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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 25, 2010

NFL draft: 49ers’ selectees could be a character issue

By Tim Kawakami
San Jose Mercury News

The governing philosophy of the San Francisco 49ers' 2010 draft was of Mike Singletary, by Mike Singletary, and for Mike Singletary.

In coach they really, really trust.

Let there be no doubt, not after these past three days: Singletary is the alpha presence for 49ers personnel decisions and has no fear about exercising or acknowledging that new clout.

Mike, with Scot McCloughan out and Trent Baalke in as acting general manager, is it safe to say you had more influence on the draft this year?

"I would say yes," Singletary said Saturday afternoon.

There was no other answer possible, given the 49ers' fascinating eight-player draft class, which is loaded with size, aggressive mind-sets, and sketchy backgrounds.

Add in the addition of undrafted Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, and the 49ers have far more than their share of character fixer-uppers.

All right up the alley for a man who believes he can reach almost any player, as long as he divines something coachable deep down inside.

In fact, for Singletary, the more complicated the background, the stronger the appeal. He has no fear. Zero.

"I just love knowing the stories and the backgrounds behind these guys," Singletary said, "because that gives me the opportunity to know going forward what they're all about, what's in them.

"If I've got the right stuff in them, then I've got a pretty good chance to have a good football player."

Third-round pick Navorro Bowman has had multiple legal issues. Sixth-round pick Anthony Dixon twice found himself homeless as a child, and had a DUI arrest.

First-round pick Anthony Davis has had weight issues and was suspended once for violation of Rutgers team policy. Second-round pick Taylor Mays has been criticized for under-achievement.

Blount's list of infractions includes his suspension by Oregon after infamously punching a Boise State player.

Those additions don't just have Singletary's fingerprints on them — they define what he loves about coaching and putting together a locker room.

This is his team. Nobody else's. That's a good thing for the 49ers, because NFL teams need clear lines of authority. That's possibly a bad thing for the 49ers, because it's not guaranteed that Singletary can succeed this way.

"In terms of making the final decisions, I made the final decisions," Baalke said of working with Singletary. "But he certainly was involved in them."

Now, of course, there is inherent risk in any draft pick, high or low, supposed angel or noted college scofflaw.

But to gather several risky personalities in one class is evidence both of Singletary's command of the 49ers' moves and his confidence in his motivational skills.

The 49ers haven't just made Singletary the face of this franchise. Now they've gone all in on his blueprint and his transformational fervor.

"I don't have anybody on this list that threw anybody out of the window," Singletary said. "I don't have anybody on this list that stomped anybody.

"I don't have anybody on this deal that had a gun in a place. "& I may have a DUI here. May have a guy that it's said, 'Well, the guy's a little overweight.' But that's about all I see."

If it works, Singletary will have beaten the system by betting on so many question marks. If it doesn't, the 49ers could turn into a bandit franchise.

In a different way, Singletary's showing the same kind of faith in Alex Smith, who has no character issues but remains an NFL question mark.

The 49ers could've drafted a quarterback but instead selected two offensive linemen, a safety, a linebacker, a tight end and a running back in their first six picks.

"If it was just Alex, maybe we would've drafted another quarterback," Singletary said. "But it's not. It's a team. It's Frank Gore, it's Glen Coffee, it's Vernon Davis. It's all of those guys that we've been trying to build around.

"To me, I still believe the quarterback position is really important. But I don't think it's what they make it out to be. 'The quarterback is the most important guy"&' I don't believe that. I really don't."

What Singletary believes, the 49ers believe. There's nobody else in that building, apparently, who will overrule him, or has the gumption to do so.

He has a ton of credibility, having pushed Davis into stardom and other risky players, such as Ahmad Brooks, into productive roles.

But with this draft, Singletary emerged as the unchecked, unquestioned boss of bosses — the Bill Belichick or Bill Walsh of the new 49ers.

If Singletary gets it right, the 49ers are in for some great times. He had better get it right, because there's nobody else in those offices to offer another way.