Nolan says Smith passes the Pro test

The 49ers chatted over dinner with Alex Smith on Tuesday night, then feasted their eyes upon him Wednesday as he worked out at his Pro Day before a virtual smorgasbord of NFL representatives from each of the league's 32 teams. The time spent with and watching Smith allowed Niners coach Mike Nolan a new load of data to insert into his memory bank regarding the Utah quarterback, but Nolan said the most impressive thing to him was that Smith offered no surprises under the intense scrutiny.

"It was all very valuable," Nolan said Thursday afternoon before he boarded an airplane to return to the San Francisco Bay Area from Smith's workout in Salt Lake City. "It was a great opportunity to see him up-close-and-personal and live, which is what it's all about with these campus deals. It was a great opportunity to see him first-hand."

And that opportunity, Nolan said, revealed that Smith is the same guy that the 49ers thought he was after they'd had an introduction session with him last month. The importance of that, Nolan said, can't be underestimated.

"He was the same person we'd met at the (NFL) Combine," Nolan said. "You don't want guys to be different every time you meet them. You want it to be the same guy. What he says is consistent, and he hits the mark (in that area). Some guys, they jump all over and say one thing to one guy and another thing to another. That's not Alex. He was the same guy."

But Smith's personality traits and outward demeanor are only so important. The reason Nolan and other 49ers officials were in Utah on Wednesday was to watch Smith display all his physical tools on the field.

With more than 100 NFL types in attendance – "there wasn't even any place to sit down," Nolan quipped – Smith threw for more than 45 minutes, giving everyone plenty of time to study his mechanics, technique, drop steps and, perhaps most importantly, his arm strength.

The verdict?

"He certainly needs work," Nolan said. "He is a very good athlete, but there's some very subtle things as far as when you take a drop, spread your feet. … Just as when you're looking at all young guys, you're going to say he can do this and that better. There were some little things, but I don't want to make a big deal because there's not anything that's not uncorrectable."

That sounded something like a coach with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft trying to downplay one of the top prospects. Nolan was much more complimentary as he went on to talk about Smith, sounding like a coach who had reversed course and was trying to pump up a prospect.

"He's a very accurate passer," Nolan said. "His accuracy was very good and he did a good job delivering the ball. That's a big thing with Alex – his accuracy is so good. And he has good arm strength. That thing comes out pretty good. Though I thought his arm strength was good, the most impressive thing to me is what he has as far as taking an offense down the field. That's a real strength of Alex's – he has the intangibles."

A big concern about Smith was how well his skills will translate into a pro system. He played out of a shotgun offense at Utah, and that can be a rough transition for even skilled quarterbacks when they must make the change to dropping back from behind center.

"One of the big things about Alex is he played in that shotgun," Nolan said. "From a tangible aspect, you need to evaluate his arm strength and mechanics and taking a drop and throwing the ball. Even though he's a very good athlete, that was something very important for everybody to see today, to see him throw on the run and take a drop from an imaginary center."

Nolan was disappointed that Smith didn't take snaps from an actual center – instead dropping back from a set position – but the coach clearly indicated that Smith passed his Pro Day test.

"It was an impressive workout because he seems to be a very passionate football player," Nolan said. "Alex did a great job and he was into it. That was evident by what he was trying to do. He had to do some things that he didn't do as a college player and he did them well and did them often.

"I think everyone appreciated that he worked very hard. He's a high-character guy, very smart and very tough, and he knows what it takes to be competitive. Alex is going to be a good NFL player. He's going to play and he's going to play well. It was a very good workout from a guy that obviously loves to play football."

Did it move Smith up the 49ers' draft board, where ostensibly he already was rated pretty high? Nolan said that's something that will continually be evaluated practically on a daily basis in the month to come.

"Like everybody has to do, you have to put value on him, just like you do on every guy," Nolan said. "That (49ers draft) board is lined up a certain way right now, it was lined up a little different three weeks ago, and probably will be lined up (differently) again. The board continues to change in ever so subtle ways. When it's all said and done, it's hard to (indicate) right now where everyone will be."

Nolan and his 49ers staff now will turn their attention to Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is having his Pro Day on Thursday on the University of California campus at nearby Berkeley.

"I'm interested to see if he's the same guy I met at the Combine, too," Nolan said. "Having these two quarterbacks back to back is a neat way to do it for us. I'm glad we have it this way; it's great for us. It's a lot better than waiting a week or 10 days to see the other guy."


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