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Harbaugh Eager for Year Two

Posted Feb 23, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS –Never one to waste time, Jim Harbaugh is all about finding ways to improve.

His typical garb, whether it be on the NFL sidelines, fairways at Pebble Beach or Indiana Hoosiers basketball bench, speaks to his need to cut down “drag time.”

That’s why you’ll always see him wearing a black 49ers fleece tucked into a pair of dark khaki pants.

Harbaugh’s wife isn’t a huge fan of his typical gear, but that’s not stopping the Associated Press’ Coach of the Year from sorting outfits between his eight khaki pants and six fleece tops hanging in his closet.

The same approach is used for scouting future 49ers at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. That is, Harbaugh is all about finding ways to get better without wasting time.

In his mind, the biggest leap a team can make is from year one to year two.

That, above all, is why Harbaugh is “on edge” this week in Indianapolis. He wants to get the 2012 season revved up, and revved up fast.

“I’m excited to be here, to see what improvement we can make from year one to year two,” said Harbaugh as he began his press briefing inside of Lucas Oil Stadium, the same stadium that has his name up on the ring of honor.

The coach heading into his sophomore NFL campaign likened the offseason period to how a college freshman improves in his second year.

“There’s a window there that will never come again,” Harbaugh said. “It’s when you can make your biggest strides.”

Muscle memory, time in the system and collaboration will allow the 49ers to improve from March to August, according to Harbaugh.

“We’ll chase it like the NASCAR boys, getting 1 percent better any way we can,” Harbaugh added.

To get better, Harbaugh will have to evaluate a pool of players he’s either coached, competed against or in some cases like Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin IIII of Baylor, ones he’s recruited.

Harbaugh will want to get to know those players even better this week. And also, as he put it, “Find out why they didn’t come to Stanford and confront them.”

Those who went to Stanford or competed against Harbaugh in college will certainly stand out in his own evaluations. But that doesn’t mean Harbaugh will let that history cloud his judgment.

Asked specifically about tight end Coby Fleener, a player who’s been valued by draft experts to be a late first, early second-round pick, Harbaugh admitted he thinks highly of the Stanford tight end for a number of reasons.

Chief among them:

“You’ve got history, day-to-day history for years, recruiting history, family history and personal history,” Harbaugh said. “Coby Fleener won us games. I love these (Stanford) guys, maybe I am the over-evaluator.

“It probably takes some checks and balances with the guys I know so well.”

At Stanford, Harbaugh’s offense utilized a heavy dose of tight end-friendly personnel packages. At San Francisco, the tight ends were used heavily, but many times, it was extra tackles or defensive linemen used at the position.

Will the 49ers look to add another top-flight tight end like Fleener? Harbaugh wouldn’t reveal the answer.

“We’re in one of those times of speculation,” said Harbaugh, who joked with reporters about them being in a dry period of news reporting. “You can speculate or you can divulge strategy – I don’t see how any of those two are beneficial to us.”

The reality of the situation is that Harbaugh won’t be able to draft every player he likes on the 49ers roster. It’s just the nature of the business.

“Most of these players are going to play against you – that’s just the facts,” Harbaugh said. “There’s 31 other teams that are picking. We all do the best jobs we can evaluating all these players… and then you have to understand you can’t get them. You can’t get most of them. You can’t even get a high percentage of them.”

The 49ers, however, would like to keep a high percentage of their own free agents.

“Knowing who they are, it makes you want to compete for them,” Harbaugh said. “They are 49ers. They play like 49ers, they play their hearts out. Therefore, you want those guys on your side.”

Harbaugh repeated his stance that free agent-to-be Alex Smith is “our guy.”

But the coach added, “When the quarterback is not signed, it tends to have you lose sleep.”

Another thing that you’d expect to have Harbaugh up late at night, losing in the NFC Championship game, hasn’t brought out the bitter feelings as one might expect.

Harbaugh, unlike general manager Trent Baalke, has reviewed the overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

There were evaluation and technical reasons to do it, but more importantly and simply to Harbaugh, “You feel so proud that you’re part of a team that played their hearts out… I love watching our guys play.”

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