Rattay has right kind of character to mentor Smith

While he competes with the other quarterbacks on the 49ers roster, Alex Smith must also try to learn from them. And that's where having a guy like Tim Rattay around is perfect for the Niners in this particular situation. Rattay indeed will compete earnestly to retain his starting position, but his disposition, laid-back personality and team-first attitude suggests that he will be an ideal mentor to the young rookie who is destined to take his job.

When Mike Nolan was asked – just minutes after making Smith the No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 NFL draft back in April – if he envisioned Rattay grooming Smith, the 49ers coach shot back quickly, "I do not envision that. I envision Tim competing with Alex. That's what Tim's role will be – to compete with him."

And, when asked for the first time his reaction to the team drafting Smith as the heir apparent at quarterback, Rattay echoed his coach, welcoming the competition the rookie brings to a position that already features three returning veterans.

"It adds competition," Rattay said. "It's an opportunity to go out there and compete and I love competing and love competition. It is going to be fun competing and that's what this game is all about. I am looking forward to it."

But ask Rattay how he sees his role in relation to Smith, as earlier defined by Nolan, and you'll get a different kind of answer.

"With any quarterback that comes in here, since I've been here … the same thing happened when I came in as a rookie (in 2000) with Jeff (Garcia) and Rick (Mirer)," Rattay said. "You want to give them the advice, whatever I know I can help them out with, the same thing with whoever comes in, whether it was Cody (Pickett) last year or Ken (Dorsey) a couple of years ago.

"You learn from experience or you learn from the experience of others. So, I'm just going to try to give him what I've seen or what I've experienced playing, and just help him that way with whatever I can do."

Coming from most NFL quarterbacks, that would simply be lip service. But Rattay is a different kind of character than most. He lives on an even keel, and his outward appearance suggests he never is threatened by anything, not even a hotshot rookie that is all but being handed his job.

That's where a lot of critics downgrade Rattay, that he lacks intensity and frothy leadership qualities and calmly says he will help the new kid in town instead of showing more fight and fire with something like, "He'll have to beat me out first."

But that's what makes Rattay so right for the transition we will see at quarterback during the remainder of 2005. He's not going to hand over the position to Smith, but he will help Smith, knowing that they could be intertwined at quarterback for the Niners for years to come.

Even Dorsey, who also remains in the mix at quarterback, but seems to have more to lose than Rattay – like his berth on the roster, for instance – has expressed that he will do what he can to help Smith's development.

"I want to go out and do whatever it takes to help this team win," Dorsey said.

And, frankly, Smith needs that help – both physically and mentally – from both Rattay and Dorsey, who are the only realistic contenders to keep Smith on the bench, since Pickett already is being ticketed for possible practice-squad status.

If Smith were, say, Aaron Rodgers, and carried the kind of Big Man on Campus attitude possessed by Rodgers, then perhaps he could draw a charge from some sort of adversarial competition with the incumbent quarterbacks.

But that's not Smith at all. Celebrating his 21st birthday May 7, Smith still possesses a soft and impressionable demeanor. While he is a tiger on the field, he is not the sort to be combative off it. No matter how much he might be coddled by coaches, Smith needs veteran quarterbacks around him who are willing to work with him and share with him the secrets of the trade.

Though Nolan would never say it, that probably will be a requirement of any quarterback that shares the roster with Smith and the Niners this year, and probably 2006, too, as Smith continues to get comfortable as the 49ers build their team around him.

Rattay and Dorsey were good soldiers at the team's minicamp earlier this month, and Smith was appreciative of the professionalism of their reception.

"All the quarterbacks here are great guys," Smith said. "I don't think there are any hard feelings as far as (them) trying to help me. They've all helped me. I'm asking questions, trying to learn from them. They've been in the system a month or two longer than I have."

The latter reference was to the Niners switching back to a version of the West Coast offense this spring from the type of spread offense the team ran the past two years under Dennis Erickson, an offense that never really did become very well defined throughout 2004 as the attack floundered toward the bottom of the league rankings.

Competitively, this puts Smith on a more even playing field with the veteran quarterbacks.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's much different coming into a team that maybe the coaching staff had been here two years and they've been in the system for a couple of years now. That's not the case. They've been in it a couple of months and I'm just trying to catch up."

That's where Smith, in the months to come, must turn to Rattay, who with five previous years of NFL experience and 12 career starts, is the only one who really can give him an accurate depiction of how it's done.

"I'm trying to learn from Tim," Smith wasn't too proud to say. "Tim's got a lot of game-time experience. He's been around. He's been in some offenses. And you see how he plays – he's very relaxed back there. He knows what he's doing. It's good to have him there."

Good for Smith, but particularly good for the 49ers.


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