The appropriateness of Alex Smith’s answer in regards to “rookie advice” could not have been lost on the reporters who huddled around the veteran 49ers quarterback Thursday.
“Don’t let the stage get too big in your mind. This is still football,” Smith said, indirectly counseling standout draftees LaMichael James and A.J. Jenkins. “Things can be overwhelming at first. You’re a rookie in the NFL ... sometimes you can get defeated mentally even before you get out there.”
Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, might as well have been talking about his rookie self. Because in the NFL, the cost of a high draft pick is paid with high expectations. And like in any other year, much will be expected out of this year’s rookie crop.
The 22-year-old Illinois receiver Jenkins was taken in the first round, but it was the selection of the Oregon running back that took some by surprise.
James, whom the 49ers signed Thursday to a four-year deal, will be joining a crowded backfield that already boasts Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Brandon Jacobs.
“I think I’ll learn a lot of great things from some of the veteran guys,” said the 22-year-old James. “With me coming in, I can learn. I think that’s the most important thing for me to do right now. Hopefully down the road I can be a great player here.”
Last year, James was great up north. Behind a stout 5-foot-9 explosive frame, he rushed for 1,870 yards while leading his team to a 45-38 Rose Bowl triumph over Wisconsin.
“Once I get my opportunity, hopefully I can showcase those skills,” James said. “Just be the best teammate that I can be.”
On the second night of the NFL draft, James and Jenkins became teammates. They weren’t colleagues five seconds, and still the latter player was thrilled.
“I was in my hotel room, and when they drafted him, I started screaming,” Jenkins said of James. “He’s a very electrifying player.”
Coach Jim Harbaugh, through his tenure at Stanford, saw the same player Jenkins saw. But the Harbaugh and James encounters were more personal.
“I could see the fire in his eyes,” James said, describing running to the Stanford sideline and making eye contact with the fiery coach. “[I wanted to] show him I’m just as intense as he is. He loves the game. I love the game.”
Along with James, the 49ers also signed draft picks guard Joe Looney, linebacker Darius Fleming, safety Trenton Robinson, outside linebacker Jason Slowey, and linebacker Cameron Johnson to four-year deals.
“I’m just trying to come in and block for LaMichael and help Alex Smith complete some passes to A.J.,” Looney said.