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San Francisco 49er Head Coach Mike Nolan has not had any rest in his quest to bring the team back to being a strong competitor in the NFL. He has completed his coaching staff and resigned critical free agents to be back to the roster. He continues to press ahead with examining potential free agents even after the blockbuster signing of premier offensive tackle Jonas Jennings.
Mike Nolan is also in intense scrutiny along with his counterpart in Vice President/Personnel Director Scott McCloughan in deciding what is to do with the very first overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.
This is a pick that will have enormous bearing on the future of the franchise and is one that has to be played with great care and certainty to avoid future catastrophic seasons ahead.
The pressure has to be overwhelming at times for a man like Mike Nolan. Everyone that is a 49er fan has his or her own take on what it is we should do. I have my own as well but I bow down to those that are the scouts and evaluators of talent that know so much more than I do.
I am confident in the staff that Mike Nolan has assembled and I honestly believe that they are the best ones at identifying and evaluating exactly what it is that we need. Looking at the quarterback position has been targeted as the top priority and the process of finding that elite quarterback that fits and blends in with the West Coast Offense will be critical.
Back in March the San Francisco 49er offensive staff visited Salt Lake City to observe one of the top quarterbacks in this year's NFL draft Utah's Alex Smith. Smith, who has won 21 of his 22 career starts, threw about 80 passes before a contingent of NFL coaches, scouts and interested spectators.
Alex Smith is being considered by the 49ers with their first overall pick after he ranked second nationally in passer efficiency and fifth in total offense while operating most generally out of the shotgun formation in Utah's wide open offense. In this brief workout, he was also observed throwing out of three, five and seven-step drops which is a common normality to the West Coast scheme beginning with the 49ers.
The only thing wrong in this workout is that he did it from a standing up position rather than from under center. Mike Nolan noticed though that Alex Smith is able to adapt to changes in his footwork and is able to throw while on the run.
"He can get better at it," Nolan said. "Even someone who has been doing it for a while, it's rare that you say, 'Wow, they have it nailed down.'"
"He did a very good job delivering the ball," Nolan said of Smith. "There are some little things, but nothing that was not correctable."
"I think everyone appreciated the fact that he worked hard," said Nolan. "The guy is a football player, and he appears very passionate about playing the game."
The San Francisco 49er offensive staff along with Mike Nolan went from this workout to Berkeley to observe a quarterback that seems to have a bit of an edge over Alex Smith in California's Aaron Rodgers. Members from 15 NFL teams, of which the 49ers and Oakland Raiders were a part of observed Rodgers during a demanding workout at Memorial Stadium.
Aaron Rodgers workout lasted just about 40 minutes where he did passing drills where he threw up to 92 passes. He threw these passes to former California teammates LeShaun Ward, Jonathan Makonnen, Kevin Parker and Garrett Cross. He alternated between drop backs and rollouts, in which only one out of his 92 passes went array.
This powerful display of accuracy was reminiscent of a previous stellar performance by Aaron Rodgers against USC last season when he completed 23 consecutive passes to tie an NCAA record.
This workout was very impressive in that Aaron Rodgers threw the ball on the run 50 to 60 yards downfield, each time putting the ball squarely into the hands of his receivers. He threw about a dozen deep outs, which is the hardest pass in the West Coast playbook, and was on the target with all of them.
A very emotional Aaron Rodgers broke in half at the end of the 45-minute workout in which he hugged his receivers and thanked California Head Coach Jeff Tedford "for making me the player I am today."
The glaring difference in this workout in comparison to Alex Smith's workout was that Aaron worked out from under a center. Aaron Rodgers familiarity with the West Coast Offense gives him a slight advantage in the limelight of 49er brass.
"He did extremely well," said 49ers Coach Mike Nolan. "He's very accurate and has a strong arm. Just by what I've seen on film and watching him out here today, Aaron is about as polished a quarterback as I've seen."
"I think they wanted to get some background stuff and test my football IQ," said Aaron Rodgers, who left California with one year remaining of his college eligibility. "I think they were impressed with my knowledge of the game."
Getting another perspective from the opposite of the Bay was Oakland Raider Head Coach Norv Turner well known for his expertise with developing quarterbacks. Turner traded away their first round draft pick in an acquiring elite wide receiver Randy Moss.
"He's got a great feel for all of the throws," said Turner. "He's got great accuracy and a great touch."
"I don't think there's any doubt he's ready," California Coach Jeff Tedford said. "There's going to be a transition period no matter what, to go to the next level. But he's very mature, very mentally tough, so I think he's going to be able to handle that jump."
In all fairness the San Francisco 49er offensive staff had Utah's Alex Smith back in for a private workout where they observed him working from under center to get a more balanced evaluation out of him after being very pleased with California's Aaron Rodgers.
Much of the workout was intended for testing his capability and compatibility with the West Coast offense, a stark contrast to what he's used to playing in a wide-open attack style offense in Utah. 49er wide receivers Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle were on hand to catch passes from Smith in order to give Head Coach Mike Nolan some needed feedback.
Another big difference from this workout compared to his initial workout was that it was conducted outdoors rather than indoors. It is critical to the notion that should Alex Smith be picked he would be playing at Monster Park which is well-renown for its swirling Bay Area cross-winds that create havoc for both quarterbacks and kickers.
"We created a lot of adversity for the player today that was not the way it was in the first workout," Nolan said. "He had to come from under center today, he had to throw to receivers he doesn't normally throw to, and he had to do some things that he hadn't done in college."
Both Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers are being considered as the front-runners for the first pick in the 2005 NFL draft. The San Francisco 49ers obviously based on the 2004 NFL season are in dire need for a quality quarterback that can play right away and stay healthy.
Alex Smith will get a follow-up visit at the 49er practice facility in Santa Clara next Tuesday April 12th and Aaron Rodgers will be invited back on April 13th for his follow-up visit. Other candidates the 49ers are still contemplating on for the first round draft pick include Michigan's wide receiver Braylon Edwards and Miami's cornerback Antrel Rolle scheduled for Monday April 11th.
Mike Nolan as of now has said: "Tim Rattay is still his 2005 starting quarterback unless someone takes it from him." But the pressure has to be building for someone else to take over as Tim sat out the very first 49er mini-camp held under new coach Mike Nolan.
He sat out because of soreness in his right foot. He suffered this injury back on December 5th at St. Louis, which is an offshoot of his torn arch in his foot. Last year, he missed seven total starts nearly half the season because of groin, shoulder, forearm and foot injuries.
"I've got to prove to myself and to everybody that I can stay healthy," Rattay said. "It's still April. I've got plenty of time."
But do you really? That is my question. Tim Rattay was injured and ineffective as a result of these injuries all season long. Yes, it wasn't all his fault operating in a Dennis Erickson offense and working behind a makeshift offensive line that allowed 52 total sacks and non-ending quarterback pressures that would spin your head till it came literally off.
Tim Rattay still faces strong competition from No.2 man Ken Dorsey the main fill-in last season during Rattay's injuries and incurring many himself. And of course Cody Pickett who is looking over his shoulder at knowing the first pick by the 49ers very well could be a new quarterback with a heavy price tag that will demand solid playing time.
Trade rumors have been made about Tim Rattay for a veteran quarterback and much has been said already of his injuries that have kept him sidelined for most of the 2004 season and continue to linger right into the new 2005 season under Mike Nolan. Patience has to be wearing thin on this subject and Nolan will want immediate results from a quarterback right from the very beginning.
Already those results are being put on hold in relation to Tim Rattay. Giving him the benefit of the doubt and proclaiming him the starter for this season is rather precarious because he's standing on the sideline with doctor's promising he'll again be able to play.
It seems like a broken record to me and a sign that despite the offensive lines problems last season, Tim Rattay is not the prototype West Coast quarterback that this team needs heading into a new season. We need to identify who that person is. Ken Dorsey had his fair share of problems as well, so is he the real answer as well?
A draft pick for a quarterback is very necessary. Starting him a bit premature but necessary should no one out of the three on the current roster standout in training camp and pre-season NFL football. Mike Nolan will find the right man for the job, I'm confident in that and he'll find that person.
I've been a Ken Dorsey fan for sometime now but have doubts after his performances in last season's nightmarish games. Could he succeed under new direction and coaching that will reinstate the West Coast brand of offense this franchise covets? I hope he can and if he's even a hair bit healthier than Tim Rattay start him immediately and make him prove he's the man for the job.
Mike Nolan stated with five months still ahead towards opening day to the 2005 NFL season at our very first mini-camp under his direction that the goal is the National Football Conference's Western Division title. Bottom line that is the goal and that is what we'll be fighting for.
Finding the right quarterback will be as critical as ever and even establishing the future quarterback of this franchise will be as equally important when we make this first round draft pick. Exciting times are starting to happen people, I share your anticipation and I welcome the new era we are now immersed in. God be with our blessed 49ers as we rise from the depths of despair to the horizons of promises for tomorrow.