After all the trade talk, first day is no big deal

In the end, speculation simply has no substance

Nfl Draft

April 24, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

It was all smoke and subterfuge, as usual.

The top of the NFL draft yesterday produced no earth-shaking moments and no jaw-dropping trades. What it produced was simply ... draft picks, business as usual.

Still, it took almost 15 minutes each for the San Francisco 49ers to select Utah quarterback Alex Smith and the Miami Dolphins to take Auburn running back Ronnie Brown with the first two picks of the first round.

In the end, there was little discussion outside either team's headquarters and no serious trade offers, just lots of speculation.

Which meant that all that pre-draft dialogue about who was going where and at what cost was nothing more than lip service, proving once again the draft is nothing if not a study in misinformation.

"There was no talk on the phone with any teams at that time," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said of his 15-minute waltz with the draft clock.

In fact, Nolan admitted that at no point in the entire process did he receive a concrete offer for the right to make the first pick in the draft. There were only discussions.

In Miami, new Dolphins coach Nick Saban suggested he never would have considered trading the second pick -- even if he had received an offer. He wanted Brown, who, he said, "put half of our [LSU] defensive team in the training room for a week every time we played him."

"We always felt this guy was our guy. It was the best fit for us," Saban continued.

What happened to Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden's interest in Smith? It had been reported Gruden was willing to swap his fifth pick for the chance to move up and claim the top quarterback.

After Gruden chose Auburn running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, he acknowledged he had a preference for Brown's running mate as early as the Senior Bowl, in which his Tampa staff coached the college all-stars.

Williams said he got the impression at those Senior Bowl workouts that he had a match in Tampa, as well.

Such are the vagaries of the draft.

Nolan said he started leaning toward Smith after a peculiar, second workout he put the quarterback through earlier this month. The 49ers instructed Smith to perform a timed jump-rope exercise, then to spin the ball around various parts of his body in a figure eight. Nonsensical stuff.

"It was awkward," Smith said. "It was very strange. ... I think they wanted to take me out of my comfort zone. They wanted to see how I was going to react."

And how did he react?

"I kept my mouth shut and went to work," he said.

Nolan was impressed.

"I wanted to see if he was ready to go do what we told him to do," the coach said. "Everything in that workout was kind of out of the norm. Not everything, I take that back. Several things."

The result was a long, torturous drop in the draft for California quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who landed with a thud at pick 24 as the heir apparent to Brett Favre with the Green Bay Packers.

Rodgers had operated a West Coast offense at Cal similar to the one the 49ers will run. He was considered the quarterback most ready to play. At one point, he was even the favorite to go No. 1. Even though Smith ran his Utah offense out of the shotgun almost exclusively, he got the call.

"Aaron comes from a system that fits," Nolan said. "Who's more athletic and has more upside? Yes, Alex."

The competition between Smith, Rodgers and wide receiver Braylon Edwards of Michigan was all a ruse, too, Nolan admitted. The notion that the 49ers needed a deal with one of the three beforehand was an unintentional slip of the tongue.

"The signability was never a factor," Nolan said. "It was important to utilize that position to try to get something done."

Smith, represented by agent Tom Condon, said he thinks an agreement is close.

"It is something that I don't believe is going to be an issue at all and will get done before camp," Smith said.

Nolan expects Smith will beat out incumbent quarterback Tim Rattay between now and the start of the season. Smith was making no bold proclamations, however.

"If I had it my way, I would [start as a rookie]," he said. "I think Coach Nolan is smart. He's not going to throw me into the fire when it's a bad situation for me."

As odd as the process was in San Francisco, there was one more irregularity yesterday. After making the pick, amid rumors the 49ers still might trade Smith, Nolan admitted he would listen to offers, but only through Saturday.

"I will remain open today to certain discussions," he said. "As the day goes forward, I am less and less likely [to make a trade]. ... It would take an awful lot to do anything."

Saban, meanwhile, was simply infatuated with Brown, 6 feet and 233 pounds, who shared carries with Williams at Auburn.

"We thought he had the best speed, the best hands and also the most power of any player that we could pick at his position or just about any other position," Saban said.

Saban said Brown was the top-rated player on his draft board, even though at one stage he professed an interest in moving up to claim Smith.

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