Niners making the rounds to answer QB question

Alex Smith today, Aaron Rodgers tomorrow. Mike Nolan and his 49ers brain trust are making the rounds at Utah and Cal this week to study the top two college quarterback prospects at their Pro Day workouts, and they'll be looking closely at a few things in particular from two guys who potentially could be the team's choice with the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL draft.

Nolan got a glimpse at Smith and Rodgers at the NFL Combine last month, meeting both players face-to-face for the first time. But the 15-minute interview sessions allotted to each team with each prospect hardly was enough time for the 49ers' new coach to get the up-close-and-personal look at each prospect that he craved.

So Nolan went the sneaky route.

With Smith and Rodgers off in the distance at the RCA Dome while other prospects participated in drills, Nolan broke away from the action and wandered over to the two quarterbacks.

"I don't know if this is legal or not," Nolan said, "but while they weren't practicing, I walked down to the far end of the stadium and caught both of them down at the end zone, just briefly hanging over the fence, and shot the breeze a little bit with them. Because both of them, as the drills were going on, walked to the other end so they wouldn't be just kind of the focal point.

"So I had another chance to just visit with them briefly, about another 15 minutes in all, but it was much more relaxed. There wasn't the pressure of the horn blowing and saying, ‘Time to get up out of your seat and move to the next chair.' It was interesting. When you're interviewing a guy in a room, it's question after question. This one was more watch the practice, sit there, be quiet for 30 seconds or a minute, small talk a little bit and try to see what they're about."

But that introduction was only prelude to what Nolan and his gang of talent evaluators will be attempting to accomplish this week.

The Niners got some measureables on Smith and Rodgers at the combine – heights, weights, 40-yard dash times and Wonderlic scores among them – but both quarterbacks declined to participate in most drills and neither threw.

As anybody can tell you, it's important to see a quarterback throw. Particularly when you're considering spending the No. 1 overall draft pick on him.

"I would have liked to have seen both throw there," Nolan said. "Both of them didn't want to throw to anybody other than guys they were comfortable with. I don't know if that would have made a big difference. Just watching them throw would have been nice."

Nolan finally gets that chance today when Smith works out at the D. Glen Smith Center in Salt Lake City before what is expected to be a large gathering of coaches and personnel chiefs from throughout the NFL.

On Thursday, Nolan and his 49ers staff will return home to the San Francisco Bay Area, then take the short drive to nearby Berkeley, where Rodgers will work out for the NFL eyes during Cal's Pro Day at Memorial Stadium on the University of California campus.

"The first thing we're going to do is, obviously, we're going to watch some of their mechanics in throwing, just to see," Nolan said. "Other than that, I'm hopeful to get some individual time with them again. I want to get an opportunity to speak with them on the side and watch them work, watch them interact with guys they know, watch them interact with coaches.

"There's a coaching factor also. Is he coachable? Is he not? You can't really nail it down at one Pro Day, but there's little red flags that come up with guys."

Nolan and the Niners hope to come away from Thursday with a much clearer understanding of what they might be working with in both Smith and Rodgers. On Friday, the Niners also will send a contingent to receiver Braylon Edwards' Pro Day in Michigan, but Nolan won't be among that group. The ultra-busy coach will be off to the NFL meetings in Hawaii instead.

Nolan yearns to learn more about Smith and Rodgers, but he says he already has a pretty good idea of where they sit in this year's crop of draft prospects.

"I would be confident saying both of these quarterbacks are very good prospects and will make somebody's team in a very positive way, and will have an impact on their football team," he said. "How early, how soon (they'll be drafted) … Only time will tell. But both these guys are certainly good prospects. It's exciting to know there are good players in the draft."

Despite the 49ers' perceived problems at quarterback, Nolan said he did not feel any pressure to grab a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick if there's no QB worthy of that selection, saying that as of "right now" the 49ers already have a starting quarterback in incumbent Tim Rattay.

Nolan also implied the 49ers could take a quarterback with one of the team's later picks.

"The draft's got a lot of quarterbacks in it," he said. "There's several guys in the draft that are good. Auburn's got a guy (Jason Campbell). Georgia's got a guy (David Greene). Arkansas's got a guy (Matt Jones). There's several quarterbacks. So, whether we take one early or take one late, as far as our situation, if nothing happens, obviously, I think we do have a starter in the group we have on campus (in Rattay).

"But you're always trying to create competition and make your football team better. So whether it's quarterback, defensive back, defensive line – whatever it is – we're looking to, with the 11 draft picks we have or free agency – we're looking to upgrade the competition. That's what's going to make the quarterback position better than anything else – just competition."

Nolan will be finding out over the next two days if there is possible No. 1 competition out there in Smith and Rodgers. But if he's not impressed enough by either, the 49ers won't hesitate to go in another direction and take a player other than a quarterback at the No. 1 slot.

"I'm leaving it open," Nolan said. "We can take anything. I am confident saying that in the draft, at some point, we would (take a quarterback). That's typically a philosophy we'll have year in and year out. That's the key position. You can always try to take one to create the competition at that position the best you can."

But will that one this year be Rodgers or Smith? The next two days could go a long way toward answering that QB question.

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