Look past the new hat and the pressed suit, past the awkward pats on the back and staged photo op. Something familiar remained.
Thousands of miles from Columbia, behind a red-and-black backdrop, was the same Aldon Smith. Eyes just a bit downcast, trying not to smile, he won over the media with blunt answers and drew laughter with admitted mistakes.
After arriving in San Francisco on five hours of sleep, Smith admitted he’s still processing what happened last night.
“It’s been amazing,” Smith said. “Ever since my name got called I’ve been busy. It really hasn’t kicked in yet.”
It took just seconds for media to begin grilling Smith once the press conference began. When asked about the test 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had just administered, the team’s new linebacker laughed. He said the 50-question test covered the history of football and facts about the game, and he was quick to admit his mistakes.
Smith does not know the exact width of a football field.
With a shrug, he admitted it. Then he threw his head back and laughed. It’s really no big deal.
And how much does Smith know about Harbaugh? Not much, he said. He coached at Stanford, he had a good quarterback in Andrew Luck. That’s about it. Another laugh. Another shrug. Smith may not know Harbaugh, but he knows football.
Smith said he know he needs to learn the linebacker position, but he believes he has the basic knowledge necessary. Although he’s never played linebacker, Smith said that he’s stood up a lot and played on two feet before.
He also took that opportunity to introduce the San Francisco media to his favorite fun fact. What was a running joke between Smith and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel became a talking point at his first 49ers press conference.
“I was a pretty good tight end,” Smith said.
Smith stressed that he’s accustomed to learning new positions. In high school he played defense along with tight end, and he adjusted to playing solely defense at Missouri. There’s another thing that will help with the transition, too: Smith’s seven-foot wingspan. Missouri fans came to accept it as a given. San Francisco may still be in awe.
“It helps me fend off blocks, and in the bigger tackles it helps me create space so they can’t get their hands on me,” Smith said.
About eight minutes was all Smith got. A few shrugs, laughs, smiles and furrowed brows became his first impression. But beyond the questions of mechanics and football knowledge, Smith stressed one thing. The speculation—which team, what position, what pick—is over, and he summed it up with just two words.
On the opposite coast, Blaine Gabbert began his official introduction to Jacksonville about a half-hour after Smith took the podium. The quarterback who Jacksonville believed was worth trading away its second-round pick for talked about what it was like to wait until the tenth pick to hear his name called.
"There's pressure in any situation," Gabbert said. "A lot of it is, we put pressure on ourselves to succeed.”
For him, the draft was just another pressure situation, and so too will be his first months in Jacksonville. He’ll have to find his place within a system that already has a veteran quarterback — albeit one who’s criticized at times for inconsistency. Many of the questions that Gabbert fielded touched on that subject, and the quarterback remained as neutral and poised as always.
He stressed that in the end, the team needs to unite and win games, suggesting he’s not going to play into the idea of an impending struggle or conflict with current Jaguars quarterback David Garrard. He said that quarterbacks need to stick together and support each other.
Never one to shy away from a slightly clichéd stock answer, Gabbert talked about what he believes are the keys to success.
"Have fun,” Gabbert said. “Work hard and keep your head down. Keep grinding."
Missouri fans have heard those words before. But with Gabbert in his new role of young and inexperienced newcomer, they’re coming to make more and more sense.