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May 12, 2011
Baalke reviews "Transformer": GM impressed with QB's versatility

During Nevada's bowl game against Boston College this past season, quarterback Colin Kaepernick drops back and looks for the wide receiver to his left. The receiver is well-covered, so Kaepernick turns to his right where he sees tight end Virgil Green coming open down the seam. Boston College's inside linebacker drops into coverage underneath Green, and both safeties close in from the side. In all, there are five Eagles players in the vicinity.

colinK.jpg

Kaepernick uncorks the pass anyway and ends up completing the 20 yarder to Green to put the Wolf Pack on the doorstep of the end zone. During today's film session with Trent Baalke, the general manager began by highlighting Kaepernick's physical tools -- arm strength, running ability, stature -- all of which have been well publicized. But what stood out today, at least to me, is that Baalke and the 49ers feel that Kaepernick also has traits that have perhaps been missing at the quarterback position in recent years, specifically the ability to adjust on the fly and the guts to make big plays.

"Do I want him making that throw?" Baalke said of the completion against Boston College. "Absolutely. I want a guy that's confident enough to throw it into the defense."

Another clip showed Kaepernick's ability to ad lib and adjust. Indeed, one of his nicknames at Nevada was "The Transformer." Against Cal - sorry, Bears fans - he rolls to his left, dodges a pass rusher, and throws a dart 25 yards down field to a receiver on the left sideline. Baalke said that Kaepernick's running ability would put pressure on defenses and that his ability to scramble - and throw - to both sides of the field would compound the threat. Kaepernick's throwing coach, Roger Theder, has told me that Kaepernick throws on the run to his left as well as any right-handed quarterback he has seen.

Baalke also emphasized that a large part of playing quarterback in the NFL is dealing with chaos. The 49ers feel that Kaepernick's combination of physical gifts and his cool under pressure would help him slow down and adapt to chaotic situations. "In the NFL, very seldom is everything right," Baalke said. "They've got to be able to throw off their back foot. They've got to be able to drop their elbow and throw it out of the side window. So you're looking for guys who can change those planes, whether it's with the arm or with the feet."

Baalke discussed the March 18 workout in Reno in which Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh had an impromptu throwing competition and became mutual admirers. (They also hit it off during an interview at the combine, I'm told). Baalke said that he and Harbaugh also had Kaepernick make some adjustments with his footwork and how he held the ball during the Reno session.

Baalke acknowledged that Kaepernick will have plenty to work on, starting with taking snaps from center and dropping back in the pocket, something he rarely did with the Wolf Pack. But he said that the workout encouraged him and Harbaugh that the adjustment period would not drag on.

"A lot of guys aren't able to do it," he said. "They stumble through it, they don't pick it up. He was able to do it and do it very quickly. Now, as the workout continued on, he regressed to where he was. That's just motor-skill development, but it was the ability to listen, to comprehend what we asked of him and then to go out and do it, which I thought was very impressive."

Notes:

* Baalke went over all 10 draft picks, the first three of them in great detail. I'll have much more in the coming days, but the biggest point he made about first-round pick Aldon Smith was that the top two criteria for 49ers outside linebackers are 1.) rushing the passer and 2.) setting the edge against the run. The implication - that fears that Smith can't drop into coverage are overblown because he will not be asked to do that very often, perhaps only 10 to 15 percent of plays.

* I asked whether cornerback Nate Clements, who is due to earn more than $7 million in base salary alone, would remain with the team in 2011. Baalke: "I don't know. You'd have to ask Nate. Honestly, I couldn't tell you right now."

* Congratulation to Jeff Ferguson, who's been promoted to the position of Director of Football Operations and Sports Medicine. Known around Santa Clara as "Fergie," Ferguson has been the 49ers' head trainer since 2006. He'll now oversee strength and conditioning, team logistics, equipment and the video departments.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW 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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