Sports Notes: Coach Harbaugh & The NFL Draft

by Ken Hurst, April 29, 2011

I’m glad the San Francisco 49ers were able to bring Jim Harbaugh to their team as their head coach. Coach Harbaugh certainly displayed his college coaching ability with Stanford. He made Stanford a relevant and respected football program in the football nation, especially because he recruited Andrew Luck out of Texas and made him the best college quarterback in America. If Luck had chosen to leave Stanford a year early, he would have been the NFL Draft’s #1 pick this week.

Harbaugh was never a star QB in the NFL, but he was a smart guy who was upbeat and good enough to stay in the league as a player for 15 or l6 years. He began his coaching career in an obscure position as a college talent evaluator. His specialty was the quarterback position — analyzing and projecting which college quarterbacks would make the most successful transition from college competition to being a pro quarterback in the NFL.

It was Harbaugh’s independent judgment of college quarterbacks that often went against the grain of the majority view of other scouts’ QB opinions that began his quarterback guru legend. His independent views, most often, were correct. For example, he believed (as did the late and great 49er Coach Bill Walsh) that Drew Breese would be a better quarterback than Jim Druckenmiller in the NFL.) Harbaugh’s notes on QB’s became NFL treasures to harvest because he had truly independent thoughts that, most often, were correct.

So, what then should we make of his recruitment of unsuccessful quarterback Alex Smith to stay in the fold of the 49ers? I think that Harbaugh believes that Smith has been badly treated by NFL (and former 49er) coaches Nolan and Singletary and that Harbaugh thinks he can restore confidence to Smith and teach him the proper mechanics to execute successfully on NFL Sundays.

I hope Harbaugh understands that if the 49ers have good coaching, they are only one good cornerback away from having a good defense. The 49ers’ major problem hasn’t been personnel but terrible coaching at almost every position, not just the oppressive non-creative head coaches. They are only a fast #1 receiver away from having a good offense. That is, if Harbaugh can coach-up QB Alex Smith to be competent at his position. If so, the team will follow Smith because they understand that this guy has been totally screwed by his coaches.

Remember that last season the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl with a patchwork offensive line constantly plagued by injuries. But head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers won by miraculously coaching a few stars. If Dom Capers were the 49ers’ defensive coach, they wouldn’t be looking for specialty pass rushers. He would run schemes to take down the opposition QB or, at least, to hurry the QB enough to protect his defensive backs.

The left side of the 49ers offensive line features left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Mike Iupati. As a combo, no NFL team has a better left side line. Last year was center David Bass’s first year at the position and he was competent. Right tackle is Anthony Davis and right guard is Chilo Rachal. Last year, Davis at age 20 was a baby at a big man’s position. But, he had good feet and will improve vastly over last season. Rachal is competent. They are a very young NFL line that will become consistently good.

Tight end Vernon Davis is one of the very best in the game at his position. He was underused as a receiver. Running back Frank Gore’s record reeks of positive yardage, and he also picks up blitzes very well. Fullback Moran Norris is a bulldozing runner and fierce blocker. Receiver Michael Crabtree is a good possession receiver but a strange guy who doesn’t work to connect to the rest of the team. As for Josh Morgan, the team needs a star at his #1 receiver position to upgrade the team. Morgan should be a #3 receiver.

The defense needs a cornerback to form a solid defensive backfield. And, they need a good defensive coordinator and defensive backfield coach that can coach up the three-time first team All American safety from USC Taylor Mays. Mays needs his skills and confidence jacked up by a considerate coach who can teach the position. They need to recapture safety Dashon Goldson.

Cornerback Nate Clements is aging fast but cornerback Shawnae Spencer is due for a good year. They have strength and speed at the linebacker positions led by the great Patrick Willis. They need to have creative gambling schemes to rush the opposition QB.

The defensive line needs to retain Aubrayo Franklin who along with Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga gives them a strong defensive line.

So, they need to retain free safety Goldson and defensive lineman Franklin who are both eligible for free agency. They have to coach up strong safety Taylor Mays and cornerback Spencer and offensive tackle, baby Davis. They need to draft a good cornerback at their #1 draft position, a quarterback at their 2nd draft position (c.f., Andy Dalton, TCU) and find a good receiver and a good safety in the rest of the draft. The 49ers have more draft selections than any other team.

I hope Harbaugh doesn’t dismantle the team as Pete Carroll did with the Seattle Seahawks. But, it’s quite possible that Harbaugh feels that he has to get rid of lots of bodies to change a losing culture that has developed in the 49ers organization.

I hope he realizes that he had two position coaches before him who weren’t ready to be the head guy. And if he frees the players from that ignorant cloud of oppression, they can become excellent.

Note: I think Jake Locker will become a fine NFL QB if he stops being a heavy lifter. He is losing the niftiness he had as a sophomore and junior at University of Washington.

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