Fair or not, Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers will forever be linked. The first two quarterbacks drafted in 2005, Smith was taken No. 1 by the 49ers, and Rodgers, who many thought was worthy of the top pick, sat in the green room for several uncomfortable hours until the Packers took mercy on him and selected him 24th overall.
Now more than six years later, Rodgers is a Super Bowl champ and Smith is, well, still trying to establish himself as a competent NFL quarterback. It hasn't helped that Smith has had a revolving door of head coaches, offensive coordinators and new offenses to learn. But things are different in San Francisco. New coach Jim Harbaugh gives Smith something he hasn't had previously: stability and support.
Way back in June, just as the lockout was heating up, Harbaugh said Smith's decision to return to the 49ers required "a rare kind of character, it probably falls somewhere in the endangered and extinct range, so we can win with that."
Smith eventually agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal and all indications are that he will be the starters in 2011, despite the team taking Colin Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 draft.
Harbaugh recently appeared on San Diego sports radio to talk about Smith's role with the team this season (via SportsRadioInterviews.com).
"Yes he can (develop into a good starting quarterback). The things that have occurred over the first seven years of Alex’s career have been good," Harbaugh said. "There has been some tough times, but all those experiences I believe lead to success. You never know what path it is going to take or what’s going to transpire to get Alex and our franchise to where we want to go, so just with continuous effort just keep plugging away and he’s done a great job of that. He’s been mentally tough guy. He’s been physically tough and a strong young man. It’s been a pleasure to work with him and hopefully we are doing everything we can to make our team better and get Alex and us where we want to go.”
The Seattle Seahawks look to take the division once again as the Cardinals, 49ers and Rams are eager to take the top spot. Who will finish on top? NFL.com's Pat Kirwan joins Jason Horowitz to preview the NFC West this season.
Smith may not have much in the way of actual results to show for it, but he's proven through his actions that he's a tough dude. Of course, the NFL scrap heap if full of guys who could take a beating. Having a high tolerance for pain doesn't magically equate to success. But again, that could have more to do with the transient nature of the 49ers' coaching staff during Smith's career than his ability to lead a team.
We've often wondered what Rodgers' career would look like if he ended up in San Francisco. Maybe they would be coming off a championship season. More likely: they wouldn't be much different than the team we see now. Yes, franchise quarterbacks are vitally important, but having a steady presence in the front office can't be understated, either.
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