Apr. 12, 2005
By DENNIS GEORGATOS
San Jose Mercury News
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Utah quarterback Alex Smith isn't concerned about his lack of experience in a pro-style offense, saying he'd have no problems fitting into the West Coast scheme favored by the 49ers.
``If I were a big, immobile guy, I'd say that would be a concern,'' Smith said Tuesday before meeting with Coach Mike Nolan and other 49ers officials. ``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, 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, is one of four players under consideration by the team, which has the No. 1 pick in draft April 23-24. The others are Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards and Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle.
Smith was 21-1 as Utah's starter and last season completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 2,952 yards and 32 touchdowns while leading the Utes to a 12-0 record. In his career, he also rushed for 1,072 yards and 10 touchdowns in 286 carries.
But Utah ran a ``gimmick'' offense - one characterized by spread formations and the quarterback taking snaps in the shotgun rather than under center - and this has led to questions about Smith being able to run the 49ers offense.
Smith's pro-day workout in mid-March didn't include many West Coast-oriented plays, so Nolan and several other team officials, along with 49ers wide receivers Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle, went back last week to Salt Lake City. There, they put Smith through a private workout stressing the dropback- and rollout passes common to the pro-style offense.
``I was throwing to receivers I've never thrown to, and doing drills I had never done before,'' Smith said. ``But I think that's the circumstance they wanted to see. They wanted to see how you're going to take coaching, how you're going to adjust on the fly.
``Hopefully, I impressed them enough. But who knows? They don't say much.''
Smith, on the other hand, said plenty Tuesday when asked to evaluate the team he might be joining.
``Obviously, this is a young team and this is not something that's going to be turned around right away,'' Smith said.
``We're not going to be winning Super Bowls next year, I don't imagine, although we'd like to. I think you've got to put in the work and hopefully winning in the end will take care of everything.''
Nolan has made a point of re-establishing the 49ers' lofty expectations, telling players attending a minicamp last week that the goal for next season was to reclaim the NFC West.
Nolan, who was not available for comment, has said that a quarterback drafted No. 1 by the 49ers should expect to play next season, perhaps a lot.
Smith embraced that notion, with some qualification.
``That would be the goal for myself, absolutely, to play early,'' he said. ``You can learn only so much on the sidelines. But 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. But I don't anticipate that.''
Smith's visit was sandwiched between one by Rolle and Edwards on Monday and another today by Rodgers. The 49ers have said they expect to open preliminary contract talks with all four players soon in hopes of reaching agreement with one of them ahead of the draft. The signability of the player, who could command $15-20 million in guaranteed money, could become a factor in the team's decision, though not necessarily an overriding one, Nolan has said.
It has become standard practice for the team with the top pick to open pre-draft contract discussions with one or more players, said agent Leigh Steinberg, who has represented eight No. 1 picks.
``If the 49ers are undecided, for example, over whether to take Alex Smith or Aaron Rodgers, price-point might be the potential decision-maker,'' Steinberg said.
``It's a very astute move on their part because they're giving themselves a head-start on the process and they could gain some leverage and control in terms of an ability to not be backed into a corner by one player.''