Three years ago, Mike McCarthy liked Utah quarterback Alex Smith better than Cal Aaron Rodgers.
Three years ago, Mike McCarthy liked Utah quarterback Alex Smith better than Cal Aaron Rodgers. Not so now.Four years ago, McCarthy was the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers. They had the first overall pick of the 2005 draft and were committed to selecting a quarterback, either Smith or Rodgers. They chose Smith.Now McCarthy is the head coach in Green Bay, where he inherited Rodgers. Smith is now on his way off the San Francisco roster -- and Rodgers could be on his way to the Pro Bowl.Smith was forced onto the field as a rookie in a rebuilding situation at San Francisco. Rodgers was allowed to watch and learn for three years from the NFL's all-time most prolific passer -- Brett Favre.So Rodgers was given the chance to develop into an NFL quarterback and has done just that. Smith watched his career disintegrate playing on a team that couldn't protect him and devoid of quality weapons.Rodgers, in his first season as a starter in 2008, has completed 70 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions for the 2-0 Packers. He ranks fifth in the NFL in passer efficiency with a 117.8 rating. He'll make his third career start Sunday against the Cowboys.Smith is on injured reserve with the 49ers, his second such stint in two years. Not that it matters. He lost the starting job to journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan before his injury this summer.McCarthy was in favor of Smith's selection in the draft."I thought both of them were excellent prospects coming out," McCarthy said. "But Aaron scared me with the first overall pick. I liked Aaron better in the pocket, but I thought Alex was a better athlete. I also thought Aaron was a little more immature than Alex."But in hindsight, I don't think either one of those guys could handle it."Trial by fireAlthough he preferred Smith, McCarthy wasn't in agreement with the 49ers in the choice of his first start -- his fifth career game, at home against the Indianapolis Colts. Smith and the 49ers were crushed, 28-3."I would never have played Alex when we played him," McCarthy said. "His first game was against Peyton Manning. He wasn't ready. Tim Rattay wasn't ready, either, but I thought (the veteran) Rattay might have been able to manage the game for us. But neither of those guys was going to go out and compete with Peyton Manning."Smith barely competed with anyone. In nine games as a rookie, including seven starts, he threw only one touchdown pass and 11 interceptions.Meanwhile in Green Bay, Rodgers was biding his time as Favre was setting all the NFL career passing marks. Rodgers threw only 16 passes in 2005 and 15 in 2006.McCarthy became head coach of the Packers in 2006 and has watched Rodgers mature, both physically and mentally."I didn't see the athleticism in Aaron when he was coming out," McCarthy said. "He was young -- but he's changed his body fat. It's a lot lower now. In the three years he's been here, his body has changed a lot. He's more mobile now. Stronger. He always had the arm."Rodgers finally got the chance to show his arm in an NFL game last November when an injury to Favre forced him onto the field at Texas Stadium against the 10-1 Cowboys. Rodgers completed 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in a relief appearance. The Packers lost, 37-27."I think that game was important for everybody -- but it was most important for Aaron," McCarthy said. "I've always had confidence in him, but he needed to know. He needed to get out there and do it. It was good for me, good for the organization, great for the fans. The belief was that this guy has a chance to be a pretty good quarterback."And that was McCarthy's ace in the hole last summer when Favre was staging his retirement-unretirement soap opera.'Best of both worlds'"I thought Aaron was ready," McCarthy said. "I thought Aaron was ready the year before. I'd have been comfortable playing with Aaron in 2007. I thought he was totally ready this year."If Favre wanted to come back to the Packers, fine. He was told he would have to compete with Rodgers."I never viewed it as a personnel decision between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers," McCarthy said. "I don't think Tedsaw it that way, either. We felt we had the best quarterback situation in the league -- the best of both worlds -- with Brett and Aaron."In our postseasonevaluation, we felt Brett had two or three years left. But he had earned the right to retire when he wanted to. That's why we drafted two quarterbacks."So Favre decided to leave and start over elsewhere. The Packers traded him to the New York Jets. And the Packers haven't regretted their decision to move on with Rodgers for a second.IN THE KNOW Aaron RodgersWHO: Green Bay Packers quarterbackHT., WT.: 6-2, 220AGE: 24COLLEGE: California DRAFTED: First round (24th pick), 2005Came on in relief of injured Brett Favre vs. Cowboys last Nov. 29 in Texas Stadium. Packers trailed, 27-10, when Rodgers entered in the second quarter. Finished 18-of-26 for 201 yards, one TD and no interceptions in a 37-27 Cowboys win. ... Suffered a hamstring injury the following week in practice. Inactive for the rest of the regular season. ... Second QB taken in the 2005 draft; the first was No. 1 pick Alex Smith (San Francisco).