Kapalua, Hawaii -- If Mike Nolan, the 49ers' new coach, had his druthers, he'd probably play poker with the first pick of the NFL Draft. He'd like people to believe the team is not desperate for a quarterback. He'd like them to believe that a trade for multiple draft picks could help the 49ers just as much.
But Nolan is not that good a poker player. Nobody is.
So instead, Nolan said in an interview Wednesday that quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith were in the small group of up to five players the 49ers are considering, that a quarterback in that group gets extra weight, that leadership and intangibles were the most important factors in choosing one and that a quarterback would give the 49ers an identity, "which is huge," he said.
Reading between the lines, it seemed as if Rodgers, the former Cal star, was the leader in the clubhouse, but Nolan won't get down to serious studying of players with his staff until after he returns home following the NFL's annual meeting, which ended Wednesday.
One source said the 49ers had Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards rated as the "best player" in the draft, but as much as they need a wideout, they need a quarterback more.
"I'd like to think we'll never pick here again and, because of that, if the opportunity is there to get the right guy, I think you have to do it," Nolan said.
Nonetheless, Nolan also said he had not ruled out trading the pick, which could be a public-relations nightmare for the 49ers. But that might be a moot point because no team is clamoring to move up. The coach of another NFL team said he's hearing the 49ers want to trade down because of the financial commitment the top pick would require, but Nolan said he would not initiate any trade discussions.
A week after watching Rodgers and Smith in individual workouts, Nolan said Rodgers was ahead at this stage based on his mechanics playing the position, largely because Rodgers played in a conventional offense at Cal while Smith played mostly in the shotgun at Utah.
"Aaron is certainly ahead of Alex because of the style of offense he ran, " Nolan said. "Alex was doing a lot of things in the workout that he really hadn't done for two or three years. He did take a drop(back), but it was a little different. (His) mechanics of coming out from beneath the center and setting and throwing is not as good (as Rodgers).
"Both of them are very accurate, and have been throughout their college career. The difference in Aaron at this point is because he's been doing those types of things (under center)."
But Nolan went on to add a note of caution, saying, "Jeff George was mechanically pretty damn good too, but he couldn't (go) a couple of plays without something happening."
At another point, Nolan said Rodgers and Smith probably would be very similar in three years. But he also said that if the 49ers drafted a quarterback with the first pick, he'd want him to start from the first game of his rookie season, unless, of course, the kid were just to stagger through training camp.
The word really shouldn't be "if" they draft a QB.
Tim Rattay, last year's starter, is not even expected to be healthy enough for a mini-camp next week following surgery on his arm. Further, although Rattay is a tough guy, who had his moments over the last two years, he seems miles away from the kind of charismatic leader that Nolan said he wants for his team.
Although Nolan said he hasn't met Rattay yet, has only talked with him on the phone, he apparently has heard the stories about how Rattay usually walks around with a hangdog expression.
Asked if he wanted a quarterback who would look people in the eye, Nolan said, "Yes. You want guys also, when he gets in there, the other 10 guys know this is our guy who's going to work." Then Nolan turned to a reporter at his side and said, "I'm with you."
"Certainly, the physical things are what everybody sees and that's all very valuable and that's what gets guys in the (mix)," Nolan said. "To me, the intangible things are really critical. All my years in coaching, those were the guys that were tough to beat, the guys that were good leaders, the guys that commanded the offense, the guys that were very competitive.
"The important thing for me is who's going to get in that huddle, command that huddle, have command presence."
For the record, Bill Walsh will not be involved in the 49ers' pre-draft deliberations, but Nolan said he had talked to Walsh a couple of times and probably would at least solicit his opinion on the quarterbacks.
On other matters, Nolan said he has received indications that Julian Peterson would sign his franchise player tender offer and at least attend meetings at an April 1-3 mini-camp, although Peterson might not be able to work out before training camp opens.
Right tackle Kwame Harris and center Jeremy Newberry are not expected to practice next weekend because of their recovery from off-season surgeries. Former right tackle Scott Gragg, scheduled to become a June 1 cut, will not attend, Nolan said.
E-mail Ira Miller at imiller@sfchronicle