When Meyer and Mullen went to Utah, they found Alex Smith languishing on the third team. Smith was very bright, taller than Harris and had a better arm, though not the power and speed. In two years Smith was transformed into the top NFL prospect in the country. Saturday he was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the very first pick in the NFL draft.
Saturday, in a conference call with the 49ers media, Meyer answered some questions about Smith that might give insight into the situation here at Florida where Chris Leak is the latest project of the Meyer-Mullen offensive brainchild.
Asked what kind of player the 49ers were getting with the first draft pick, Meyer responded, "I think he is the best football player that I have ever been around. He is one of those guys if you take his intangibles and put him at any position you will probably get the best player at that particular position. His greatest qualities are competitiveness, intelligence and work ethic. Then on top of that, he is very talented too. I am ecstatic that he was the first player picked and I'm excited that he is in San Francisco."
Meyer was asked if running the option and playing out of the shotgun would hurt Smith at the next level. Meyer felt that Smith would have no problems adapting his game to the NFL. Meyer said that Smith did indeed run option, "maybe 5 to 6 options per game. He dropped back to pass approximately 30 times per game. Our drop back passing game is very similar to that used by some NFL teams, with the difference that at times we are operating from the shotgun. Other than that it is pretty much all the same. He is very effective thrower, whether you're in the shotgun or not. I think that the 49ers are looking at his mechanics, he throws on balance and has a very quick release, and he's extremely accurate. Can he learn to operate under center? Absolutely."
The transition to the new offense wasn't all fun and game. In his first spring at Utah with Meyer and Mullen, Smith struggled at first.
"I think it is well documented, his first spring in our offense he was not a productive player," Meyer said, "because he was coming from a team that ran two tight ends, I-formation, and really did not have much of a passing game. Then he came into our offense, it took a minute to learn it, but once he did, obviously the rest is history and he did a great job with it."
Smith went from a quarterback who rarely used an audible to one who was in complete control of the offense, Meyer said.
"He became so engrossed with the offense that we went from a team that rarely checked and didn't put a whole lot on the quarterback, to this past season, he checked protection, he checked plays and was in complete control of the offense," Meyer said.
Meyer's quarterback at Florida, Chris Leak, has started the last two seasons but this spring he had to pick up a brand new offense. Leak is well known for his hard work studying game film and that's something he has in common with Smith.
"On Sundays, that is their (assistant coaches) day off, he (Smith) would come in and spend 4-6 hours with the coaches studying opponent's film," said Meyer, who went on to talk about how Smith put in the extra hours to prep for New Mexico and its unique 3-3-5 defensive scheme. "We were playing a team that had a very unique scheme, a scheme that took us quite a while to figure out. It was about midnight on Sunday night and it was one of those nights when you have the lights off and the film on for about four straight hours. I looked at my watch and I said 'I need to get these coaches out of here, because it is late and we got to get started at 6 a.m.' when I flipped on the lights, sure enough Alex was still sitting in there. So basically he was there from one o'clock until midnight studying film with the coaches. Now if you want to talk about the intangibles of a college football player or any football player in particular, that's the intangibles that every coach is looking for."
Leak has been criticized for sliding rather than taking a huge hit, but Meyer told the 49ers media that he had to convince Smith that sliding is not such a bad thing to do.
"Yeah I got mad at him quite often because he won't slide," said Meyer. "At one point he was our franchise player, he was a guy, you know on offense you do get hit, and he is a 6-4 guy who wants to try to run over people and run through them. If it is three more yards to run through a guy he is going to try to get it. To be honest with you, he didn't think I was serious when I said 'were going to teach him to slide' and I want him to get down, because he knew what kind of coach I am and I know what kind of player he is. We had to get very firm with him and teach him how to get down and not take that unnecessary hit."
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While Smith went with the first pick of the first round, Florida linebacker Channing Crowder had to wait until the 70th pick (third round) before his name was called. Crowder was selected by the Miami Dolphins, the same team that selected his father Randy out of Penn State 30 years ago.
Asked if the day had been anxious, Crowder responded to the Dolphins media "Not really. Me and a couple of my buddies went fishing, tried to stay away from the TV and not just sit around sweating. It wasn't too long."
Crowder said he was happy to be staying in Florida and pleased that he will be with a team that his father played for.
"My dad played here and Tampa Bay," Crowder said. "That's why I usually watched those teams. It's a blessing to be able to play for the Dolphins."
The Dolphins are coached by former LSU Coach Nick Saban. Crowder had an outstanding game against LSU in 2003 when Florida was the only team to beat LSU's national championship team. Crowder said that he had a lot of respect for Saban when he was at LSU and he looks forward to playing for the coach in Miami.
"It is a great opportunity to be able to play under a coach that we respected so much in the SEC, and in the nation, as a college football coach," he said. "Now him coming to the next level and giving me an opportunity to play with him is great."
Crowder will get a chance to develop his game on a Dolphin defense that features future Hall of Famer Junior Seau and perennial All-Pro middle linebacker Zach Thomas.
"To go with two of the best ever is a great opportunity for me," Crowder said. "I was just thinking about that as soon as they called me. I said 'wow, that's a pretty good opportunity for me, for me personally and my career to work under those two.'"
Asked if it was a down year for Florida considering that he was the first Gator chosen in the draft in the third round, Crowder said that it's nothing to worry about, that the Gators have plenty of good athletes and that the future looks very good in Gainesville.
"It will be a prosperous year and they are going to do great next year under Coach Meyer," he said.