By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
Wednesday, April 13, 2005 (04-13) 18:40 PDT Santa Clara, Calif. (AP) --
Though Aaron Rodgers has been to sunny Miami and chilly Cleveland while auditioning for a spot in the NFL, he hopes he'll get to stay close to home with his favorite team.
The California quarterback spent Wednesday at the San Francisco 49ers' training complex, meeting with coaches and trainers as the club finished its four in-depth interviews with the finalists to be the first overall pick in next week's draft.
Rodgers' arm strength, poise and experience in the West Coast offense make him attractive to the 49ers, who are leaning toward selecting a quarterback — either Rodgers or Utah's Alex Smith — who will be their starter next season.
And though the 49ers earned the pick by compiling the NFL's worst record under fired coach Dennis Erickson, Rodgers is confident he could help Mike Nolan's new coaching staff rebuild a winner.
"I think I'm a guy you can build around," Rodgers said. "I think my leadership style plus my skills combined 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."
Rodgers met with the Browns and the Dolphins in recent days, and he went through a private workout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday. But he had long been looking forward to his visit with the Niners after rooting for them as a kid in upstate Chico.
"It's been very exciting coming here. It's my childhood team growing up," Rodgers said. "It's been kind of surreal, this whole process. I'm just feeling very confident that they've got the right people in the right places here in San Francisco to be successful — just talking with Coach Nolan, just seeing how passionate he is about bringing this team back to the standards that were set in the late '80s and early '90s."
Just two years ago, Rodgers was an unknown junior college quarterback who hadn't been recruited by Division I schools. Everything changed when Cal coach Jeff Tedford saw him on a scouting tape of tight end Garrett Cross, Rodgers' teammate at Butte Junior College.
Tedford, the quarterback guru who helped launch the careers of Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller, anointed Rodgers as his next protege. Rodgers became the Golden Bears' starter early in the 2003 season, leading Cal to a victory in the Insight Bowl.
Rodgers was outstanding last season, passing for 2,566 yards and 24 touchdowns despite losing his four top receivers for significant portions because of injuries. He led Cal to its highest national ranking since 1952 before losing to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl, and he passed up his senior season to turn pro.
While Tedford transformed Rodgers into a star and a potential No. 1 pick, the coach's distinct teaching methods have led many scouts to worry about Rodgers' mechanical style. Rodgers holds the ball high and tight while dropping back to pass with precise footwork, and Rodgers acknowledged some people don't think he looks like an NFL quarterback.
"Being mechanical is not a bad thing," Rodgers said. "I think it's better than holding the ball lower and patting the ball, or taking one of your hands off the ball or something. I do the same thing every time, and the ball is high, and it gets out of my hand quick."
Rodgers was the last of the top prospects who visited Santa Clara this week. Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards and Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle visited Monday, and Smith was in town Tuesday.
The 49ers have spoken to agents for all four players in preliminary groundwork for contract talks. More serious talks will begin soon, and the Niners' ability to sign each player could play a role in their choice.
Rodgers' agent, Mike Sullivan, was in Santa Clara with his player.
"I'll be excited (with) anywhere I get picked," Rodgers said. "Obviously, being able to stay in the Bay and have the caravan from Chico come down to all the games would be great. But I'm excited either way, and it's been a great process."