Draft brings shining new hope for the 49er Way

The new face of the franchise blew into 49erland on Sunday wearing a winning smile and a well-tailored suit. Alex Smith also was carrying his playbook, not to mention the burden of bringing this proud and storied organization back from the NFL abyss. The No. 1 pick in the draft appeared up to that challenge at his introductory news conference, and assuredly proclaimed the rest of the Niners will be too now that the 11-player draft haul of which he is the shining symbol is added to the mix.

Smith represented the hope of that promising 2005 draft class that will know only one way to do things as a 49er – the Mike Nolan way. And Smith already is on board with that approach and philosophy.

"Coach Nolan talked about drafting certain types of players and, obviously, he backed it up," Smith said after becoming the first of those new types to arrive on the scene. "We have eight offensive selections including myself and four offensive selections alone, including myself, the first day. So, I'm excited about my new classmates coming in here. I think it's a great opportunity for us, being with an organization that is headed in the right direction. I'm absolutely thrilled about that."

And Smith, already distinguished by his renowned intelligence, means it when he says, "classmates." He is coming to San Francisco to work and learn and then transfer the results onto the football field. Smith said he immediately plans to get buddy-buddy with that fat new playbook he was lugging around until it becomes memorized in his mind and throwing motion.

"I don't imagine I'll be away from it for much time over these next few months," he said.

But even more importantly, Smith said he doesn't plan to be away from any of the team's practice sessions that begin in two weeks with the 49ers' first full-squad spring minicamp. That's a significant statement, because Smith's agent is pitching for a contract that will be one of the richest ever awarded a NFL draft pick.

The word "Holdout", however, does not appear to be in Smith's vast vocabulary.

When asked if he will be at the May minicamp if he doesn't have a contract signed by then – it's highly unlikely a deal will be in place until later this summer – Smith responded quickly, "Absolutely, absolutely."

And, when asked the importance of being signed, sealed and delivered to his new team by the start of training camp in late July, Smith said, "It is absolutely vital. I think repetitions, especially for a young quarterback, are invaluable. You cannot replace those. It's something that if I expect to be the player I think I can be, I have to be a part of that. Obviously, a lot of it will be dealing with my agent. It's something that I will expect to get done and anything that I have to do, I will, to make it happen."

Nolan sat close to the side of his prized new rookie – a player Nolan will be inexorably linked with during his days in San Francisco and who could define his 49ers career coaching – and beamed like a proud father ready to watch his favorite son grow into something special.

Nolan just sat back and soaked it in as Smith said all the right things through a soft voice that dripped with quiet determination.

"I bring a work ethic here," Smith said. "I can't expect to be handed anything. I have to expect to come in and compete, earn the reputation as being selected as the first pick and earn my money when the contract is signed and compete for the position. I think from there things will fall into place. But, the work ethic will start from the get-go. I have to be hungry and come in with that attitude."

To be sure, Nolan is hungry. He wants a winner in San Francisco as much as the owner who paid him big bucks and gave him spending-spree money to rebuild the team and its coaching staff. He wants it as bad as the 49er Faithful that now has endured four losing seasons in six years – the team's worst stretch since the dark days of the 1970s.

Nolan stressed that the events set in motion with the selection of Smith on Saturday morning will lead to bringing San Francisco a football champion again.

"When I took the job, I made the statement that I was excited about having the No. 1 selection in the draft," Nolan said. "I also made the statement that I never wanted to have it again. My reason for saying that I was excited about having the first selection is because it gave us the opportunity to select the very best player and retool the 49ers winning tradition. I believe that we've done that clearly with our selection."

The twilight of draft weekend, obviously, is much too early to know if that is true, just as it's too early to know how well the Niners hit with their other 10 picks, which also will play a huge factor in how fast the team can rise from the ashes of last year's 2-14 season.

But the Niners brought in two big, aggressive, highly-regarded offensive linemen, an intriguing running back prospect and two huge, blocking-type tight ends to form a pocket of protection around their prized new quarterback, not to mention grow as a team with him.

They filled a need at noseguard with a prospect some observers say can be a stud when motivated. Nolan and his crew seem to pretty well know the finer art of motivation.

The Niners also took some shots at playmakers at receiver and in their kicking game, and found two prospects in a cornerback-rich draft who could provide new dimensions at that position of need. Add it all up, and the team plugged a lot of holes if these guys pan out.

But perhaps as significantly, these are Nolan's kind of guys. Character guys. Team captains. Team leaders. Winners.

"It was important in our selection process and throughout the draft these last two days that we get the type of players that we wanted to, to take the 49er franchise back to the winning tradition," Nolan said. "In doing that, we said what a 49er should look like. A 49er should not only look like a great player, but also someone that is tough, is smart, is competitive, that is a great communicator and most importantly – a winner.

"Those are some of the most important things in building a franchise around, not only one individual, but all the individuals that you select on your football team. The reason that I'm so excited is because I know we hit the mark."

Nolan possesses this unwavering vision of what the 49ers should be and will be, and he's sticking to it. The Niners surprisingly passed on particular prospects at positions of need in the early rounds, but in retrospect, it all just looks like part of Nolan's grand plan.

"I wanted to get in more players of the mindset that I always talk about," he said. "We have some of those (veteran) guys here, but you want to flood the whole thing with it. And that is, the tough, competitive, passionate football players that just love to play. It was important to me in this draft that I get people who love the game and are infectious. And I'm very positive that we did.

"And so, when I take those 11 guys and put them in with the guys we already have, I'm pretty certain that some wheels will be turning as far as giving our players who are already here another picture of what it is that we're talking about of what a 49er needs to look like."

That picture was sitting next to Nolan on Sunday, with more soon on the way.


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