QB watching takes twist for Niners vs. Pack

It says something about the state of the 49ers that, more than three years after the fact, the Green Bay Packers have their starting QB and the Niners are more than ever searching for theirs. When the Packers & 49ers get together tonight at Candlestick for a preseason game, Aaron Rodgers will be starting at QB - for Green Bay - while the guy the 49ers chose instead will be watching from the bench.

Everybody remembers it well - April 23, 2005, the Javits Convention Center in New York City, the 49ers about to go on the clock with the No. 1 overall selection, a product of their disastrous 2-14 season from the year before.

The 49ers had kept up a lot of intrigue over the preceding months about who they would select with the precious top pick. With Mike Nolan, Scot McCloughan and a fresh set of football brains running the operation, there was genuine excitement, and there also was the prevalent belief that this would be a monumental decision and perhaps chart the course of the franchise.

The 49ers did their homework, visiting extensively with all the top candidates, working them out, prodding them, and generally getting to know them all up-close-and-personal. By draft day, it was a three-horse race between Rodgers, Alex Smith and receiver Braylon Edwards. But it was obvious that the choice would come down to Smith and Rodgers, since the 49ers needed a quarterback and they weren't about to use the No. 1 choice in the draft on a dime-a-dozen wide receiver, even one as talented as Edwards.

The suspense was over quickly. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped to the podium and handed over San Francisco's future to Smith - and it immediately became very apparent that just about everybody in the NFL world agreed with the decision.

Rodgers, on hand at the Javits Center along with the other top prospects expected to go early, waited embarrassingly for five hours as the ESPN cameras stared at him intently. He slid all the way from a possible No. 1 overall pick until he finally was snapped up by the Packers at the No. 24 overall selection.

At the time, the 49ers had expressed that Rodgers might be the best candidate to come in and play immediately - which was pretty much what they had in mind for the QB who would be chosen - but that the physically-talented Smith, still just 20 years old and coming off a magnificent junior season at the University of Utah, was the best prospect to become a franchise quarterback for the team.

Most in the NFL know-how agreed.

Fast forward three years and almost four months: After a three-year apprenticeship behind Brett Favre, Rodgers is so entrenched as Green Bay's starting quarterback that the Packers ultimately chose him over the iconic Favre when the legendary QB decide to un-retire and forced team management to make a choice last month.

Having plenty of time to develop, Rodgers looked good backing up Favre last season, and he played well in Green Bay's exhibition opener last week. He is Green Bay's starting quarterback, for better or worse.

When he starts tonight on the field he might have called home, Smith will be watching and waiting from the home sideline while the 49ers start journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan, who - get this - was with the Packers in 2005 before the team drafted Rodgers and then opted to waive O'Sullivan before the season opener that year.

Smith will wait for his opportunity to come with San Francisco's second-teamers, who might not even play until the second half. It's a clear indication that Smith is losing his starting job to O'Sullivan, who has looked much more polished this season in offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system, as the 49ers continue their determined quest for the best quarterback to lead them into the 2008 season, where the team feels it must win immediately.

Smith clearly has had the rockier path to tonight's game - starting as an ill-prepared rookie with expansion-like offensive talent around him, then - after a promising sophomore season in which he took every snap behind center - experiencing a 2007 season filled with injury and turmoil last year as a team with lofty playoff expectations collapsed around him.

But after returning from season-ending surgery to his throwing shoulder, Smith has not grabbed the position as the 49ers had hoped in their three-man "open competition" at QB this summer between Smith, O'Sullivan and Shaun Hill.

And so, the questions to step back in time surely would be coming at the 49ers this week. SFI, in fact, asked Nolan earlier this week if he could briefly talk about the decision that went into selecting Smith over Rodgers three years ago.

Nolan wanted nothing to do with the question.

"You know," Nolan replied, "it's a long time ago. It was a long time ago, so let's not go there now. Because it would be a lot of BS."

But the 49ers will be going there tonight, when Rodgers starts and Smith doesn't when the two quarterbacks who could have been a 49er in 2005 meet on opposite sidelines.

There is still time for Smith to save face for the 49ers as far as all this is concerned. And the Niners would like nothing more than to make Rodgers look terrible on their home turf.

But when kickoff comes at 6 p.m., neither of those things have happened yet. And the 49ers are where they are, and their quarterback situation is what it is, which nobody can be too happy about with Aaron Rodgers staring them down from the opposing offensive huddle.

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