Q & A With 49ers "Point Man" Trent Baalke

Ultimately Smith's play will matter most of all

Not too many people outside of the 49ers offices knew who Trent Baalke was a month ago. Now, thanks to general manager Scot McCloughan's mysterious departure, he has been thrust into the spotlight and will be running the draft for the Niners. Baalke met with the team's beat writers recently to discuss his personnel philosophies, his relationship with coach Mike Singletary, and more.

Q: A lot of fans and columnists have wondered by the team didn't pursue quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was available on the trade market. Were you ever interested in him?

A: I think we're very comfortable with where we're at [with the quarterback position] at this point. I think coach Singletary has made that clear. I think you're always looking and evaluation players throughout the course of the year. You're always looking at ways to better your team at any position, and that's where we're going to leave it.

Q: How does your draft philosophy compare to Scot McCloughan's?

A: I think Scot and I share a very similar philosophy. I think the big thing is - size is important, intelligence is important, competitiveness is important. The intangibles, what they bring to the locker room. All those things are important and Scot and I both shared those beliefs. And I think it stems not only from the personnel side but the coaching staff believes the same thing. And as an organization, that's what's important, that we're all on the same page.

Q: How will your draft board look different than McCloughan's?

A: Scot is a very good evaluator of talent. A lot of the work we did on this board, we did together. Obviously at that point in time, he was the point man. So where the board is at this stage - 85 to 90 percent set going - a lot of that is not going to change. Now are there going to be a few subtle changes, yes, there will be. But there would be the same changes probably that would have happened whether he was here or not. Because you still have the coaches that have to weigh in on this. You still have a lot more information that we're gathering through pro days to put into this. So there are going to be some changes. And there will be some changes that maybe Scot wouldn't have made, but it's going to be minimal.

Q: What do you expect your relationship with Mike Singletary to be like?

A: First of all, when coach was an assistant coach here and I was an area scout and then got promoted to director of pro personnel, we had a very open relationship. He and I talked a lot about strategies and we shared a lot of ideas. So we had a real open dialogue going already. When he became the head coach, it then became Scot and him creating the dialogue back and forth and me acting as an intermediary on the outside to help Scot. Now it's a shift back for me and coach to be put back in a situation where we have open dialogue again. And it's not like we didn't have open dialogue through the course of Scot's tenure or coach's tenure as head coach, it's just now it's a direct line I guess is the best way to say it.

Q: Does the compensation afforded to mid-first round picks almost force you to look exclusively at left tackles?

A: Would you spend a high pick on a right tackle versus a left tackle? Obviously, the left tackle carries a little more weight in terms of value in the NFL. From that perspective, you're going to be a lot more comfortable if you do pick a [left] tackle high. I think that having a guy like Joe Staley is his ability to play the right and the left. And when you have that flexibility it really creates more options for you on draft day. It doesn't lock you into having to draft a left tackle or having to draft a right tackle. What we need to do is improve the offensive line and it's an area we're going to address.

Q: This time of year many teams throw out the cliché about drafting "the best player available." What does that phrase mean to you?

A: I think there's two ways to look at the board. Do you set your board up based on need or do you set your board up based on value? We're a value-based team. Obviously we look at needs but we want the board to reflect the best players down. The board is going to reflect their value as a player – then we'll address the needs. We're going to take the best available player. It's not always necessarily going to be at the need position. When two players are very similar in ability and they're at two different positions, that's when you can look and say, "You know what? They're both very similar, let's address the need."

Q: At running back are you looking for a player similar to Frank Gore or someone with a different mold?

A: I think if you look at the league right now, it's certainly gone to a two-pronged attack, guys that complement each other, different styles that bring a little different element of preparation to the defense's standpoint. You're always looking for something a little bit different. But if you look at the backfields that are really starting to have a lot of success, it's not only the two, it's the three-back system that's becoming even a little bit more [popular]. You look at Dallas' situation with a bell-cow back and another guy that can come in and still have some bell-cow ability in Tashard Choice, who has a little different style than Marion Barber, and then you throw Felix Jones in the mix, who is completely different. They all have different sets of skills and are very difficult to defense. I the more you have complementary styles, the harder you are to prepare for.

Q: Are you approaching this draft like a tryout, with the chance to "win" the general manager job?

A: Like Rudy in Notre Dame? I look at it like this: all I can control is the job I do day to day. I'm going to come to work every day and do it the way I think it needs to be done with the help and support of a lot of people in this building. [I'm not thinking about] getting the 49ers through the draft and then I'll be out the door, that's just not my mindset. My mindset is this is going to be a good situation through the draft and after the draft but that's not my decision. That's the decision of the organization and the ownership and I'm going to support them.

Q: If you get quarterback play, is this roster a few draft picks away from being a playoff team?

A: Most definitely. You look at the quarterback play, I'm excited for the opportunity to see Alex [Smith] in a situation where he has the same offensive coordinator going into a second season with the same system, the same play-caller and even more talent around him. Do we need to add some pieces to the puzzle? Most definitely, but we're going to be able to do that. That's what the draft is for.

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