February is a crucial month on the NFL calendar. Coaches and scouts are preparing like mad men to get their draft boards ready, all while analyzing their own roster and how it compares to 31 other teams. And with the 49ers ushering in a new head coach and a recently promoted general manager, there’s plenty of work to be done around the facility.
But that didn’t stop Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke from taking time to speak directly to the fans last night. The new coach and GM fielded an hour’s worth of questions (from 4,000 submissions) as part of the team’s latest Fan Forum.
Both men enjoyed sharing their insights with the Faithful. Though they couldn’t speak on some of the topics that fans wanted to discuss (like players currently on other teams), a lot of important football information was discussed.
Harbaugh said he liked the back-and-forth nature of the forum and added that he hoped to do it again. Baalke had fun with it too. Asked at one point if he would pull a Bill Walsh-like move and draft several defensive backs like the former coach did in 1981, Baalke teased, “Actually, I was thinking about drafting another offensive lineman.”
Highlights from the call included:
-Both guest speakers bantered with host Joe Fonzi about the current status of their working relationship. Baalke on Harbaugh: “We’re very fortunate to have him.” As for the head coach’s first month at the new gig, “This was the perfect competitive challenge,” Harbaugh said. “I get chills walking through this place. The bar is set extremely high here.”
-The subject of Frank Gore came up, specifically if either expected the do-it-all back’s workload to be lessened in 2011. Harbaugh complimented Gore as one of the best, complete, backs in the NFL. But added that Anthony Dixon did a tremendous job as a rookie and his production would be elevated in 2011. Harbaugh did concede that Gore’s role will still be very prominent. “It won’t be the type of thing where we’re going to have Frank coming off the field too much,” Harbaugh said.
-The coach mentioned on a few occasions that he plans on using more creativity in the running game. Harbaugh cited the athleticism of his running backs and linemen as his reasoning. “We can be creative with the personnel we have offensively,” he said right before praising tight end Vernon Davis’ blocking ability on the perimeter. “All that marries in the play-action game and the passing game.”
-The conversation moved to defense when a caller asked what scheme would be run in 2011. Harbaugh said the team would keep the 3-4 scheme that has been in place for the past four seasons under former coordinator Greg Manusky, but this version under Vic Fangio would be a “multiple 3-4 defense.” Harbaugh applauded Fangio’s creativity and said his former Stanford colleague would use defenses that suit his personnel best.
-Baalke made an interesting comment when discussing the team’s vision for the upcoming draft. He said the team will be looking for a certain mentality from this year’s draft class – players with energy and passion. In hearing from Harbaugh on the call, it’s clear that’s the vision for the 49ers under his guidance.
-Plenty of player-specific questions on current 49ers and free agents were asked as well. Harbaugh said Alex Smith would be considered to be the team’s starting quarterback next season. Baalke said the team is currently evaluating free agents like nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin as well as all potential free agents in the NFL. Harbaugh also said perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis wouldn’t be used in a predictable fashion, adding it’s up to the coaching staff’s creativity to determine the best uses of his abilities.
Tags: Alex Smith, Aubrayo Franklin, Jim Harbaugh, Patrick Willis, Trent Baalke
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