Article Title: Our future Young
San Francisco 49er head coach Mike Nolan and Vice President of Personnel Scott McCloughan had a tough decision to make prior to the 2005 NFL draft. And that was to decide the foundation of the franchise as an entity in the league and establish a new face and image for the old red and gold.
With the first pick of the 2005 NFL draft the San Francisco 49ers select University of Utah’s quarterback Alex Smith. Smith will just turn 21 years of age on May 7th, 2005.
He comes to the 49ers with a very impressive resume and top- notch football experience, in fact the ultimate aspect that swayed head coach Mike Nolan into choosing Alex Smith over California’s Aaron Rodgers was in his words, “His intangibles.”
Alex Smith has graduated from the University of Utah in just two years after entering school as an academic junior. He has made it abundantly clear to the vast football public and to the San Francisco faithful themselves that contract negotiations will not be an issue for him in getting into football shape and participating in training camp.
“That is something between my agent and them, specifics that I don’t even understand,” Smith said. “I believe we are close; it is something that I don’t believe is going to be an issue at all and will get done before camp.”
If there is anything Smith can reflect on it is what other first round picks have done with being selected and how they are supposed to react. He has handled the selection with honor and with class all in one, something former first round selection Quarterback Ryan Leaf did not do after being selected by the San Diego Chargers in 1998.
Everyone including myself can think back and reflect on what Ryan Leaf did after being injured in 1999, he was suspended for four weeks without pay and fined another week after what teammates said was an obscenity-laced tirade at then general manager Bobby Beathard and other San Diego Charger officials. His outrageous temperament and demeanor were atrocities to the professional football image.
“I learned a lot of what not to do,” Smith said at his inaugural news conference. “Especially in him, you see how the money, I think got to his head.”
Alex Smith wants to please the 49er faithful he has a mission to fulfill now more than ever. He wants to be worthy the status of being selected as the NFL’s number one athlete and he is determined to learn quickly and excel at diagnosing Mike McCarthy’s offensive playbook.
The 20-year-old quarterback can already be seen carrying the very thick playbook of offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy around under his arm. He has even gone on record as saying it was, “absolutely vital” that he attend the team’s next mini-camp May 6-8.
He has a target of expectation and that is an expectation to please not only his coaches but also the vast sea of red and gold that is considered the 49er faithful like us.
“I can’t think any higher of myself because I was selected with this pick,” he said. “In fact, I see it the other way around. I’ve become hungrier now, more willing to prove it was the right selection.”
The San Francisco 49ers had their eyes set on Alex Smith almost right from the very beginning, even as California’s Aaron Rodgers appeared to be a more polished West Coast style type quarterback. During Alex Smith’s second workout with the 49ers he was asked to do some very peculiar things.
He was handed a jump rope after warming up and throwing the football. He was then asked to do exercises jumping rope on one foot, in a square and over a line. He was then given a ball and told to spin it around on his foot, around his ankles, figure eights between his legs, around his head and waist and was timed and measured at those things and at how many times and rapidly he could perform these tasks.
As strange as that may all seem and it was very to Alex Smith at the time, it was a process that is determined to be successful at judging an athlete out of his normal progressions or state of mind so to speak.
Altering his comfort zone to an extreme and to see how he performs under stress and to see his reactions and mannerisms. This is where you are able to determine the chemistry of an athlete’s personality and how it will be associated with taking direction out on the field with his coaches.
Although mystified at what they were trying to obtain from him and have him do, Alex Smith must have performed these strange tasks with some precision to sway the coaches to select him as their first round draft choice. He also made comments to what the overall goal of the organization should and shouldn’t be.
Some references were made on his part as that the 49ers would not be reaching the Super Bowl in 2005, and that expectations are not supposed to be all that high. Being in the limelight of all that is being a San Francisco 49er Alex Smith realizes that pre-snap comments aren’t always the best way to start a serious discussion on where we are going in the immediate present and the future.
“I guess I am not planning anything. It would be stupid for me to guess a record right now, I mean obviously the goal is to win the first game, then after that win the second game, I know it is cliché but it is the truth. We’re not looking at a sixteen-game season trying to go 8-8, it is definitely not the case, you’re trying to win each and every game, and that is the goal. We’re playing this game to win, were not out there for mediocrity, and that is why were doing this. Absolutely though, it is about taking one game at a time.”
In my opinion these words hold the truth to the matter and that is to be patient and approach every game with the intention of winning at all costs. We don’t expect miracles to happen the very first year after a (2-14) season obviously to do so would be ridiculous. But we do expect a measure of immediate improvement under new guidance and better player personnel with one being Alex Smith.
The excitement is building inside of Alex Smith relentlessly as we speak. Immediately after he was picked you could see the glowing reality upon his face that this was his moment. Alex Smith has been cast into a limelight that will test him right from the very beginning and shake every physical and mental fiber of his being. All things he is accustomed to on the college level but at a professional one we wait and see.
He wants to be the starter at quarterback for this proud franchise and try to erase the painful manifestations that took place right before our eyes throughout the 2004 NFL season. He will compete against current starting quarterback Tim Rattay and he’ll be determined to make a case for himself throughout training camp and pre-season.
When he was approached and asked in his opinion if he would start this season he responded with a flair of self-conviction: “You know what, if I had it my way I would. I think when and where, it is going to depend on a lot of things. First of all, me and how I adapt and how I take the coaching and how fast I learn the system and how fast I develop. You know, I think of the system that I am in and the other players around me, I think Coach Mike Nolan is smart, he’s not going to throw me into the fire when it’s a bad situation for me. He’s going to get me in at the right time and really let me grow.”
Alex Smith graduated after only two years of school with a bachelor’s degree in Economics, attaining a 3.74 grade point average and is currently pursuing his master’s degree. He has attained a 21-1 record as a starter and has become the first player in school history to become a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
He was named the Sporting News Offensive Player of the Year in 2004. He attained a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 6.1:1, which is best among all passers that played college football in 2004. These are unbelievable statistics and records that make Alex Smith a quarterback for the ages to come.
His former coach at the University of Utah Urban Meyer spoke highly of his gifted quarterback and what he believes are all the right traits for a San Francisco 49er quarterback. Mike Nolan head coach of the 49ers made his mind up about Alex Smith being his first round draft choice on the Thursday before the weekend of the 2005 NFL draft.
“He brings discipline, competitiveness and intelligence to the table. He is off the charts in all three areas, but I think one of the areas he doesn’t get enough credit for is his competitiveness,” Meyer said. “His intelligence level has been well documented, but his competitive nature is equal to his intelligence.”
In Mike Nolan’s thought processes are images of Alex Smith leading the 49ers back through the gates of their sixth Super Bowl. It is Alex Smith that will help guide us to a division championship and eventually deep into the playoffs. This pick a calculated gamble on the part of Mike Nolan needs to come with a huge payoff for his collective longevity as a coach.
The chemistry from their first meeting as coach and quarterback during workouts and drills tell us that Mike Nolan saw something and heard something he desired in a quarterback. He admits that the gender of the conversations that took place between them really won his admiration and his collective attention.
Both coach and player seemed to be on the same page as they talked to one another and spoke a language that we can only read about as far as their interests go.
“He’s a very competitive individual; very hard-working and has been a winner all along. He has shown completion with everything that he has done, from the standpoint of graduating (college) to winning,” Nolan said.
“One of the things that is really important is that his work ethic is extremely high. In order to have a great football team, as was the case here in the past and has been the case with other successful teams, their best workers are their best players. The best teams are that way. There are good teams with good players that aren’t necessarily good workers. In our case we want to surround ourselves with hard workers.”
Just a few weeks before the 2005 NFL draft Mike Nolan had Alex Smith visit 49er headquarters at the Santa Clara complex. Here they gave him yet another workout and studied game film on him extensively in conjunction with offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy. They asked Smith to make a play call against a certain defense, and then an alternate call, and then another.
The end of that visit, on April 12th, cemented the deal in Nolan’s head that this was the gut that would lead us into the Promised Land.
It was right then and there that California’s Aaron Rodgers was ejected out of the picture and he ended up waiting at a table for his name to be called with the 24th selection by the Green Bay Packers. It is our hope based upon Alex Smith’s quick grasp of complicated academics and football ideology that he’ll be ready to participate right away at the NFL level.
His former coach in Urban Meyer, at the University of Utah, believes Smith may struggle early grasping the sophisticated concepts of a pro offense. Smith is not an improvisational master quarterback like, say, Brett Favre or even our very own Jeff Garcia. Alex Smith is a proven system quarterback. Once he learns the system, Meyer said, he thrives. And he is never unprepared.
Right after the 49ers drafted Alex Smith offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy presented highlight film for reporters, pinpointing four of Alex Smith’s strengths: Decision making, athletic ability, anticipation and accuracy.
One of the most impressive plays on film was Smith faking a handoff then took off running around left end. He reached the sideline, and then cut back. Then cut back again. He didn’t stop running until he was in the end zone.
He was also seen completing a pass right into tight coverage. He is able to step up in the pocket in the face of a fierce pass rush and delivered a strike, leading the receiver perfectly. He was able to read the pass coverage and found an open receiver.
It wasn’t that far back ago that the San Francisco 49ers had made a huge error in drafting a nationally premier quarterback in 1997 when they drafted Jim Druckenmiller in the first round, wowed by his powerful physique and throwing arm. Smith doesn’t have a cannon of an arm but he is exceptionally accurate as were Joe Montana and Steve Young.
When you think about the 49er offense passing accuracy is far more important than velocity is. Smith completed 66.3% of his passes at Utah with 47 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
“He is the best quarterback I have ever been around and the best one I have seen on tape. That’s in 19 years,” said former Utah coach Urban Meyer, now Florida’s coach. “The more he got hit, the stronger he got,” Meyer said.
In that perspective we hope that with new offensive line additions through the draft that his days of being hit and ending back on the ground are over. Allowing 52 sacks last year and countless many more pressures the 49ers must turn a new chapter over in pass protection.
Mike Nolan understands that all great quarterbacks must be surrounded with talent making sure the offensive line is in sync and on the same page will be a big key to his success. Smith knows what the past has done to the 49er faithful and is ready to accept all challenges head on.
“Obviously you need people around you,” Smith said. “I feel like with time and experience, absolutely I can carry more of a load on my shoulders, carry a team and get a lot done.”
Alex Smith’s very favorite quarterback was Steve Young, and they have been in contact with each other since the latest Super Bowl. Now it is his time to establish a legacy like Steve Young and even Jeff Garcia before he was run out of town.
Now it is Alex Smith’s time to shine and prove himself reliable and accountable. He will need to establish that leadership early on at mini-camps and throughout training camp.
I am excited like all of you are out there, and I am hungry for some football as well. If Smith can duplicate or even muster enough talent and ability to be a major percentage of the one and only Steve Young we’ll be going places soon.