for what he might face.

“Soldier Field is notorious for being a tough place to kick because of the wind and the field itself,” Dawson said this week on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “The footing is pretty poor. So when you add snow and moisture to the equation, it’s going to be one of those days.

“You need to have conversations with your coaches and let them know – be honest with them – about the difficulty. But you have to do that without it affecting your confidence to go out and get the job done.”

Said Nelson, “It takes more focus in bad weather. The snaps have to be a little more perfect. Bradley has to focus more on catching the ball, and Phil has to concentrate on the approach and be more cautious.”

Mark Helfrich provides insight into Chip Kelly's line of thinking

Mark Helfrich provides insight into Chip Kelly's line of thinking

Mark Helfrich had a strong indication he would be fired as Oregon’s head coach. And he said he told Chip Kelly recently he would have no hard feelings if Kelly left the 49ers to return to coach the Ducks.

Kelly this week said he is not interested in abandoning his job with the 49ers to coach in the college ranks. Helfrich suggested during a radio interview on Friday that Kelly told him the same thing privately.

When it was suggested that Kelly hated to recruit, Helfrich did not disagree.

"That's a fact," Helfrich said in an interview on ESPN Radio's Russillo and Kanell. "I don't know hated recruiting. . . a dislike. A strong dislike. But I think Chip has that challenge in his mind right now to make it right in the NFL.

"I had some of those conversations with him a couple weeks ago when it looked like this was going south. That was a very awkward converation, but (I) just wanted to let him know that to take our personal relationship out of it in every way, shape or form if he wanted to consider this.

"But, me, reading between the lines, I think he wants to make it right in the NFL. I think he wants to win at that level. He's had a rough go of it this year, but he'll get it right."

Kelly compiled a 46-7 record in four seasons in Eugene, Ore. He left after the 2012 season to accept the head-coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly was fired late last season and took the 49ers job two weeks later.

In Kelly’s first season with the 49ers, the club is 1-10. The 49ers are on a franchise-long 10-game losing streak entering Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

Helfrich was 37-16 in his four seasons at Oregon after his promotion from offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Kelly said he spoke with Helfrich the morning after he was fired.

“I just felt bad for Mark. I love him like a brother,” Kelly said. “He’s a tremendous person. He’s a hell of a football coach, but he’s an even better person. Just felt for him and the rest of the guys on that staff. It’s an unfortunate thing that goes on in this profession. We all know about it when we sign up, but when it happens you’re still taken aback by it.”

Kelly said he hoped his denial of any interest in the Oregon job would end all speculation about his future. When asked if intends to remain with the 49ers, Kelly said on Wednesday, “Yep. So we're all done with that, I hope."