Revisiting the Smith, Rodgers visits

The two quarterbacks are forever linked. After 4 ½ seasons in the NFL, the past three weeks are the only times they have both been starters for their respective teams at the same time.


On Sunday, the 49ers face the Packers in a game with huge NFC playoff implications. The time seemed right to dredge up the 2005 draft again.


I went back into the archives to see what I wrote about these guys on back-to-back days in the lead-up to the 2005 draft. Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers visited the 49ers on back-to-back days. The 49ers did a good job of creating intrigue around the 2005 draft. Many thought they would select Rodgers. (That’s what I thought, too, until the final week before the draft.)


As it turned out, 49ers personnel chief Scot McCloughan had pegged Smith as the No. 1 overall pick before he took the job with the 49ers. Mike Nolan arrived at the same conclusion after a while.


Here is a look back at the articles I wrote when Smith and Rodgers visited the 49ers . . .


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Published on April 13, 2005

© 2005- The Press Democrat

SANTA CLARA — Forgive Alex Smith if he seems a bit overwhelmed with the possibility of being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. All this talk is new to him.

He said he wants to be the top selection, but he is not so sure he will be ready to be a starting NFL quarterback as a rookie.

“That would be the goal for myself, to absolutely play early,” Smith said Tuesday during his visit to the 49ers’ practice facility. “It’s the best way to learn. You can learn only so much on the sidelines.


“At the same time, if I’m not playing well, if things aren’t meshing right away, the possibility of being able to watch for a few games would be enticing.”


Smith said he could not have imagined several months ago that the 49ers, who have the top selection in the April23 draft, would consider him a serious candidate for the coveted spot.


“I think I was so ingrained into football and into school, I didn’t think about anything else,” he said. “And then the season ended, and all of a sudden, this opportunity kind of presented itself, and I realized I had an opportunity to leave early.”


A year ago, draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. had Smith rated as the ninth-best quarterback among juniors-to-be.


Smith, fresh off leading Utah into national prominence with an 11-0 record, decided to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft. The 49ers appear focused on taking a quarterback, either Smith or Aaron Rodgers of Cal, with the top pick. Both quarterbacks decided to leave school after their junior seasons.


Smith met with the 49ers on Tuesday. Rodgers is scheduled to tour the facility today.


Although many believe Rodgers is the front-runner, the 49ers have spent a lot of time examining Smith’s credentials. Coach Mike Nolan, offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, quarterbacks coach Jim Hostler and vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan have watched Smith work out twice in the past four weeks.


One of the concerns with Smith is that he compiled big numbers at Utah in coach Urban Meyer’s gimmick offense, using such devices as the shotgun formation and shovel passes. When the 49ers paced him through a workout last week in Salt Lake City, Smith received snaps from former 49ers offensive lineman Guy McIntyre and threw passes to 49ers receivers Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle.


“If I were a big, immobile guy I’d say that would be a concern,” Smith said. “Athletically, I feel I bring the most to the table and I’ve been under center my whole life, so dropping back is not going to be hard for me.”


Smith tried to make the argument that the offense he ran at Utah, though it looks nothing like any professional system, makes him more NFL-ready than Rodgers.


“I think as far as football knowledge and the things I was asked to carry on my shoulders under that system has me more prepared than any quarterback,” he said. “Making checks at the line of scrimmage, reading defenses, what I was asked to know and do, was more than anybody else. I feel even more prepared because I played in that system.”


Smith said he wants to be the No. 1 pick in the draft but seemed conflicted when asked about stepping into the lineup right away. Nolan has said that if the 49ers select a quarterback, he would expect that player to immediately rise to the top of the depth chart.


“That definitely depends on how well I’m doing coming into camp, how well the other quarterbacks are playing, how well I’m picking up the system,” Smith said. “So it’s tough to say. I feel like I can step in right away and if all goes well, play early. But that’s tough to say right now. We’ll see when we get into minicamps and summer throwing the ball and then into the real camp and playing in some preseason games. That will show for sure.”


Smith or Rodgers would be under intense scrutiny as a first pick. Eli Manning, the No. 1 pick last year, received $20 million in guaranteed money from the New York Giants.


Moreover, the new quarterback would be following the lineage of Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young. Even Jeff Garcia, who earned three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl, had a rough time living up to the comparisons.


“Obviously, this is a young team. This is not something that’s going to be turned around right away. We’re not going to be winning Super Bowls next year, I don’t imagine, although we’d like to,” Smith said.


“I think you’ve got to put in the work and hopefully winning in the end will take care of everything. If you win games, there’s not going to be that criticism.”


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Published on April 14, 2005

© 2005- The Press Democrat


SANTA CLARA — A week and a half before the 49ers must make their decision, there still is no sign who they intend to select with the No.1 overall pick in the NFL draft.


Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who left Cal after his junior year, visited the team’s offices on Wednesday. He is the final candidate for the top pick to get the grand tour, following former Utah quarterback Alex Smith and Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards. The 49ers also entertained cornerback Antrel Rolle of Miami, but he is considered more of an option if the team traded out of the No.1 slot.


A receiver has been the No.1 pick just once in the last 20 years, so all indications are that the 49ers will choose a quarterback on April23. And there seems to be plenty of debate over whether Smith or Rodgers should be the man.


Sources indicate the team is divided. Team vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan, among others, apparently favors Smith, while others in the organization, including perhaps coach Mike Nolan, think highly of Rodgers. Nolan has the final say on all personnel matters. Neither Nolan nor McCloughan was available for comment.


One factor that might weigh into the 49ers’ decision are the negotiations that already have started with the top prospects.


Smith’s agent, Tom Condon, negotiated Eli Manning’s contract with the New York Giants last season, and it is doubtful he will settle for less than the $20 million guarantee that Manning received as part of his convoluted six-year, $54 million contract.


Condon is scheduled to fly to the Bay Area today to meet with director of football operations Paraag Marathe, who is the team’s chief negotiator. Rodgers’ agent, Mike Sullivan, visited the 49ers on Wednesday, along with his client.


“I think I’m a guy you can build around,” Rodgers said. “I think my leadership style, plus my skills, make me the kind of guy you can stick in a situation and then bring guys in to make me better and make the team better.”


Unlike Smith, who a day earlier preached patience with the 49ers following their 2-14 record, Rodgers said he expects the organization to make a dramatic improvement in 2005.


“(With a) brand new coach in, bringing the top pick in, I think the expectations are going to be high, and they should be,” Rodgers said. “And the Bay Area should expect this team to be a lot better next year.”


Rodgers, who grew up 150 miles north of San Francisco in Chico, was a fan of the 49ers through his youth. Still, he claims to be blissfully unaware of the possibility that the top pick could be under a lot of pressure.


“The only thing we talked about was just making sure that I felt comfortable during the whole process, just not to put too much pressure on me,” Rodgers said. “But any expectations the media and the team can put on me doesn’t meet up with the expectations I put on myself.”


Rodgers, at 6-foot-2, is two inches shorter than Smith. Both are seen as similar athletes, with Rodgers possessing a stronger throwing arm. However, some NFL scouts see minor, correctable flaws in Smith’s mechanics that should enable him to gain some arm strength.


Smith took all of his college snaps out of the shotgun formation in Urban Meyer’s gimmick offense at Utah, while Rodgers ran a West Coast-type offense under coach Jeff Tedford at Cal.


“It’s a pretty big advantage,” Rodgers said. “Dropping back and making a read is a lot different than catching the ball and being in the pocket already, I think. No offense to him (Smith), he’s a great quarterback and he put up some great numbers, but it’s going to take a little bit of time for him, I think, to get adjusted to doing that.”


The knocks on Rodgers are that he appears too mechanical with the way he holds the ball up high as he drops back and that he has a difficult time reading defenses down the field.


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