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Trent Baalke's no-impact moves

Published: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 5:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 5:21 p.m.

Call Trent Baalke Trent Zaalke.

That’s a “Z” instead of a “B.”

If you were to grade Baalke’s offseason work as 49ers’ general manager on the usual A to F scale, he would get a “Z.” Which makes him Zaalke.

Why does this man get a “Z”? Because he brought in no players to help the 49ers on offense this season.

If you’re keeping score, Zaalke was 0-for-the-offseason, not good for the general manager of any self-respecting football team. It’s like he was overcome by arrogance, thought the 49ers were so good he didn’t actually need new players who could contribute any time soon.

As we approach today’s game against the Miami Dolphins, we conclude Zaalke miscalculated. To the max. In the spirit of open and free discourse, let’s examine Zaalke’s offensive “additions,” starting with running back.

He made a big splash signing Brandon Jacobs. There were newspaper articles and television reports lauding Jacobs, the former running back for the world champ New York Giants.

There’s only one problem. Head coach Jim Harbaugh did not suit up Jacobs for the first 10 games of this season. Jacobs said he was healthy. Jacobs said he felt confused. Jacobs seemed sad.

One thing was painfully obvious. Harbaugh did not like Zaalke’s running back. Who can blame the coach? Jacobs is a slam runner. He has no finesse and just slams into the line like a truck crashing into a brick wall. The Niners use a slash and cut running style — see Frank Gore — so Zaalke brought in the wrong back for his own system.


Last week against the Rams, Harbaugh used Jacobs because Kendall Hunter got hurt and is out for the season. Jacobs had four carries, got six yards, and slipped and fell down trying to run around the end.


Zaalke’s other running back selection was LaMichael James, a good back at University of Oregon. Zaalke took James in the second round of the draft, which means he was a significant selection for the franchise.

How has James done so far?

Well, he looks snappy in his uniform. He is happy to sign autographs and he gives good quotes. Unfortunately, Harbaugh has not deemed him fit to play in a single game. Harbaugh has not even suited him up.

It sure seems there’s a disconnect between coach and GM on the subject of what makes a good running back. More on James in a few paragraphs.

Let’s swing over to wide receiver and see how our boy Zaalke performed there in the offseason.

Randy Moss. Zaalke brought in Moss to the usual Moss fanfare. There is always a certain amount of fanfare when Moss goes to a new team. That fanfare is over. Moss has caught 19 passes in 12 games. You figure out the average. Moss once was very good and now he’s very old. What was Zaalke thinking?

Mario Manningham. This is Zaalke’s best offseason signing on offense. Manningham is fast and has good hands. He’s also a shrimp who gets hurt a lot — he’s currently hurt and may not play today. He is no big deal after the catch. He’ll dance instead of getting positive yards. You want proof? He has scored one measly touchdown this season. He is by no means a difference maker.

A.J. Jenkins. Keep in mind this was Zaalke’s first-round draft pick. This was a big-deal pick.

So, how has Jenkins done?

He has not played a single snap, although he may play Madden Football in the privacy of his home and, for all we know, he’s a killer at that game.

People tell me to be patient with Jenkins. He’ll be a whiz some day. Maybe. It’s just that right now, Harbaugh perceives Jenkins as worse than Ted Ginn, the worst wide receiver in the NFL. After the 49ers lost Kyle Williams for the season, Ginn got to play and Jenkins did not. So far, Jenkins has been a dreadful draft pick — a total non-player. He is Zaalke’s worst addition of the offseason.

And that brings me to today’s game. And that brings Zaalke a chance for redemption.

The 49ers need both Jenkins and James to contribute. If Manningham does not play, or does not play much, Jenkins can play and stretch the field and make dramatic, game-changing catches. This is his chance and this is Zaalke’s chance.

The Niners need James even more than they need Jenkins. When they lost Hunter, they lost a back who can speed around the end. James can do that. Well, we actually don’t know because he hasn’t played. He could do it in college and he allegedly can do it in the NFL.

If James and Jenkins play against the Dolphins and if they play well, I happily will give the GM a solid “B” for the offseason and I will restore the “B” in his name and once again call him Baalke.

Trent, what is it to be — Zaalke or Baalke?

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at

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