49ers Blog and Q&A

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April 25, 2011
Quarterback DNA: Harbaugh details his evaluation process

Jim Harbaugh is trusting his antenna when it comes to picking a quarterback in this week's draft. In discussing his evaluation process with me recently, Harbaugh talked about his evaluation process and what's important to him. But what came through loud and clear is that Harbaugh will use both his eye and his instincts, and that he is supremely confident in both.


One of the subtexts of this discussion is that Harbaugh used the same eye and antenna to determine that Alex Smith would be a good fit in his system. That is, it highlights a certain conundrum among 49ers fans, at least those who want to wash their hands of Smith: If you think he's wrong about Smith, how can he be right about a rookie?

It might also be fun to use what Harbaugh says below and take stabs at which draft-eligible quarterbacks he likes the best. I have some opinions, but will save that until later in the week. Here's the Q&A ...

Q: You've said that finding a quarterback is like a birdwatcher identifying a bird. What did you mean by that?
JH: They use the term, 'the gist of a bird.' How it moves, how it flies, how it looks. It's like that - they can tell it from far away, just what kind of species it is. I feel like I've seen it enough to say, 'Ok, that's an NFL quarterback. He does this very well, he could do this in our system or that. Or he needs to improve this area or that.' You know? There are certain things that make a quarterback successful, I think.

Q: That implies that you could turn on a film and a couple of seconds later say, 'Ok, let's draft this guy.'
JH: A couple of seconds? Really? ... There's a whole assortment of throws, a whole menu of throws a quarterback has to make. He may not be strong in one area but he is in another. You can still use that in your system. And finding out what makes the guy tick - that's what you're looking for. Those things can't always be determined in clips of film. But you asked me what we're doing - what you're looking for, you can tell.

Q: What was the process you used to decide that Josh Johnson and Andrew Luck were your quarterbacks in college?
JH: That's a great question. Watching their athletic instincts, watching them play basketball, watching them play football. Being around them. Being around them, seeing if they're fiercely competitive guys, courageous guys when they play. A lot of qualities - just being around them - they've got it. The ability to light up a room and people really want to follow them, a lot of qualities like that.

Q: Do you use a similar approach with the draft prospects as far as figuring out what their personalities are like?
JH: Yes. It's a part of the piece of the puzzle. It's being able to trust your antenna - we've all got it. It's easy to say, 'Ok, these guys definitely have it, and they're going to be excellent quarterbacks.' But you want to find better and also best. And you realize you can't have them all. There's 31 other teams who will be picking, and most of those guys (we evaluate) will be playing against us.

Q: These guys are so well-coached in what to say nowadays - how do you get a true feel for who they really are?
JH: It's just trust - trusting your antenna.


Q: Athleticism seems to be atop your list of quarterback criteria. Has that changed from when you were playing - the need for an athletic quarterback?
JH: It's always been really important to me. I call it athletic instincts. It could be defined as, he could go out and play soccer and make a soccer team or be on the basketball team and at least be the sixth man and be really good on defense and hustle and pass the ball as a point guard. He could go into center field and catch fly balls. We've all known those kind of guys. Someone who's good at everything. In high school, he was probably the best athlete in the school. He's just got those innate quarterback qualities.

Q: As a whole, does this quarterback class have the athleticism you're looking for?
: Ah, yes. If you go back and look at these guys, they probably were the best athletes in high school. It's that kind of guy, has the quarterback DNA. A lot of good prospects.

Q: As far as ascertaining that DNA, does film study show that or do you want to see these guys up close?JH: Film mainly. The game film is the best.

Q: Are you spending most of your film-watching time on the quarterback position?
JH: Time-wise, it's been pretty equal. At this point, I've looked at every position an equal amount of time.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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