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Thursday, February 9, 2012
Sam Bradford and Alex Smith, early years

By Mike Sando

Count Frank Cignetti's expected hiring as quarterbacks coach in St. Louis as the latest career parallel between the Rams' Sam Bradford and the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith.

Both were No. 1 overall draft choices.

Both began their careers under first-time head coaches with backgrounds on defense.

Both started as rookies.

Both watched their original offensive coordinators take head coaching jobs elsewhere after one season. Mike McCarthy left the 49ers for Green Bay in 2006. Pat Shurmur left the Rams for Cleveland in 2011.

Both appeared fortunate when their teams landed high-profile replacements. Norv Turner replaced McCarthy. Josh McDaniels replaced Shurmur. Turner and McDaniels had been head coaches, but both were best known for calling plays.

Smith and Bradford would experience coordinator changes once again while entering their third seasons. Turner left the 49ers to coach San Diego. McDaniels left St. Louis to rejoin New England.

In a coincidence of coincidences, Bradford and Smith will have approached their third NFL seasons with Cignetti as their new position coach, provided the Rams make official Cignetti's expected hiring. Cignetti coached Smith and the 49ers' quarterbacks in 2007. The Rams have targeted him to work with Bradford this season.

These circumstantial parallels will not necessarily produce the same results. Many other variables come into play.

Mike Nolan was entering his third and final full season as the 49ers' head coach in 2007, whereas Jeff Fisher is entering his first season with the Rams. The coaching situation in St. Louis appears more stable than the one Smith encountered in 2007, when the 49ers were breaking in a first-time coordinator and Nolan was nearing the end.

The Rams' new coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, has much more experience.

Still, the parallels between Smith and Bradford through two seasons are uncanny, at least.

Smith suffered a serious shoulder injury during his third season. He missed the 2008 season before rebounding to throw 49 touchdown passes with 27 interceptions in three subsequent seasons.