Nolan Looks At QBs
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 17, 2005

IF HE DECIDES to draft Aaron Rodgers, 49er coach Mike Nolan won’t listen to the NFL people who believe that Jeff Tedford-coached quarterbacks can’t make it in the NFL.

Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, David Carr and Joey Harrington were coached by Tedford when he was an assistant at Fresno State and Oregon, and Kyle Boller was Tedford’s protégé when Jeff became the head coach at Cal. All were first-round draft picks but Smith was a bust, Dilfer has been only an average quarterback and Harrington has been a disappointment. Carr has shown flashes of greatness but not yet the needed consistency. Boller hasn’t played enough to show whether he was deserving of that No. 1 selection.

“They’re all different,” Nolan said, after observing Rodgers’ workout at Cal.“I remember there were some red flags raised about Akili when he came out, but people chose to ignore them.

“I think Joey may still be a topnotch quarterback. He needs to learn patience. He was only sacked seven times last year, which is good, but it also means he didn’t always give his receivers a chance to get open. It was 1-2-3 and let fly. A lot of young quarterbacks are that way. I remember that Steve Young, when he was at Tampa, threw in a hurry and to the other team. When he came to the 49ers and got in a better system, he because a great quarterback.”

Nolan hasn’t said who the 49ers will draft in their No. 1 slot, and he won’t for some time yet because there’s always a chance the team will trade that pick. It’s unlikely they can, though, because there’s no consensus among teams about the best player in the draft, an indication that there are several relatively equal players. That makes the very first pick much less attractive, especially since a player chosen in that position commands the highest salary.

If they keep that pick, I think the Niners will go for a quarterback, even though it’s a risky pick because teams have traditionally made more mistakes in evaluating quarterbacks than stars at other positions.

THE QUARTERBACK choice is obviously between Rodgers and Utah’s Alex Smith. Nolan has had a chance to see both in individual workouts, with Smith’s coming aa day earlier at Utah. Smith’s workout reportedly was very impressive. I know Rodgers was also impressive because I saw it – and Craig Morton, who knows something about quarterbacking, said it was “a great workout.”

Nolan said Rodgers’ workout was a little more rigorous, because Tedford made it that way. The Cal coach had his quarterback do everything that would be required by a pro team. On some plays, he had Tedford darting back and forth as if he were eluding rushers and then throwing very accurate passes on the run. To end the workout, he let Rodgers show off his arm by throwing 65- and 70-yard passes, seemingly effortlessly.

That underscored how much different Rodgers’ season would have been if Chase Lyman had not been injured. Lyman was the deep threat he needed to open up the offense. With Lyman out – and injuries to other older receivers, too – Rodgers had fewer passing options, and Tedford chose to emphasize the running game.

In his workout, though, Rodgers demonstrated to coaches and scouts that he can make all the throws. At the end of the workout, Tedford asked the NFL people if there was anything else they wanted to see. Nobody spoke up. “I don’t know what else he could possibly have shown us,” Nolan said.

ONE INTERESTING aspect of the choice between Smith and Rodgers is that both quarterbacks are exceptionally smart. Smith finished his economic degree in two years, with a 3.74 GPA. Rodgers reportedly scored well over 1300 on the SAT.

While conceding that both Smith and Rodgers are above average in intelligence, Nolan said he thought a quarterback had to be “in the top range of the curve” to make it. “It’s not just playing the game,” he said, “but all the things that go with it, the responsibility, dealing with the media. You can’t do that if you’re not intelligent.”

Intelligence by itself, though, is not enough. Jeff George is intelligent and he has a great arm, too, but he has the personality of a banana slug. When he was with the Raiders and I asked him about leadership, he told me, “I don’t want to be a leader.” That helps explain why George’s teams have almost always been big losers.

There’s no question about Rodgers, a confident young man who is a born leader, and Nolan said he thought Smith had good leadership ability, too.

Nolan has already spent quite a bit of time with both Smith and Rodgers, and he said he’d have both players visit him at the 49ers facility in Santa Clara before draft day. “We’re allowed to bring in as many as 20 players,” he said, “though I doubt we’ll bring in that many. With the quarterbacks, it will be more of a mental workout than a physical one. We want to get a chance to see how their minds work, letting them talk about their approach, not just asking them questions.”

MOST NFL teams have had Smith ahead of Rodgers on their draft boards. Based on that, I wrote earlier that Smith would probably be a better choice, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if they chose Rodgers. I feel cheated because I could only watch him for two years at Cal, but watching him through a long, productive career as a 49er would more than make up for that.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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