Niners notebook

The debate continues to rage over which player the 49ers should use for the No. 1 overall selection in the draft. All indications point to the 49ers using the top selection on a quarterback, but which one? Aaron Rodgers of California or Alex Smith of Utah?

Two weeks ago when 49ers coach Mike Nolan held a minicamp to get acquainted with the returning veterans on the team, he made it clear that he does not consider 2005 a throw-away season. Sure, the 49ers are coming off a 2-14 record but Nolan outlined his goal to "take command of the division."

While Rodgers said there would be high expectations for the 49ers with a new coach and the top overall draft pick, Smith seemed less than convinced there was an easy solution to the 49ers' problems.

"Obviously, this is a young team," Smith said. "This is not something that's going to be turned around right away. We're not going to be winning Super Bowls next year, I don't imagine, although we'd like to."

The two quarterbacks also had different answers when it was posed whether they wanted to start right away for the team that drafts them.

"I think it's hard to answer right now," Smith said. "That definitely depends on how well I'm doing coming into camp, how well the other quarterbacks are playing, how well I'm picking up the system."

Said Rodgers, "I would expect to be able to compete for the job."

Nolan has said if the 49ers use the first pick on a quarterback, he would expect that player to start as a rookie.

The 49ers have started contract negotiations with the candidates for the top selection, and Nolan said recently that the tenor of contract talks might have some impact on which player the 49ers pick at No. 1. If that's the case, the early indications are that Rodgers is in the lead.

Smith's agent, Tom Condon, negotiated the deal last year between quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants. It is doubtful he would settle for anything less than the $20 million guaranteed, as part of a six-year, $54 million deal, that Manning received.

Rodgers' agent Mike Sullivan reportedly got negotiations off to a good start with 49ers chief negotiator Paraag Marathe. Nolan has repeatedly said that it is a necessity to have a contract agreement with the top pick before NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue steps to the podium to deliver news of the No. 1 overall selection on Saturday, April 23.

--- NINERS DRAFT STATEGY: With a new coaching staff and a new scheme on defense, the worst team in the league has plenty of holes to fill.

Nolan and vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan are armed with 11 draft picks, seven of which are scheduled to come in the final three rounds of the draft.

Certainly, most of the team's needs are on offense, where the 49ers are expected to grab a quarterback, running back, wide receiver and at least one offensive lineman over the course of the draft. They are also in the market for a tight end who can be a force as a blocker.

Most of the attention will be on their decision with the No. 1 overall pick, where it looks as if Rodgers has taken a narrow lead over Smith of Utah entering the final week. The 49ers began negotiations with both possible No. 1 candidates, and the early signs indicated that things were heading in a more positive direction with Rodgers.

Some with the 49ers believed that receiver Braylon Edwards of Michigan was the highest-rated player in the draft, but the team apparently feels compelled to choose a quarterback with the top overall selection.

The 49ers are in the market for a trade if another team is willing to jump up to No. 1. If the 49ers find a dance partner, they would shift their sights to cornerback Antrel Rolle of Miami (Fla.).

After Round 1, the 49ers are in a position where they can select the top-rated player on their board, regardless of position. With the team shifting to a 3-4 defense, Nolan and defensive coordinator Billy Davis need to find more players that fit the scheme.

They can use more defensive linemen, especially a genuine nose tackle, and defensive backs. The 49ers are short-handed at cornerback and free safety. In fact, if the 49ers land a corner capable of starting as a rookie, it might allow them to move Mike Rumph, a first-round pick in 2002, to free safety.

The 49ers do not have to stick with any players on their roster who were high draft picks from the previous regime. That might mean that the team's last three No. 1 draft picks have to fight for jobs. Rumph could be asked to change positions; tackle Kwame Harris, already moved from the left side to the right side, is in competition for a starting job; and receiver Rashaun Woods, the team's top selection last year, will have to earn his way on the roster.

This is a big draft for Nolan and McCloughan simply because it will set the tone for the organization. It will also demonstrate what kind of players the new decision-makers of the 49ers will target in the future.

--- BOTH TIMES THE 49ers have used the No.1 overall pick in the draft, they have selected receivers. In 1964, the 49ers selected Dave Parks of Texas Tech with the top pick, and they chose Harry Babcock of Georgia in 1953.

Edwards offered an explanation of why the 49ers should go with another wideout (him, of course) again this time:

"Let's say the quarterback doesn't pan out, now your franchise is in a terrible rut because you drafted a quarterback, obviously, because you didn't have anybody you trusted. (If) he doesn't pan out, now you've spent four or five years in a downward spiral. Let's say hypothetically the receiver doesn't pan out, which in this case it won't happen; you can put him on the bench and continue with the guys you already had."

--- FOR THE FIRST time since the 1980 and '81 seasons, the 49ers have not been tabbed for a Monday night game in back-to-back seasons. The 49ers' only prime-time game is scheduled for Oct. 2 against the Cardinals. But that game has more to do with the location than the matchup.

The game will take place in Mexico City, making it the first time in NFL history a regular-season game will take place outside the U.S.


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