Note: With college pro days and private workouts in full swing, and with the 49ers once again shopping for a quarterback, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit these two blasts from the 2005 past. These were printed in something called a "newspaper" in the pre-blog days. Warning: side effects for 49ers fans include: regret, sorrow, dog kicking, sausage fingers, christian pondering, enlarged adam's apple (only in women), the tingles, moon rage and the sensation of a phantom "third" ear. If problems persist beyond the draft, call your physician immediately.
April 24, 2005: 49ers jump at chance for Smith
SANTA CLARA -- When 49ers coaches arrived in Salt Lake City to work out Alex Smith last month, the Utah quarterback figured he would spend the afternoon running sprints and throwing out routes. Instead, coach Mike Nolan handed him a jump-rope.
In a workout more befitting a schoolchild at recess than a would-be NFL quarterback, the 49ers had Smith skip rope, play four-square, hop on one foot and roll a ball through his legs.
"It was awkward," Smith recalled Saturday. "It was very strange, and we did some drills afterward that were pretty peculiar. I think they wanted to take me out of my comfort zone. They wanted to see how I'd react."
As it turns out, he reacted just fine. The 49ers made Smith, who won't turn 21 until May 7, the top pick in the NFL draft Saturday and, more importantly, the new face of a franchise trying to crawl out of the league's basement.
Nolan said he continued to deliberate among Smith, Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards until Thursday, when he finally settled on Smith. When asked how Smith separated himself from Rodgers, the Chico native who grew up adoring the 49ers, Nolan pointed to a long list of what he called Smith's intangibles.
He said he liked Smith's passion for the game. Smith routinely helped his Utah coaches draw up game plans, at one point staying up until 1 a.m. on his one day off. Nolan said he liked Smith's size and athleticism. After the selection, the team ran game film of the 6-foot-4 quarterback faking opponents and outrunning them down the sideline to the end zone.
And Nolan liked Smith's intelligence. The economics major earned his degree in a little over two years, and 49ers coaches expect him to make a quick transition from the spread offense he ran at Utah to the West Coast version in San Francisco.
"Aaron - he's going to be good quarterback for some of the same reasons," Nolan said. "But you never have two guys who are the same. Somebody has to be better."
One school of thought suggests the 49ers had decided on Smith early but kept Rodgers and the rest of the football world guessing in an effort to trigger a trade. Trade rumors swirled wildly in the days leading up to the draft, but the 49ers' phones were silent when it was their turn to pick. Nolan said he fielded a few offers in recent days - some involving current starting quarterback Tim Rattay - but that no one offered him enough to give up Smith.
Asked if Rattay will be asked to groom Smith this season, Nolan said no. "I envision Tim competing with Alex," he said. "That's what Tim's role will be - to compete with him. If you had an older, more experienced quarterback, there might be a different role, but I think in Tim's mind, he'll see it that way."
Amid all the cheer and celebration at 49ers headquarters, however, there was a practical concern. The team negotiated contracts with all three No. 1 candidates but reached a stalemate with Smith's agent, Tom Condon. Condon also represents New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, last year's top pick. Condon wants a slightly better contract than Manning's six-year deal, which is worth up to $54 million and includes $20 million in guaranteed money.
At issue are the final two years of the deal, which the 49ers - no strangers to salary cap entanglements - feel are weighted too heavily in Manning's favor and shouldn't be used as a model. Earlier in the week, Nolan noted that the Giants didn't have a chance to negotiate with Manning before last year's draft and that he was awarded a "blockbuster" contract as a result.
Still, both Smith and Nolan insisted a deal would be struck. "It will get done as all contracts do," Nolan said. "I'm confident of that."
Said Smith: "I believe we are close. It's something that I don't believe is going to be an issue at all and will get done before camp." The team's next minicamp runs May 6-8, and Smith is expected to attend.
The 49ers spent the rest of the day building the team around the top selection.
In the second round, they picked David Baas, a 6-41/2, 320-pound offensive lineman from Michigan. Baas spent most of his senior season at center but will compete with Eric Heitmann for the right guard spot. The team also sent fourth- and sixth-round choices to Philadelphia to get Oregon offensive tackle Adam Snyder at the end of the third round.
Earlier in the third round, the 49ers took Miami running back Frank Gore, one of the most promising runners in the nation until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in both knees. Nolan described the 217-pounder as a tough runner who will push Kevan Barlow.
"Kevan is our starting back - that needs to be known," Nolan said. "But where things start and where they end up - we'll let the players decide that." The 49ers will kick off Day 2 of the draft the way they did the first day - with the top pick. They have seven total picks today and are expected to target a receiver, defensive lineman and, possibly, a second quarterback.
In other news, Nolan said he "didn't foresee" the team signing troubled wideout David Boston. Nolan also reiterated his position that receiver Jerry Rice would not be a good fit with his old team.
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March 18, 2005: Rodgers, nearly flawless, passes 49ers test>
BERKELEY -- Aaron Rodgers isn't making it easy for the 49ers.
A day after Utah quarterback Alex Smith wowed NFL coaches and scouts at his private workout in Salt Lake City, the strong-armed Rodgers was on target on all but one of 92 passes during his own private session at Cal's Memorial Stadium.
"I thought he did extremely well," said 49ers coach Mike Nolan, who is eyeing Rodgers and Smith with the No. 1 overall draft pick next month. "I don't think he missed but maybe one throw when it started. Other than that, he put them all right there."
As was the case in Utah, Nolan was joined Thursday by offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, quarterbacks coach Jim Hostler and personnel director Scot McCloughan. Other NFL notables included Raiders coach Norv Turner, Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow and new Dolphins coach Nick Saban, who holds the second pick in the draft.
"The ball only was on the ground one time," Saban said of Rodgers' performance. "That says something. It was an excellent workout."
Though Nolan continues to maintain that there are as many as six college players worthy of the top draft pick, the 49ers' biggest need is at quarterback. The three passers on the roster are seventh-round draft picks, and last year's starter, Tim Rattay, missed half of the season because of an assortment of injuries.
Rattay had surgery two months ago to repair his right forearm, and Nolan said the quarterback is "iffy" for the team's April 1-3 minicamp.
Nolan was wary Thursday of comparing Smith and Rodgers but did note that Rodgers is the most polished college quarterback he has evaluated so far. While Smith mostly took snaps in the shotgun formation at Utah, the offense Rodgers ran at Cal should make for an easier transition to the pros, Nolan said.
Rodgers also picked up on that difference.
"You've got to be able to sit in the pocket and throw the ball," he said after his workout. "I think that's what gives me a slight advantage right now. I operated under center every snap."
Cal coach Jeff Tedford said Rodgers' showing Thursday was no different than what he saw during practice last fall. Rodgers is very good at finding a rhythm, Tedford said, noting the quarterback's remarkable string of completions last October against top-ranked USC.
"That's how you complete (23) balls in a row in a game - because the ball never hits the ground," Tedford said. "That's what's expected and what he expects from himself."
Notes - Nolan said he would not attend Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards' workout today in Ann Arbor, Mich., but that McCloughan and receivers coach Jerry Sullivan will be on hand.
* The 49ers still are interested in acquiring David Boston, but Nolan will not decide about the receiver until next month.
* In addition to Rattay, defensive end Andre Carter (back), tackle Kwame Harris (shoulder), center Jeremy Newberry (tonsils) and defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga (back) could miss next month's minicamp.
-- Matt Barrows