It's Alex!

Moments after charting the course of the 49ers future Saturday by selecting Alex Smith with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, Mike Nolan walked into a packed conference room and asked for a show of hands from media members. "How many thought Alex Smith? Now be honest," the Niners coach said. Only a few hands climbed into the air. The 49ers, however, didn't hold such reservations for the talented Utah quarterback.

After about a half dozen hands were raised in favor of Smith, Nolan continued.

"How many thought Aaron Rodgers," the coach said, as several hands shot into the air.

"How many thought Braylon (Edwards)?" Nolan continued, this time not waiting for a response. "A divided room. We were successful then. We got a three-way tie. Way to go."

Then, Nolan got right to the heart of the matter.

"Well, in our minds, there was not a three-way tie, obviously," he said. "We chose Alex because – as we'll continue to do throughout today and tomorrow – we'll continue to build a football team that we foresee this team looking like. Alex was the one we felt most fit what we want our football team to look like."

What Nolan wants the 49ers to look like – and play like – is a winner.

That was why the new San Francisco coach went with Smith over popular hometown favorite Rodgers, who then took a mighty tumble down the first round until he was selected by Green Bay with the 24th pick.

"The intangibles," Nolan responded quickly when asked what one thing tipped the scale in favor of Smith, who went 21-1 as a starter at Utah and was a Heisman Trophy finalist as a precocious 20-year-old junior.

"He's a very competitive individual, very hard-working, has been a winner all along, has shown completion in everything he's done from the standpoint of graduating, from the winning – everything about him," Nolan went on. "He's very intelligent, very tough, very competitive. And one of the things that's really important to me is his work ethic is extremely high."

Across the continent, at draft headquarters in New York, Smith was all about work.

"I worked really hard for this," he said. "I'm thankful to be here and I'm ready to work and learn. I'm so excited to be part of this organization. I'm ready to get to work. I truly believe they're headed in the right direction and it's great to be part of it."

The 49ers expect Smith to be the guiding light of that new direction, despite his relative youth and inexperience.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy pulled out some game video of Smith's senior season to show reporters, and that film revealed his fine instincts, toughness and ability to make plays on the move. While mentioning Smith's "tight throws" and "tight ball placement" several times, McCarthy pointed out several illustrations of Smith's decision making, athletic ability, anticipation and accuracy.

Those four factors, McCarthy said, is what put Smith over the top.

Nolan – who in recent months said he'd expect a quarterback to start as a rookie if he was drafted No. 1 – made it clear Smith will be given the opportunity right away to compete with incumbent Tim Rattay for the starting position. Nolan also inferred he expected Smith to prevail in that competition.

"As far as the quarterback position goes, I expect him to earn the position," Nolan said. "Just like I expect him to earn his money."

That will be a lot of money – Smith's agent, Tom Condon, reportedly is asking for $25 million in guaranteed money – and Smith himself said he expects a deal to get done before training camp, but not before the team's spring minicamps in May and June.

The Niners had hoped to have a contract in place before the draft, using their No. 1 slot as leverage to get a deal done, but that didn't work as Smith emerged as the clear No. 1 prospect as the final days closed in before the draft.

Nolan said he would still entertain trade offers involving Smith as the day progressed, but that any possibilities of moving Smith would diminish "as the moments went forward." Smith said he also was aware of trade rumors, but "right now, I definitely don't anticipate it. I feel like this is the place for me."

Smith said "If I had it my way, I would" come in and be the immediate starter. But he's not at all worried about the pressure and responsibilities that will come with his new fame as he attempts to live up to being the first college player in all the land selected by the NFL in 2005, a distinction that will follow him forever.

"I think it's something that's really going to motivate me," Smith said. "I feel like I have to prove something now, which is a good thing. Obviously, I haven't accomplished anything on this level, and I have to justify this pick, because it's going to be associated with my name for the rest of my life. I feel like I have to justify it now. So I'm going to go to work right away and prove it."

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