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Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

Three Long Years

The fortunes of quarterbacks Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers have shifted since the 2005 NFL draft

August 16, 2008|Sam Farmer

SAN FRANCISCO -- It was so clear back then, in April 2005, when quarterbacks Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers were selected in the NFL draft.

There was nothing murky that day about who won and who lost.

Smith was taken No. 1 overall by the San Francisco 49ers, and Rodgers -- once thought to be in the running for the top pick -- languished for almost five hours before Green Bay took him 24th.

The cash disparity told the story. Smith's contract guaranteed him $24.5 million -- almost five times as much as Rodgers was assured. And whereas Smith would play right away, Rodgers would wait again, holding a clipboard for the most durable quarterback in NFL history.

A winner and a loser?

These days, it's not so easy to say.

Smith is in a three-way fight to keep his starting job. J.T. O'Sullivan will start tonight in an exhibition against Green Bay, ahead of Smith and Shaun Hill.

San Francisco is coming off a season in which its offense was ranked last in the league in most major categories, so cover-your-eyes horrible that the 49ers will have to take a significant step forward to simply be bad.

Meanwhile, Rodgers is finally Green Bay's starter but -- thanks to Brett Favre's flip-flopping fiasco -- his situation is far from ideal. Some fans blame Rodgers for the fact Favre is gone, traded last week to the New York Jets, and they aren't shy about saying so. Rodgers said recently that even kids in Green Bay cuss at him.

But at least the organization has faith in him. Smith isn't sure he can say as much. He sat in the 49ers locker room after a morning practice this week, long after his teammates had gone, and talked about how wide-eyed he was on draft day. How could he have guessed that now he'd be on his fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons?

"You never envision that's going to happen," he said. "I think I was naive in the sense that I was 20 and I thought, 'Oh, man, I'm going to the NFL. I'm going to get the best coaching in the world. I'm going to develop. I'm going to get the chance to really progress. . . . ' And I feel like that's just been handicapped in the sense that every year you're just trying to reboot. You erase everything and have to start all over."

This week was especially trying for Smith, because he was dealing with the suicide of David Edwards, 24, one of his best friends from high school. Smith was excused from Friday's walk-through practice to attend the memorial service, which was held at his parents' home in San Diego, but is expected to be ready for tonight's game.

Financial considerations aside -- and Smith is entirely believable when he says he's not focused on that -- he has envied the stability Rodgers has enjoyed for the last three years, learning one system at the elbow of a future Hall of Famer.

"I look at Aaron, and obviously it's a completely different world," Smith said. "The financial security for my family is one thing, but to have gone through what I've gone through the last four years -- and a lot of early picks have to go through that -- it's hard. I've learned a lot."

It's not as if Smith hasn't gotten a chance to show what he can do, nor is he the first quarterback to endure a revolving door of coordinators. In 30 career starts, he has 19 touchdown passes with 31 interceptions.

Smith had a shoulder injury last season resulting in surgery in December. That led to ill will between Smith and Coach Mike Nolan, who essentially questioned the quarterback's toughness by suggesting there wasn't a significant problem with his shoulder.

Nolan said Smith was calmer this season and had "a little bit better command of the huddle and line of scrimmage."

Still, the coach said he had yet to make a decision about which quarterback would start when the regular season begins.

That's not the case in Green Bay, where the Packers have thrown all their support behind Rodgers. He played well behind Favre but was frequently injured.

After practice Thursday, Rodgers, a Northern California native who played in college for Cal, told reporters he had nothing to prove tonight to the 49ers for their decision not to use the No. 1 pick on him.

Meanwhile, Packers Coach Mike McCarthy suggested that greater forces were at work that enabled Green Bay to land Rodgers after so many other teams passed on him.

"I think it's bigger than all of us," McCarthy said. "I'm a big believer things happen for a reason. He came to Green Bay for a reason. I think his path, when it's all said and done, will be the best path for him."

So who won and who lost? That game's still being played.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Mixed signals

Quarterbacks selected in the 2005 NFL draft (R-Round; P-Pick number), the college they played for, NFL teams that selected them and their current status:

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