San Francisco 49ers Head Coach, Jim Harbaugh, and General Manager, Trent Baalke, answered questions from various fans in a conference call last night. It was an opportunity for 49er fans to have Harbaugh and Baalke answer their questions directly.
I have to admit, there were some softballs thrown their way. And, many of the questions were already answered, or could not be answered due to NFL rules. However, there were some extremely interesting questions, and some even more interesting answers coming from the two.
After the jump I will post some of the important questions posed, and give my analysis on what was said and how it may affect our 49ers moving forward...
Harbaugh on what kind of defense the 49ers will use:
"We're going to be a multiple 3-4 defense... multiple in scheme. Blitz...absolutely. Coverage... absolutely. It will be creative, what suits our personnel. It will be like Green Bay and Pittsburgh in terms of aggression"
I really like what he had to say on this. The 49ers failed to utilize the strength of their defense last season, which was aggressive play. Patrick Willis, Nate Clements, Dashon Goldson and Taylor Mays, all thrive in an aggressive style; they all play an aggressive style. You cannot tame and set into place a structure that does not fit what the players are capable of. I really see both Dashon Goldson (if he returns), and Taylor Mays thriving in that type of system. Additionally, the multiple blitz scheme plays to the advantage of Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks and even Navorro Bowman moving forward. Of course, it all depends on the strength of the outside coverage and cornerbacks. This brings me to the next point; if Harbaugh plans on utilizing that aggressive style defense, I believe he plans on upgrading at one, or both of the corner positions. That could have been a subtle hint that the 49ers are not only targeting a corner in the 1st, but one of the top corners in free agency.
Harbaugh on Alex Smith and what he looks for in a QB:
" A competitive guy, a winner, great athletic instincts, quick minded guy. Has leadership ability, understands timing and makes good decisions. We want a competitive winner, that kind of format where it is competitive, has been my experience, that's the kind of guy we're looking for and that's the kind of competitive situation we're going to create here." He noted that he likes Alex a lot too":
Listen, Jim Harbaugh has to be diplomatic in regards to Alex Smith, if nothing else, to keep that option open if a CBA isn't agreed to before training camp. I would rather have Alex Smith running the offense than Troy Smith, David Carr, or some unproven rookie. Additionally, if Harbaugh believes that Smith can be a good QB in his system; who am I to question that? That said, I really do believe that if all things are equal the 49ers will go out and get a veteran QB to replace Alex Smith. Jim Harbaugh understands what has happened over the last six seasons with Smith, and that it may be time for both sides to move on. I cannot imagine Harbaugh believing that having Alex Smith as the opening day QB is going to endure him to the 49ers. In terms of what Harbaugh looks for in a QB; isn't some of that the exact opposite of what Alex Smith is? Smith looked completely hesitant during his tenure with the 49ers, and that doesn't fit into the "quick minded guy" Harbaugh is looking for. Another major issue that Alex had with San Francisco was timing and accuracy. More times than not he couldn't hit the receiver in stride, instead throwing behind him or over his head. What Harbaugh envisions a successful 49er QB to be, is what we are all looking for. And, that is easier said than done. I only see Kyle Orton, Josh Johnson, Carson Palmer, Blaine Gabbert and possibly Jake Locker fitting that mold.
Baalke on the Offensive Line:
"We feel extremely fortunate where we're out right now. We're encouraged by the things we saw this fall, but we have to get better."
Don't you? Our offensive line is in a much better position than it was this time last year. Mike Iupati played like an all-pro pretty much all season and Anthony Davis improved a great deal during the year. Alex Boone showed nice flashes late in the season and David Baas came through after taking over for Eric Heitmann. Of course, the 49ers can and need to improve on that unit. However, we have the players to improve there. Hopefully, the 49ers can find a way to keep David Baas and retain Eric Heitmann. The player that doesn't win the starting center position could be a nice multi-faceted primary back-up at two or three positions. I have to give the 49ers a lot of credit for drafting both Iupati and Davis in the 1st round last season, that was the right thing to do.
Harbaugh on the Offensive Line:
"We are young, and we're in a great position from a talent standpoint. Biggest benefit those youngsters will have is playing together."
I like that he mentioned "from a talent standpoint", that is an important distinction to make. There is no question that the 49ers offensive line is now all of a sudden talented. What is important, and Harbaugh mentions it, is the fact that they need more time together in order to be a cohesive unit.
Baalke on draft by need or best player available:
"We take in consideration both parts. There really needs to be a balance. We've got to be competitive in every position to be successful... we'll take that all into consideration when we make those choices."
It really sounded like he prefers to draft for need over BPA, and I am not a huge fan of that. I could be reading too much into it, but that is the way it sounded. "There really needs to be a balance. We've got to be competitive at every position to be successful". While I agree with that, you cannot afford to reach for a player (Gabbert) with the 7th pick when a Patrick Peterson, Von Miller or A.J. Green is available. I really hope that there is a balance when it comes to Baalke's philosophy, otherwise we could see a reach at 7. Hopefully I am wrong.
Harbaugh on losing close games with prevent defense:
"We're going to play coverage in terms of rushing three and dropping eight. It's a matter of calling the right plays at the right time and players executing it. It's not always as simple as being in a prevent defense. 80% of NFL games come down to the last possession. Being mentally tough, physically tough, cold blooded."
I really cannot say that I agree with Harb on this one. He said that they are going to play a 3-8 coverage on such situations, and that doesn't make sense to me. If the defense that you have been running all game works, why change it? You need to have trust in your defense not to give up a big play, and that trust needs to be heightened in game changing situations. Harbaugh said "it's not always as simple as being in a prevent defense", and I say it is. The 49ers game against Minnesota two seasons ago is a perfect example of that. San Francisco pretty much kept Favre and the Vikings in check all game long, but then decided to switch to the 3-8 or "prevent" defense, and look what happened. Keep the same formation and maybe play a little softer on the corners, but please don't utilize the traditional prevent model.
Harbaugh on his team's ability to be championship caliber:
"Everything up to this point has happened in a bio. Everything written write now is to be determined. Going forward it's about a new year, a new opportunity."
I absolutely loved this answer. What is in the past is in the past, we cannot look back. The 49ers have been mediocre at best and horrible at worst during the last 7+ seasons, why rehash that? We have a new front office, an entirely new coaching staff, and probably 15-20 new players going into next season. It is time to look to the past. A bio is something written in the present about the past; I want to be a part of first-hand history.
Overall, I would have to say that we got a lot more answers than I thought we would from a "fan forum". Harbaugh and Baalke were pretty open about the stuff that they could talk about; and we learned a nice amount in regards to their philosophies. I love the idea of playing a Green Bay or Pittsburgh type of ball-hawking defense, it fits our defensive talent real well. The criticisms that I do have is reading into Baalke's comment about need v BPA in the draft and Harbaugh's support of the "prevent" defense. However, most teams do run some sort of prevent when ahead at the end of the game, it does matter how you utilize that prevent defense to fit with your scheme on defense. It would make sense to play soft on coverage, but not to drop back 8 and only rush three; there has to be some type of compromise. Harbaugh also talked about doing this on a regular basis, and I believe that would be a great idea.
Do you think there were any other questions raised in the conference call that were extremely important? If so, how did you like the answers given?
Some links to transcripts of the conference call
Official 49er.com video release of the conference call