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Vice President of Player Personnel Trent Baalke and Head Coach Mike Singletary approached the 2010 NFL Draft with one mitigating purpose after the 2009 NFL season aftermath and ending up with an (8-8) record. Let's target the absolute best athletes that address the glaring needs on our offensive line that allow us a perfect balance and help quarterback Alex Smith sustain momentum going into a contract season for him. Being blessed with two first round draft choices they made headlines throughout the Bay Area and abroad with their selections of Rutgers offensive tackle Anthony Davis with the 11th overall pick and Idaho's offensive guard Mike Iupati with the 17th overall pick. Both side by side tips the weight scales out over 650-plus pounds in pure adrenaline and youth in which the starters in Adam Snyder and David Baas have been served a notice that the days of mediocrity are now officially over.
I cannot contain the enthusiasm I have as an analyst and as a fan that the mere precedent that Mike Singletary is setting is off the charts in my opinion as it is the offensive line that gets the dirty and tough work done in the trenches day in and day out on the field of play every minute and every second that goes by on the game clock. We have yet to duplicate Frank Gore's career breaking running season in 2006 and we have yet to see an undisputed quarterback with the confidence and finesse of a Joe Montana with a line that insures his life like a good policy should.
Never in the history of the San Francisco 49ers in my opinion has it been more critical to address the needs of our offensive line then now because of the inconsistencies and technical flaws we have all come to know as "game changing plays or game killers," that have tainted our offensive ability to clear the never ending hurdle of third down and long. Our running backs and wide receivers are co-dependent on the line to open up opportunity and even create one from time to time when the going gets toughest. When the game is in need of real life support it is the offensive line that must step-up first if we are to carry the banner high and aloft into the end zone.
Mike Singletary's purest philosophy is to be able to run the ball when we want and how we want. It is the offensive line that sets that precedent from the very beginning and ends with it as well. He knows in order to do that we must have the most "fearsome of competitors you can put onto the field of play on a consistent and eventual continuity level that is unparalleled to other teams seeking the same thing."
Mike even went to the utter extreme to address the need to have a coaching unit that will convey his choicest of wishes in replacing Chris Foerster as offensive line coach with a legendary Bobb McKittrick disciple in Mike Solari our new San Francisco 49er offensive line coach along with former San Francisco 49er Pro Bowl guard Ray Brown who serves as Solari's assistant. Mike Solari has a ton of experience and is very old school just like Mike Singletary. Solari actually served under Bobb McKittrick in San Francisco as the tight ends/assistant offensive line coach for the 49ers from 1992-96. His most recent stint was as the offensive line coach for our rival Seattle Seahawks from 2008-09.
I am so very excited about the mere fact that this combination of expertise in Mike Solari and Ray Brown will assist both rookie linemen in Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati reach their best potential and eradicate the weaknesses this offensive line has been afflicted with for far too long now. Not only has individual players been put on notice but the coaching staff as well in the sense that Mike Singletary wants the "smash-mouth type of run the ball attitude instilled in his players and at the same time coveted protection for an up and rising star quarterback in Alex Smith."
In my previous article I made note of Rutgers offensive tackle Anthony Davis and what he brings to the table for the San Francisco 49ers and is in direct competition with present offensive tackle Adam Snyder as he is taking many more first team repetitions as we speak through organized team activities and now training camp. The same can be said of the mammoth-sized Idaho offensive guard we drafted 17th overall in American Samoan Mike Iupati who has a nasty reputation of simply, "destroying his opponents."
It was an interesting prelude to acquiring Mike Iupati in the 2010 NFL Draft as now Vice President of Personnel Trent Baalke became enamored with him as he was part of a film presentation with 49er beat writers and columnists who witnessed the massive offensive guard throwing a Utah defensive lineman with one arm to the turf below. Some said he was inadvertently "de-cleated," as he was thrown to the ground at a weight of 270-plus pounds. This is an athlete that can open truck-size holes at the line of scrimmage and continue into the second level of linebackers as a monster-sized truck crushing everything in its path. Most of the time no one would even consider taking a guard in the first round of any NFL Draft, yet here was Mike Iupati not at all in the same stereotype as some think that guards are nothing but failures at being known tackles.
Trent Baalke became intensely interested in Iupati as he watched film on him and analyzed his every move, believing that he has a real chance at being something very special. He saw a big athletic man coming off the ball with intense speed for a 330-pound guy further indicating that it is not a common site in either college or the NFL. In fact had Anthony Davis not been at No. #13 overall the San Francisco 49ers according to Baalke were prepared to take him then. Mike Singletary shares the same sentiments about Mike Iupati as Baalke for not just the film but his background as well.
Mike Iupati's family moved from American Samoa to Garden Grove, California near Anaheim when he was fourteen. From there Iupati tried to learn English and as a consequence he was made to be academically ineligible to play his first year. An Idaho assistant coach by the name of Johnny Nansen back in 2005 saw something in him and offered him a scholarship which eventually propelled him to fame.
Mike Iupati never stops talking about his family and this was something that Mike Singletary took in seriously. He made references to the sacrifices of his family and expressing to them his debt of immense gratitude. These words rang Mike Singletary's bell as being sincere and with very high merit. The sanctuary of family and its value to a person's life is of high interest to the Mike Singletary scheme of things he wants from all his players.
Thus Mike Iupati is one heck of a monster guard. He benched 225 pounds 27 times at the Scouting Combine. He has recorded a 475-pound bench press and a 605-pound squat. He also possesses 34.5-inch long arms and over 10-inch hands. He has never allowed a single sack in 396 pass plays his senior year and has a blocking consistency grade of 90.38% which is the highest of any interior offensive linemen.
What are his critics saying? The only concern is the level of competition he has faced playing out of Idaho which is a member of the WAC. The take from Trent Baalke and the coaching staff is that he is a diamond in the ruff ready to happen. His competition to be the left guard for the San Francisco 49ers is David Baas a three-time All-Big Ten selection at Michigan. The 49ers selected Baas with the No.33rd overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft believing he was a sure bet to upgrade their failing offensive line. Now in a new twist of fate he is fighting for retaining his starting position at left guard against a man drafted in the first round to raise the bar a little bit.
Baas in fact signed a one-year tender as a restricted free agent earlier this year to remain a 49er; since then he has been learning yet another position in various training sessions in becoming a back-up center should Eric Heitmann fall to injury. Adam Snyder is in a similar position facing off with Anthony Davis for the right tackle position. Thus the organization and the coaching staff have made the offensive line a focal point of strength in ramping up the expectation that forward momentum is to be made a standard recipe as we move into a critical 2010 NFL season.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.