Rodgers better off as No. 3 QB

So, you want to play quarterback in the NFL. If so, get one thing straight — it won't be easy. Two quarterbacks are finding that out the hard way this NFL preseason as Packers first-round pick Aaron Rodgers and the top pick in the NFL draft, Alex Smith, are struggling through their first preseasons.

Smith, the projected starter for the 49ers entering camp, has already been replaced by Tim Rattay as the opening-day starter. As for Rodgers, his grip on the No. 2 QB position behind Brett Favre has just about slipped away, leaving the door open for Craig Nall. For those who follow the NFL, is this really news? Quarterback is the toughest position for a rookie to play. Favre was third-string in Atlanta, Steve McNair sat for his first season and a half and Carson Palmer (2003 top pick) sat his first season. Yes, Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning started, but they are the exception.

Rodgers' first preseason has showed us nothing as he has looked pedestrian, completing 11-of-24 passes for 80 yards and two interceptions. The NFL is so different from Cal-Berkeley. Rodgers has looked like a rookie so far, only completing short throws and not showing any of that talent that almost made him the 49ers' top pick, not Smith.

I've been waiting for him to make one of those throws that make you think, "That's why he was a first-round pick."

Most assumed when Rodgers was picked he'd be the top backup, but Nall, in limited action last season, was solid. For Rodgers to come in and learn a new offense and a new life, while beating out a veteran was a lot to ask of. The Packers have given Rodgers every chance, giving him a lot more playing time in the preseason compared to Nall. Green Bay has given Rodgers every chance to win the spot, but by struggling he has increased Nall's value for this season.

This isn't to say Rodgers can't beat out Nall for the No. 2 spot at some point this year, but at least for the start of the season, Nall is the better player. Rodgers has the headlines, but Nall has the experience.

Actually, Rodgers and Smith are in a good position. Rodgers gets to learn by watching one of the NFL's best QBs ever in Favre. Watching how Favre handles everything on game day, from warmups to the final throw of the game, has to help. Rookies so often enter camp thinking they know everything, only to be shown later how difficult it is to be successful in the NFL.

As for Smith, it's better he's not starting. Who is there to throw to in San Francisco? Brandon Lloyd? Eric Johnson? The Niners may repeat 2004 and once again grab the top pick in the draft. To give Smith the starting job immediately would only kill his confidence as the 49ers continually get pummeled.

Despite the struggles of Rodgers and Smith, there is one rookie QB making waves. Chicago's Kyle Orton, a third-round pick from Purdue, is looking like the Bears' best option with starter Rex Grossman out for three months.

Last year, I was in Orton's corner, thinking he could be Favre's heir apparent, but then Orton struggled midway through the Big Ten season and his stock went with him. The Bears lucked out getting this guy where they did. He played in a pass-happy offense and he luckily went to a team which had no real backup behind Grossman. Without Grossman, Orton will become a starter at some point.

The difference betweeen Orton and Rodgers/Smith? No pressure being a third-round pick. No competition (Chad Hutchinson and Jeff Blake?). When not much is expected of you, that's normally when you do your best.

For Rodgers and Smith, they are first-round picks and the baggage that goes with that is high expectations. Neither have lived up to them yet, but there's a long way to go. Rodgers will end up doing just fine. I have no support to back my theory. Rodgers has the pedigree to be good, it's just going to take some time.

With Rodgers' performance in the preseason, there is no way coach Mike Sherman can insert him as the No. 2 QB. If he struggles in the preseason, what happens during the regular season?

With Favre, we probably would never have to find out. Still, the Packers have to prepare for the ludicrous possibility of Favre getting hurt. In that event, the call to the bullpen goes to Nall. Rodgers' play gives the Packers no other choice.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at

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