Former 49ers linebacker Gary Plummer still keeps up with the game he loves by providing analysis and color commentary to the KNBR game day broadcast. Over the weekend, Plummer helped emcee the 49ers Draft Day Party, and then shared his thoughts on it in this 49ers.com column.**
I had been reading about Joe Staley all season because he was a candidate for the Ronnie Lott award and I'm one of the guys who get to vote on that. He was my choice from day one. I loved his story of overcoming adversity and the fact that he was so involved with his community. Obviously, school was important to him. He's just a high character guy. The Lott award is not just based on his performance on the field. The award is weighted more towards guys who are doing a lot off the field, so for many reasons it was exciting to see the 49ers pick him.
His speed is really unique, especially at his size. Usually outside linebackers have that kind of speed. If an inside linebacker has that kind of speed, they're usually much smaller than Willis – the Jamie Winborns, the guys who are around 5'10'' 225 pounds. This is a big guy who will fit in the middle and not only have the size, but also the speed. It's pretty amazing for a rookie to be inserted into the lineup by the head coach the minute after he gets drafted. Nolan said he expects him to be the nickel linebacker if not more. That's a huge statement. They wouldn't have been able to make that statement if they hadn't gone to see this guy at the Senior Bowl.
I think the impact of coaching the Senior Bowl is very interesting. Being around the NFL for the last 25 years, you always hear coaches say, "There is no way I'm going to the Senior Bowl." Assistants are always hoping that the head coach doesn't accept the invitation. Not only has Nolan accepted it, he has wanted it. I think that speaks volumes about Mike Nolan and his entire staff. When you sign up to be on Nolan's staff, you're offering to coach for another extra week. If you think about it, after the season these guys are burnt out. Most of them just want to check out for a couple of months. They realized how valuable it was last year to instead go coach in Mobile. They thought it was that insider knowledge that helped them to have a very good draft. With 6 of the 9 picks this year dedicated to Senior Bowl players, they still feel that way. It's just another example of the commitment those guys have to making the 49ers the best they can be.
Trading up to get Joe Staley in the first round says to me, that the 49ers plan to be a darned good football team. Scot McCloughan is wise beyond his years. It's vintage Bill Walsh, when Walsh was making the moves in his early fifties and Scot is so much younger. However, he's been exposed to it for so many years. What is says also is that this is a team that doesn't just expect to be good this year; they expect to go far in the playoffs because they were willing to give up next year's first. I don't think they'd be doing that unless they plan to be drafting much later next year.
I think it could end up being a phenomenal move, and speaks volumes for these guys in that they have the confidence to go out and do it. Then, they got the pick back anyhow by trading with Indy. One of the things you think about is Mike Nolan and his statement early on. He said, "We have a plan. We're going to stick to the plan and make it work." That's exactly what it seems like they're doing, not just in the off-season and free agency, but they're doing it here in the draft. It's always about adjustments in the NFL. It's not just about adjustments at half time. That's how the draft is too. People are going to throw curveballs at you and obviously the 49ers were prepared to make moves throughout the day and it looks like it paid off.
With the leading rusher in the NFC last year, the ground game is going to be an area where the 49ers expect to be successful. The amazing part about it is they were good at it despite facing eight-man fronts game after game. When you get quality receivers, teams can no longer do that. They can't play eight guys in the box. I'm sure Alex Smith is very happy about Sunday morning's trade to get Darrell Jackson, but the guy who should be the happiest is Frank Gore because he's not going to face eight or nine-man fronts every single time. Darrell Jackson is tinkled pink because here's a guy who is used to facing double coverage. He's going to 4ee mostly single coverage because the opposing team is going to have to commit so many people to the run game. That could very well make Jackson a better player. He's no dummy. He saw exactly what the 49ers were about last season. It's an up and coming team. At that stage of your career, you don't jump ship for money. You jump ship because you want to win and you want to win it all.
The 49ers took another outside linebacker on Sunday in Jay Moore. It's obviously a position that they felt they needed to address. There have been some injuries problems there and they needed more speed. You need more linebackers in general when switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4. It looks now like the commitment is definitely there. They've wanted to do it the last couple of years, now they have the bodies to do it because in the last two years they've added Manny Lawson, Parys Haralson, and Tully Banta-Cain on the outside and then Willis for inside. Hopefully we get Derek Smith back. It looks like his recovery is going well, but it's all about competition in the NFL. If you're Jeff Ulbrich, Brandon Moore or Derek Smith, you can't get mad about it. You have to make sure that you work harder than you've ever worked before so you don't get replaced, or that's exactly what will happen. Coaches love that because it's going to bring the best out of all of them.
In some of the past drafts with Terry Donahue, I wasn't very excited. Some of the picks left you scratching your head. Not so anymore. One area I felt there was a tremendous need going into this year was the tackle position. There have been many injuries and it just hasn't solidified itself. Whether one of the guys started last year emerges or whether Staley takes it, the competition will increase which is going to make everyone better. That's what great teams do. Look at New England. They will draft a player even though they already have someone there because there's potential for that player to leave in a year.
It's a copycat league. New England and Philadelphia had success by not throwing a ton of money away in free agency and getting the best talent there. They built their teams through the draft. It's the only way to do it consistently and do it year after year. It's nice to see. The 49ers said what there plan was. They said, "We're going to build through the draft" and that's what they're doing. They have also filled in the gaps with some solid free agents, with maybe a few marquee guys. But they're not done! It's a three-pronged attack. Free agency comes early on, then it's the draft, and I expect them to get a few guys who get released just like they did last year with Walt Harris and Larry Allen, both of whom went to the Pro Bowl. They still have one more prong to use and if you can get one starter or even a guy who is going to contribute this year, then the 49ers should be the favorite to win the division this year.