Posted: Wednesday March 23, 2005 8:31PM; Updated: Wednesday March 23, 2005 8:47PM
"To me the intangible things are really critical, because in all my years of coaching, and the guys I went against, those are the guys who are tough to beat,'' he said. "The more important thing to me is who's going to get in that huddle, command that huddle, have command presence, and who's going to be the better guy to move that ball down the field. You want a guy who when he gets in that huddle, the other 10 guys know, 'Hey, this is our guy. It's going to work.' That's important.''
In talking so much about the top two quarterbacks, Nolan certainly lent credence to the notion that San Francisco isn't seriously considering anyone but a passer at No. 1. Nolan said otherwise, claiming the 49ers could bypass both Rodgers and Smith in favor of another talent if he was clearly the best player in the draft, or even trade down. But in the next breath he conceded that in the NFL, you overlook the special quarterback at your own risk.
"If New England was taking the top pick, you're probably getting one of the other guys,'' said Nolan, in acknowledgment of Tom Brady's secure status. "When we're taking the top pick, you're probably right with taking the quarterback if the top players are all bunched up together that close. That's what you've got to do, take the quarterback. Taking the best player available only goes so far. It goes a long way, but when you get right down to the point, you've got to fill a need sometimes. That does happen.
"The good thing about the quarterback position, if there is a guy worthy of that pick and he's better than anyone else, because of the position, you take him because you don't get the chance again. If the opportunity is there to get the right guy, you've got to do it. Because I like to think we'll never pick here again.''
Make no mistake, pre-draft poker face or no poker face, the 49ers need to take a quarterback and are a virtual lock to do so. Why? Because the top three quarterbacks on their roster -- Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett -- were each drafted in the seventh round, and so far in their brief pro careers, none has inspired much confidence.
Even in the NFL, some times things are just that straightforward.
Asked Wednesday if he could win with the quarterbacks he has on hand, Nolan hesitated and then begged off on answering until he gets a first-hand look at his depth chart in the team's upcoming mini-camp. In other words, the most polite of votes of no confidence.
For now, Nolan understandably doesn't want to tip his hand about much of anything having to do with the 49ers' thinking at No. 1. San Francisco hasn't ruled out trading down, but Nolan admits no one has come calling and that the 49ers aren't inclined to shop the pick. He also maintains the team's front office is still at least a week away from any real consensus on the selection.
"I don't know who we're going to pick,'' Nolan said. "Next week we're going to go through the whole thing. It might take us a week, or maybe more. But [if it's a quarterback], it'll be our decision. Not the perception of the public's decision. If he's perceived [as the No. 1 pick] and we feel that same way, then that's a good fit. If there's a difference of opinion, then obviously we have to go the way we feel will make us better.''
That's where the 49ers are in luck. Getting better isn't that difficult a task when you went 2-14 last season, and are 9-23 since last making the playoffs in 2002. The first step in that process will be to select either Rodgers or Smith (our money remains on Rodgers) next month, and let Nolan and the new quarterback combine to interject the 49ers franchise with some renewed hope.
"It's certainly not a burden [picking first],'' Nolan said. "You want to get the best player, because it's an opportunity for us to get better. We got the pick because we were 2-14, obviously. So we need this. We need good players.
"I think both of those [quarterbacks] are going to play and play well in the NFL. Are either one of them the best player in the draft? That's what I want to really be convinced of if it's true.''
And that's what the 49ers and the rest of us have one more month to analyze and debate.