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49ers' Jim Harbaugh raves about Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III

The San Francisco mentor, who coached the ex-Stanford quarterback and tried to lure the future Heisman Trophy winner to Palo Alto, is all business at the NFL scouting combine.

February 23, 2012|By Sam Farmer
  • 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh addresses the media during the NFL scouting combine on Thursday in Indianapolis.
49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh addresses the media during the NFL scouting combine… (Michael Conroy / Associated…)

Reporting from Indianapolis -- In many ways, San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh is the quintessential insider at this week's NFL scouting combine.

He coached Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck — the probable No. 1 selection of Indianapolis in the NFL draft — and nearly lured Robert Griffin III to Palo Alto years before that quarterback won the Heisman Trophy at Baylor.

Harbaugh raved about both players Thursday, calling Luck "one of the finest football players I've ever been around," and assuring the media that he was worthy of the top pick.

"Ever play spades?" the coach said. "It's a trump game. He's holding a lot of aces in a lot of suits."

Luck has said he won't be throwing for teams at the combine, and Griffin probably won't either, with both players saving their passing theatrics for their campus pro days.

Harbaugh added that Luck has "all the qualities," and of Griffin he said, "Past performance usually indicates future success and he's had nothing but a history of success."

For Harbaugh, returning to Indianapolis is a step into the past. He was the Colts quarterback who immediately preceded Peyton Manning, spending four seasons here from 1994-97.

"If you're going to get replaced by somebody, that's a pretty good one to get replaced by, isn't it?" Harbaugh said. "Kind of take some pride in that."

Just as he was during Super Bowl week, Manning remains the most-talked-about player around the league, with just about everyone wondering and speculating where he'll be playing this season, if anywhere.

Harbaugh, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found during Super Bowl week. He nearly got the 49ers here, and wasn't around to pick up his NFL coach-of-the-year award the night before the game; it was accepted by 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

Trent Baalke, general manager of the 49ers, said Thursday that he's been too busy to watch either his team's 20-17 overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game, or the Super Bowl. Harbaugh said he has watched the conference title game.

"There's technical reasons for watching it, understanding the game and where you can find what you did well and what you can improve on," Harbaugh said. "And also for watching our guys play. I really get a kick out of that."

Now, even in the afterglow of his team's remarkable one-year turnaround (from 6-10 to one victory shy of the Super Bowl), Harbaugh is all business.

"Approaching this combine, I'm very much on edge," he said. "I've always felt like the most improvement you can make is from Year 1 to Year 2, much like a college freshman. The most improvement he can make in an entire one year of college football is going from Year 1 to his sophomore year, like a pro football player going from his rookie season to his second season.

"So yeah, be on edge about going through this combine a second time, evaluating for the draft, and as it relates to free agency, as it relates to our young quarterbacks, as it relates to all the football players on our team.

"We'll chase it, like the NASCAR boys. We'll chase getting a mile an hour faster. Chasing getting point-zero-one percent better any way that you can."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

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