49ers GM Baalke a master at putting together a winning team

General manager Trent Baalke continues to explore all methods of improving the 49ers' roster, which is one important reason the team has been in the NFC Championship Game the past three seasons, and the Super Bowl one of those years. Another important reason is that he often ignores the wishes of writers covering the team.

Local writers insist that the 49ers need to get a receiver who can stretch the field, citing statistics that showed the team ranked 22nd in the NFL last season for pass plays of more than 20 yards. And how many of those teams ahead of the Niners in that category did as well when it came to wins and losses?

Baalke showed how much regard he had for those statistics when he made a trade with Buffalo for Steve Johnson, an excellent receiver but no speed burner. He didn't go for a speedy receiver until he took South Carolina's Bruce Ellington in the fourth round of the draft, the 17th wide receiver selected.

As Baalke noted, there is more than one way to get a long gain. One way is to put a receiver in a position to run for additional yardage after the catch. That will require quarterback Colin Kaepernick to become more aware of what is happening on the field. To date, Kaepernick has relied on his great physical ability, but that isn't enough, especially in the red zone, where the 49ers often bog down.

And that, not their long-range bombing, is where the 49ers need to improve. So, it will be on the shoulders of Kaepernick to show maturity, not just showing off his great physical skills.

Another interesting part of the Baalke plan is the way he's drafted injured players, given them a year to recover physically while taking part in team meetings and then adding them to the roster. Tank Carradine, a massive defensive lineman, and running back Marcus Lattimore, drafted last season, will join the team after a redshirt year.

Baalke's look at the future has come because the 49ers' roster was already well-stocked, so he has looked for a way to stash prospects for a year, including taking Clemson guard Brandon Thomas in the third round this year despite Thomas likely to miss the entire season after tearing his ACL in April.

But he has also moved to draft immediate help. On the first day of the draft, he selected defensive back Jimmie Ward to possibly fill the nickel cornerback slot, probably their biggest need. As he noted at the time, the 49ers use a defensive formation including the nickel cornerback so frequently, the player at that position can be considered a starter.

He also drafted Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, who is remarkably like Frank Gore in his running style. Gore has lasted — and been productive — much longer than normal for NFL running backs, but he doesn't have much time left in the NFL. Though the Niners have other running backs, Hyde would seem to be what they need as a starter.

Then, he got USC center Marcus Martin, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound bruiser. Baalke believes in size and strength in the middle, for good reason.

Overall, the 49ers' draft seems a solid one.

Some serious legal questions remain about defensive end Aldon Smith and cornerback Chris Culliver. There's nothing Baalke can do about them, but with this draft, he's put the 49ers in position to be strong contenders again.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey36@gmail.com.

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