San Francisco 49ers getting on track as lockout looms 

It would be a cruel joke on San Francisco 49ers fans if NFL owners locked out players just as the 49ers appear to be getting their house in order.

Newly appointed general manager Trent Baalke seems to be organizing the front office well.

Baalke and his assistants can proceed much as they would in any year because their chief job now is preparing for the April draft, which involves college players who are not yet part of the NFL Players Association.

I’m guessing the 49ers will go for defensive help with their pick at No. 7 in the first round. They could use a big cornerback who is both good in coverage and with run support. There are two possibilities: LSU’s Patrick Peterson, who was in the Niners’ spot in Mel Kiper’s mock draft, and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara. Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller is intriguing, but he probably won’t last that long, especially if he looks good at the NFL Combine workouts.

Many 49ers fans would like to see their team draft a quarterback, but that’s always a risky pick and seems to be especially so this year. Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, who played in a spread offense in college, worked out for NFL scouts and was impressive. But one veteran observer pointed out that the best quarterback workout he had ever seen was by JaMarcus Russell. Enough said.

New coach Jim Harbaugh knows quarterbacks from his own NFL experience. Assuming the 49ers don’t draft a quarterback, I’m confident he can improve Alex Smith — if he returns — or holdover David Carr. Or, the Niners may trade for a quarterback. Everything is on hold during the NFL’s negotiations.

Harbaugh understands that a head coach is only as good as his assistants. At Stanford, Harbaugh put together a great staff, headed up by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and now he’s brought them with him to the Niners. Both Fangio and Roman have extensive NFL experience, which will also be a big help for Harbaugh in making the transition to the NFL.

Though head coaches get the attention, most of the coaching in the NFL is done by assistants, and Harbaugh has brought in a good staff overall.

The question now: When will they be able to do any actual coaching?

In a normal year, the 49ers would have mini-camps (one more than other teams because a new coaching staff is coming in) and organized team activities. But this year, there will be none of those without a new collective bargaining agreement.

Both the offensive and defensive systems will be different this season — if it happens.

Fangio believes in a 3-4 defense, with outside linebackers as primary pass rushers and frequent blitzes. He has apparently not been impressed by the play of Manny Lawson, now a free agent, so it’s unlikely the 49ers will try to persuade Lawson to return.
Offensively, the new system will come under the catch-all “West Coast offense” label. For certain, it will be much more complex than the offense the departed Mike Singletary demanded.

It will be fun to watch, if NFL owners and the NFLPA ever get their act together.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on E-mail him at

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Glenn Dickey

Glenn Dickey

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