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May 9, 2014
49ers reinforce might-is-right approach on second day of draft

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While the rest of the NFL has been moving toward a more finesse, more pass-oriented style of play, the 49ers haven't budged from their old-school, might-is-right approach to the game. The team reinforced that strategy on the second day of the draft Friday as they selected two interior offensive linemen, a throw-back style inside linebacker and a 235-pound running back from Ohio State, Carlos Hyde.

"Big wins," general manager Trent Baalke said minutes after the third round was complete. "Big wins a lot of football games in the league. And big in the middle wins a lot of football games."

The 49ers began the second day of the draft with Hyde, a powerful, squat runner who gained 3,198 yards and scored 37 touchdowns in 20 starts for the Buckeyes.

The selection of a big-bodied ball carrier was a look ahead to next year when the 49ers may be without Frank Gore, who is entering the final year of his contract and who turns 31 next week. Hyde said he looked up to Gore, felt he had a similar style to Gore - "violent," he said of that style - but that he planned to push Gore for a starting spot.

"What I bring is I play with a lot of passion," he said. "I feel like guys can feed off of that. They see how hard I run the ball and how much determination I run with."

Hyde had a particularly ferocious battle in college against the 49ers' second, third-round draft pick, Wisconsin's Chris Borland, a small but gritty linebacker who was one of the top tacklers in the nation in recent years.

"He's just a baller," Baalke said of Borland. "How can you not love him as a football player? Not tall enough. Not fast enough. Arms are too short. You hear all of that. We just love the make up. We love the player."

Like Gore, backup running back Kendall Hunter also is entering the last year of his rookie contract, and barring an extension, will be a free agent next year. Another runner, LaMichael James, has not been happy with his role in the team's offense and has not yet arrived for the team's offseason conditioning program. Baalke has insisted the 49ers have no plans to trade James, their top return-man option for 2014.

Last year, the team used a fourth-round pick on tailback Marcus Lattimore, who was recovering from a devastating knee injury suffered in 2012. Baalke said Hyde's selection was not a comment on Lattimore's return from that injury.

"Absolutely not," Baalke said. "Once again, it's competition. And yeah, it's crowded (at running back). But at the same time, it's going to make everyone step up and play to the best of their ability."

When the day began, the 49ers' two biggest needs were cornerback and receiver.

They addressed one of those positions by trading a conditional draft pick next year to the Bills for wideout Stevie Johnson. Meanwhile, Baalke said he didn't think the cornerback class was as impressive as it's been in recent years, and he noted that outside of the first round, there hasn't been a run at the position. That is, a number of options remain, including Clemson's Bashaud Breeland and Lindenwood's Pierre Desir, both of whom have the physique to play press coverage.

Meanwhile, "Trader" Trent Baalke lived up to his draft-day reputation. Including the deal for Johnson, the 49ers made five trades on Friday - moving up and down in this year's draft and adding a fourth-round pick next year to replace the one they gave up to Buffalo earlier in the day.

The 49ers head into the final four rounds today with seven picks. None of the seven players drafted in rounds four through seven last year had much of an impact their rookie seasons and two of them - quarterback B.J. Daniels and cornerback Marcus Cooper - were cut and ended up on different teams.

Asked why he accumulated so many third-day draft picks, Baalke said that's how the team's draft board fell. He said a number of talented players remain. "There's a lot of guys left on that board that can compete for various roles on our football team," he said.

-- 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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