After the picks were finalized and the handshakes were over, San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars officials discussed the future on Thursday night.
The draft marked a beginning, but a beginning of what? Neither coach would say when Aldon Smith or Blaine Gabbert would see time on the field, much less start. So for the two former Tigers, Thursday night marked the beginning of assimilation, of training.
San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh said in a press conference that with Aldon Smith, there’s definitely a learning curve. The defensive end, who will most likely see time at linebacker for his new team, is accustomed to playing in a three-point stance, and Harbaugh said he’ll need to adjust to more time on his feet.
In Aldon Smith, the 49ers get a young player — the redshirt sophomore had two years of eligibility remaining at Missouri — with a great potential for improvement. What impressed general manager Trent Baalke the most was Aldon Smith’s build, especially his arm length, and his pass rushing skills.
“There’s a combination of traits that he has that are hard to find,” Baalke said in an interview on the team’s website.
Although Harbaugh refused to comment on a precise time line, he said getting the versatile Aldon Smith acclimated to the team is a priority. On Friday morning at 7 a.m., NFL players were allowed to report to facilities, workout, talk with coaches and receive playbooks. Harbaugh said that though he’s unsure which players will report — it’s still voluntary — he hopes that as many men as possible will report and be available to meet with Aldon Smith in the coming days.
When asked about other possible draft choices, Harbaugh was vague in his response. He said he and the rest of the 49ers personnel were well-educated about the players that could possibly be available to them but that all speculation is irrelevant. Despite his team’s need for a quarterback, he refused to discuss why it did not select Gabbert as its first pick.
The Jaguars addressed what ESPN commentators referred to as Gabbert’s “slide.” As teams like Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona and San Francisco passed on the former Missouri quarterback, Jacksonville began to realize the opportunity it could have. General manager Gene Smith said when he realized Gabbert might still be available, he first tried to trade his team's No. 16 pick to the Cowboys for their No. 9 pick. Once he determined the Cowboys wouldn’t trade, the Jaguars organized a trade for the Washington Redskins’ No. 10 pick.
“Hopefully you just get a little luck on draft day, because there’s a lot of things that you don’t control,” Gene Smith said in a press conference.
Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio agreed that luck and circumstances beyond the team’s control played into its selection. In a press conference he said the draft unfolded differently than he expected. The Jaguars were able to capitalize and acquire a quarterback they hope will play a big part in their future.
Gene Smith said Gabbert will face a situation that’s different from many quarterbacks drafted in the first round, like Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen. He will have the luxury of easing into his role with the team, which already has a veteran starting quarterback in David Garrard.
“Really, at the quarterback position there’s a lot of on-the-job training … You want to put him out there with his best chance to be successful,” Gene Smith said.
Throughout the press conference, both Gene Smith and Del Rio were more specific about Gabbert’s development. Gene Smith stressed that Gabbert will need time to work with the team’s coaches, but he said the quarterback has a great potential to develop and should be a good return on coaches’ time investments.
“We’re looking at an eventual every-down starter,” Gene Smith said.
When that will happen remains to be seen. Del Rio stressed that Garrard is a proven player, someone the Jaguars have won with in the past. And he said that though Gabbert will compete from day one, he’ll start out behind Garrard.
“I can’t put a timeline on when he will play, but we feel like he’s not only got the physical skills but the mental skills to develop into someone that’ll be a good player for us in the future,” Gene Smith said.