The San Francisco 49ers head into the final day of the draft having addressed some depth issues, but leaving potential areas of concern still on the table. General manager Trent Baalke met with the media Friday evening to discuss where the team stands. He talked about the value of sticking with their board over specific needs. He also talked about what Jaquiski Tartt and Eli Harold bring to the table. He got a chance to briefly discuss Jimmie Ward's status, and he even talked about Ahmad Brooks as a potential inside linebacker (never say never, but for now he's an OLB). Here's the full transcript.
Tell us about your young safety S Jaquiski Tartt?
"What can I tell you about him? He's a friend of [DB] Jimmie Ward's, start there. Same high school. A four-down player. A guy that can contribute on all four downs. He's big. He's fast. He's physical. He's been coached well at Samford. A former NFL player has worked with him. He's played a lot of ball. He's a fourth-down contributor day one."
Did he get on your radar at the Senior Bowl or were you well aware of him before that?
"We were well aware of him before that. Samford, although a small school, has put some fellas into this league. A very good school. A very well coached football team. So, it's on our radar every year."
Who was his coach?
An NFL player?
"Yeah, it's an NFL player."
The first thing, I mean you guys take a safety, you took one a couple of years ago, you took one last year. Some would say that that's kind of overkill to take a safety high in the draft three straight years. Why take a safety?
"Well, in every sport, one thing that's common is you stay strong up the middle. I've said that many-a-times. Why did we take him? Best player on our board at the time. I've maintained for a long time we're going to go with the board and he was the best player on the board. Once again, he's a four-down player. He's big. We said we were going to stay big, go big and stay big in this Draft and we have. Just a player that we feel has a tremendous upside."
He on the conference call said, "I'm going to go make my name on special teams, work my tail off and then see what comes next." That seems to be an attitude that you like to hear from a guy that wants to come in here and contribute in any way.
"[49ers 2015 3rd Round Draft Pick] Eli [Harold] is the same way. These guys want to play football. When we went into this, we wanted to stay big. We wanted to get faster and we wanted guys that could contribute on four downs, especially early in the Draft. Both of those guys can contribute. In fact all three of them can contribute on four downs. Even though as a defensive tackle, a 6-7 guy, he's going to be in there on punt block, I should say on field goal/PAT block. A big weapon in there. And then these guys are true four-down contributors."
S Eric Reid has had three concussions in two years. DB Jimmie Ward has had, he's had that foot. Did those health issues go into the pick of Tartt?
"I wouldn't say that that played a role in it. Obviously we're confident in both of those guys being able to stay healthy and play football for us and very high on their ability. This pick had nothing to do with those players, the current players on our roster. It just had everything to do with the quality of player that we thought we were getting at that pick. And, it's never a bad thing to get good at a position, or get better at a position you feel you're good at."
Where is Ward in his recovery from that foot?
"It's coming along fine. It's coming along fine. He should be on schedule. Training camp is not far away obviously, but he's made a lot of progress and we feel very good about it."
So, is he full-go right now or will he be full-go for training camp? Is that the first time that he'll be full-go?
"That's up to the medical staff. They handle that. Every day I get a new report on where these guys are at. I don't look at it every day. I'll be honest with you. I look at it every other day probably because I feel good about where these guys are going. We have a few guys that we're monitoring in the offseason and when the medical staff clears them, we'll go."
"[Sacramento Bee reporter] Matt [Barrows], we'll go. Matt, we'll go. Next question."
Your offense ranked 28th last season and your defense ranked 10th. Considering that, why did you feel comfortable spending your first three draft picks on defensive players?
"Once again, we stayed with the board. And, our defense lost some pieces in the offseason. Once again, you go into the Draft, you try to make your team better. And you get better by drafting the best players available. That's just how the board played out. There were offensive guys that we were looking at. We just felt more comfortable at the time with the guys that were rated higher on our board."
Will there be a point tomorrow on day three in the later rounds where you do look a little more at position of need as oppose to the best player available?
"Probably not. We're going to stick with the board like we always do and sometimes it matches up with what some people perceive as a higher need, sometimes it doesn't. But, we feel good about where the board's sitting right now. We're going to go back up there, take another look at it just before we go home for the night and we'll close the curtain and get ready for tomorrow. But, Matt going back to your question, he's on schedule."
What is his schedule?
"I don't have to tell you what the schedule is Matt. He's making great progress and when he's cleared by our medical staff, he will go."
How are their job descriptions different? Is Ward mostly going to be lining up in the slot and eventually Tartt's going to be playing in the secondary, playing free safety? Is that how you envision it?
"Once again, that's up to the coaching staff. There are different things we can do schematically. We see some things that, obviously with his size and speed, talking about Jaquiski now, with his size and speed there's some things that we can do with him, different packages that we wouldn't be able to do with Jimmie. But, there are also things we can do with Jimmie that we wouldn't be able to potentially do with Jaquiski. So, it's a good combination to have and we're high on both those guys."
Were you surprised that LB Eli Harold was still there when you got him?
"A little bit. A little bit. And you never know why somebody falls. We had him rated a little higher than where we took him and feel good about the pick. And that is obviously why we made the pick at that time."
That is another position where, we just talked to you the other day, and you said you feel good about the four guys there. Now you add a fifth guy, so what does that do to that position group?
"Creates a lot of competition. One thing you have to remember on any team you have to be able to stay heavy at linebacker, especially when the majority of them can contribute on special teams. You can never have too many guys that can rush the passer. I think that's proven. The more guys you can lineup on the edge or within different packages, we may build a package for those guys. I would look for that potentially. But that's up to the defensive coaches to put these guys in a position to make plays. They are going to make on teams as young guys, and then, never say never. We don't set a limit on what they can do as rookies. They set that limit by how they come in, how prepared they are and how they perform."
Obviously, there is no certainty to any pick, but when you take a guy from a small school like Samford, is there a little more risk involves or more of a gamble?
"Historically, small school guys, there's been so many that have come into this league and been successful. I coached at the Division II ranks and had some awfully good players at South Dakota State and North Dakota State that came into this league and played really well. Adam Timmerman, Pro Bowl guard. Phil Hansen, 11-year starter for Buffalo. [Colts K] Adam Viniatieri, still kicking. I coached that young man in college. There's been a lot of small school guys that have come into this league and done very well. We expect Tartt to come in and do that, exactly that."
Could he become a linebacker down the road or do you envision him as a safety?
"No, he's not a linebacker. Now, could he be in some of the dime looks and stuff? Possibly. As far as a down in and down out, no, he's a safety."
I understand what you are saying about following the board, maybe media experts thought you needed to address the cornerback position. You said before the draft you felt good about the depth there.
Still do, I'm sure. It seems like there isn't a slam dunk starting corner opposite CB Tramaine Brock. Do you agree with that or do you see numerous possibilities?
"I'm not into agreeing or disagreeing with the media, to be honest with you. We roll out the football and let these guys compete. We feel good about the three young guys that we drafted last year. They're all in camp, they're all competing well. [DB Keith] Reaser and [DB Kenneth] Acker have come off the PUP, the injury list, and they're competing really well and feel good about the progress they are making. We haven't hit anybody yet, but feel real good about where we're at. Now that doesn't mean we're not going to address it tomorrow. We still have some picks left, I think it's seven picks left. And so there's still a lot of this draft left to go."
From a personnel standpoint, has there been talk about moving LB Ahmad Brooks inside?
"Well, he's played inside before. He's played inside in our goal line packages as early as last year. Never say never. He's versatile. Ahmad has played in there so he's a guy you can cross train. But right now, he's starting at outside linebacker. We are going to take all of these guys, put them out there on the practice field, let the coaches decide who plays, where they play and how they play."
Tartt said he covered the slot receiver in college. Is that unusual to see somebody in the 220-pound range covering 175-pound receivers in the slot?
"Well, I think that is what we like. He is an athletic guy at 220 pounds, ran 4.43. He's big. He's fast. He's physical. He' s a good tackler, very good open field tackler. He knows how to find the ball. He creates the opportunity for us to match up, as does Jimmie. Albeit different, they are different sizes, they have different skillsets. They're both four down players in our opinion and we like the situation we're in. And obviously [S] Eric's [Reid] is back there, [S] Craig Dahl's back there. There's going to be a lot of competition. Competition is good, you want competition at every position."
Trent, G Alex Boone isn't here for the voluntary stuff and word from his camp is that he's not going to show up for anything that isn't mandatory and is open for a trade. Have you guys talked about trading him?
"I haven't talked to Alex. I haven't talked to any representative for Alex. Right now, he doesn't have to be here so there's nothing to talk about from our end. "
Chances of it aren't likely happening, but safe to say, being true to the board, if every time you guys come up tomorrow, a defensive player is at the top of the board, you would be comfortable going all defense?
"We'll just keep filling them up. Right? And create as much depth as we can. You win with depth. You have to have good players and you have to have a deep roster. That combination is what you are looking for. I think if you asked anyone in this position they would tell you the same thing. You can never have enough depth and you can never have enough competition. And you can never have enough good players. That's what you try to do. And sometimes you get a little heavy at certain positions but that's not a bad thing. That's not a bad thing at all."
Does Tartt have the traits to matchup with someone like Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham?
"Good question. Jimmy Graham's a Pro Bowl Tight End, so I'm not going to sit here and say a rookie coming into the National Football League is going to shutdown Jimmy Graham. That's an awfully good football player. We've got to find some ways within our schemes. At times, you're going to single him. At times, you're going to double him, you're going to squeeze him. But that's for the coaches. I don't getting into the X-ing and O-ing. But we feel good about his ability to line up and cover people."
No moves today but how active were the phones?
"They were active. We almost traded out of, I think it was 46, where we were at. We almost made a move to trade back a few spots and just decided with the lack of safeties on our board and where he stood on our board at the time, it was too much of a risk to trade back, so we hung tight."
Harold talked about his leadership skills and how they fostered from a difficult past which I'm sure you know about. He talked about bringing those leadership skills as a freshman. How much did that impact your evaluation of him?
"Well, we really liked the person. It starts there. We really liked the person. He is a tremendous young man. He's a pro's pro. He takes the game very seriously. He works at it. He's tirelessly working at his craft. Everybody we spoke to about Eli said nothing but positive things. And that is going back to his high school coach and everybody that's worked with him at the University of Virginia. We really felt good about him as a person and then you put on the tape and the guy's had 15, 15.5 sacks the last two years. He went up against Miami this past year and [Giants T Ereck] Flowers on that team and performed quite well. I think he had two sacks against him. He's played big in some big games, so there were a lot of things to like."
With the three picks so far, that's something coming from Jed, something you guys have discussed, that win with class sort of mantra?
"We took the highest rated players on our board and no different than any other year. We're looking at character with all of these guys. Sometimes the board falls where you have to take a little bit more risk. And there is risk. There's two kinds of risk, the known and the unknown. And hopefully, through the scouting process, you know all of the known. Your scouts don't miss any. And our guys are very good at making sure we don't miss any of the known issues. But then there's the unknown. And you can't predict. It's stuff that comes out after the fact. It's stuff that comes out once they get money in their pocket. It starts to come out once they become a pro and get all the attention that they get up here at this level. You can't predict the unknown, but its our job to know the known, and our scouts do a very good job getting that."