Cal's Aaron Rodgers could be the No. 1 pick, but some wonder if he's a product of the system.
By Jeff Darlington Sentinel Staff Writer Posted April 18, 2005
With his introduction complete, he dimmed the lights and kicked a video projector into gear. California Coach Jeff Tedford was ready for the part of the presentation when he showcased his masterpieces.Hundreds of high school football coaches, seated in a large hotel conference room during a Nike coaching clinic in Orlando last month, scribbled notes as the footage flashed across a large screen."Here's what A.J. Feeley looked like when he arrived on Oregon's campus for his freshman year," said Tedford, working the remote control like a paintbrush. "And here's what he looked like doing the same drills before his final season."He then made similar comparisons for Akili Smith, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller, each of whom starred at quarterback under Tedford before being chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. The mechanical improvements weren't just noticeable. They were incredible.One problem: None of those top picks has amounted to much at the next level. Four of Tedford's pupils -- that trio plus Trent Dilfer -- have been first-round picks, but none really has panned out. Some are wondering whether that will cause Tedford's latest masterpiece -- Aaron Rodgers -- to be labeled as a product of his coach's system.The answer to that question could play a role when San Francisco decides whom to choose with the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft.Rodgers and Utah's Alex Smith are the top two quarterbacks in the draft, and both are expected to go in the top five or so picks. Indeed, they could go first and second, in some order.Tedford is quick to defend his former players, noting the youth of Boller (drafted in 2003) and Harrington (2002). He's also fast to point out that Rodgers' development required far less adjustments than most of his previous protégés."All of [Rodgers'] mechanics were very efficient," Tedford said. "When he got to our place, all of the intangibles -- the intelligence, the leadership -- they were all there. He is just really smart. He's just a sharp, sharp guy."We didn't have to do a lot with him. We changed a little bit of his foot angle, and we changed the ball placement a little bit. And we worked on his follow through a little bit. Beside that, he was fairly natural."Smith and Rodgers managed to impress the 49ers during private workouts. Smith (at 6 feet 4) is two inches taller than Rodgers, more mobile and a year younger. But Rodgers, a lifelong 49ers fan who wore a Joe Montana T-shirt underneath his uniform during every game he played at Cal, says he might be more prepared to jump right into action for the team.Smith played in a shotgun system throughout college, which means he'll likely need more time to learn how to operate under center before he's ready for the NFL."It's a pretty big advantage," Rodgers told the San Jose Mercury News. "I mean, just dropping back and making a read is a lot different than catching the ball and being in the pocket, I think."No offense to Alex -- he's a great quarterback and he put up some great numbers -- but it's going to take a little bit of time, I think, for him to adjust to doing that."As for the Tedford factor, Rodgers said he isn't worried about being labeled as a product of the system. He has been defying critics since the start of his career, so he said there's no reason to think that should stop now.Even at the NFL Combine, when many began questioning whether he was tall enough for the next level, he measured in at 6-2, surprising many who had him listed at 1 or 2 inches shorter."They were making a big deal about his height," Tedford said. "He just kept saying, 'I get up every morning and look in the mirror. I knew I was 6-foot-2.' So that didn't surprise either of us."Rodgers has another asset working on his side: He has proved he's extremely capable of picking up a system quickly. He spent his freshman season at Butte College (Calif.) before being discovered by Tedford, who initially was checking out a tight-end recruit on the same team."I was looking all over for a junior-college quarterback, but I couldn't find any," Tedford said. "Then I'm looking at this tight end, and I said, 'Well, who is this quarterback?' "It was Rodgers, who would become Tedford's starting quarterback by the fifth game of the '03 season. He finished the year with 2,903 yards and 19 touchdowns.But plenty of quarterbacks, from Trent Dilfer to David Carr, have succeeded in college under Tedford. Now, Rodgers will attempt to do something else. He'll try to find stardom on the next level, too."I think I'm a guy you can build around," Rodgers told reporters in San Francisco on Wednesday. "I think my leadership style plus my skills combine to make me the kind of guy you can stick into a situation and then bring guys in to make me better and make the team better."