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February 23, 2012
Baalke on QB situation: It's not something we're stressed out about

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Trent Baalke will tell you with a straight face that the 49ers always are trying to improve their roster and that they could add players at any position this offseason. But he did admit today there's one spot - quarterback - that's probably far down the to-do list.

"Is it a focus of need right now?" Baalke said. "No, we're very comfortable with the younger guys. And it remains to be seen what we're going to be able to get done with Alex (Smith), but feel very comfortable there as well. It's not something that Jim or I or anyone else in the organization are real stressed out about."

The younger guys are a pair of 2011 rookies, second-round pick Colin Kaepernick and undrafted free agent Scott Tolzien. Smith, meanwhile, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, and contracts talks have begun in earnest this week. The team can negotiate exclusively with Smith and the other unrestricted free agents until free agency begins March 13.

"That process, just like many of the others, is underway," Baalke said of negotiations with Smith. "Where we're at with it - that's going to remain between the club and the players themselves. We feel confident that we're going to be able to get some things done with our unrestricted free agents. But you never know."

Kaepernick, meanwhile, saw plenty of action in the preseason but had only mop-up work in two games once the regular season began. Baalke said questions about Kaepernick's rookie-year progress were better left to Jim Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst. But he said he liked what he saw from his GM's perch.

"I know he's everything we thought he was from a wiring standpoint," Baalke said. "He works hard at the game - early in, late out. It's important to him. And really started to grasp being under center, taking snaps from center and the footwork that goes along with it, the eye progression that goes with the offense, which is much different than the offense he came out of. ... From my perspective, I like what I've seen."

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Asked whether he thought Aldon Smith would have a full-time role in 2012, Baalke almost laughed. "Yeah - I think that's safe to say, yes," he said of Smith, who had 14 regular-season sacks in 2011. Smith played exclusively in nickel situations this past season, and he mostly lined up at defensive end, not outside linebacker.

Smith's 2012 counterpart at outside linebacker is up in the air. Ahmad Brooks started every game this past season but is an unrestricted free agent. Parys Haralson was other starter last season but gave way to Smith on passing downs. Haralson and Smith are the only potential outside linebackers signed for next season.

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The 49ers added two long snappers - Kyle Nelson and Ryan Pontbriand -- in the last two months, but Baalke said that's not a comment on long-time snapper Brian Jennings' 2011 performance. "No, we were very happy," he said. "Obviously, Brian made it to the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Very happy with Brian. But like every position on our team - and we've had this same conversation with Brian - there's going to be competition at every position. And how long we stay with three (long snappers) remains to be seen. But we're going to always put our players in a position where they're going to have to compete for their roles. And I think that's a good thing. When you have competition, it makes everybody better."

-- 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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