Smith, Rodgers moving in opposite directions

SAN FRANCISCO -- Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers struck up a friendship three years ago when they competed to be the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL draft.

They sat together in the green room on draft day, waiting to see what the San Francisco 49ers would do with the top pick. Smith won that competition, while Rodgers waited nearly five more hours before going to Green Bay as the 24th pick.

The difference cost Rodgers more than $40 million in his rookie contract and forced him to sit behind Brett Favre for three years before finally getting his chance to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Rodgers will make his second start as Favre's replacement in San Francisco on Saturday night in front of the team that passed him up and the quarterback who beat him out.

Smith, on the other hand, will likely spend the entire first half watching. J.T. O'Sullivan get his second straight exhibition start for the Niners.

"They chose in 2005 to go a direction, and the Packers chose me," Rodgers said. "There's really no ill will between myself and the 49ers. We've moved forward, they've moved forward and they're trying to figure out what they want to do on offense and thankfully, the Packers have put their trust in me as far as quarterback goes."

While Rodgers says there's no bitterness, he brought up the exact date of the draft -- April 23, 2005 -- when asked whether this was a big week for him.

Rodgers grew up in Northern California and played college ball nearby at California. He will have plenty of family and friends on hand to cheer him Saturday after getting mixed reactions in Green Bay this summer from fans still longing for Favre.

Despite the scrutiny he is facing as Favre's replacement and the three years he spent watching while Smith got to play, Rodgers is happy how it all turned out.

"I wouldn't trade with him because I love the situation that I'm in," Rodgers said. "Obviously, it would have been fun to play. But there's so many advantages to waiting like I did. And obviously the situation I was in, being behind Brett and being able to acquire all the knowledge that I could from him, and at the same time come along at kind of my own pace without a lot of pressure on me, I think it was definitely an advantage."

Smith has gone through a difficult training camp, falling behind the journeyman O'Sullivan in the race to become the team's starting quarterback. He has been working mostly with the second team in training camp as O'Sullivan has gotten the bulk of the work with the starters.

"I can't worry about that," Smith said. "I've just got to worry about myself and the reps I'm going to get going in there, and making the most of them."

Smith also had to deal with the death this week of a close family friend, David Edwards. Smith flew back to San Diego for a memorial service on Friday but was expected to be back in time for the game.

Smith got a much earlier start on his NFL career than Rodgers did, making seven starts as a rookie in 2005. He led the Niners to a 7-9 record in his second year, showing signs of why he was picked No. 1.

But Smith injured his shoulder early and then had a public blowout with Nolan during a season in which he completed only 48.7 percent of his passes with four interceptions and two touchdowns in seven starts.

Now he has had to learn another offensive system, working with his fourth coordinator in as many years in Mike Martz.

"Any given play it seems like there are so many possibilities that is unique to this system," Smith said. "The ball can come out so fast on one play and on another play it's a different look. It's a seven-step drop, then you go down the field, so just getting used to that and being ready for anything."

Nolan wouldn't revisit the decision to draft Smith over Rodgers and Braylon Edwards this week. Packers coach Mike McCarthy was involved in that as San Francisco's offensive coordinator in 2005 and made a point to clear the air with Rodgers when he arrived in 2006 as Green Bay's head coach.

"We've talked about it a number of times, two or three times," McCarthy said. "But like I told him, just the fact that he was in the conversation for the No. 1 pick in the draft, I think it speaks volumes. Now, why it happened and why the 49ers went in another direction, that's a different story. But he was one of three guys who were going to be chosen for that pick."

The draft process brought the two quarterbacks closer together. They had only met briefly before, playing against each other once in college, but spent plenty of time together before the draft.

"It will be good to see Aaron," Smith said. "Aaron and I have always gotten along well when we've been around each other, especially through the draft stuff and all of that going on. He was always good to me, so I've always respected him for that and I respect him as a player."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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