Is 49ers’ QB situation following the script?

Coach Mike Singletary is scheduled for his usual Monday press conference around noon today, and I expect him to announce Alex Smith as the team’s starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Colts.



(Nobody has told me that’s what he’s doing. And I’m not reporting there will be a change at quarterback. I’m only saying that’s what I expect to happen.)


Up to this point, the quarterback situation has played out like a lot of people thought it might. And Smith’s ascent to the starting job is something many within the 49ers’ organization had anticipated as far back as when Smith’s old contract was ripped up to keep him around at a reasonable price:


–Shaun Hill was the clear choice – the safe choice — to be the starter at the beginning of the season. Based on his play at the end of last season and his ease at running the offense during training camp, he earned the starting job to open the regular season.


–Supposedly “faithful” 49ers fans booed Alex Smith at the team’s practice facility when his first pass attempt of training camp fell incomplete. Smith did not need to be rushed into the lineup again. He needed to sit back and spend more time learning and preparing mentally for the time when his chance arose.


–It’s been written here and everywhere else that Smith has the higher ceiling. He has better physical tools than Hill, whose best attribute as a quarterback might be “moxie.” Hill needed the 49ers’ run game to succeed, and the 49ers’ run game – aside from two long Frank Gore runs against the Seahawks – has been non-existent.


–Team management brought back Smith on a two-year contract because they could not bear the thought of seeing him go somewhere else and emerging as a quality starter. GM Scot McCloughan never gave up on Smith. And public opinion turned swiftly against Smith only after his shoulder injuries kept him off the field for nearly two full seasons. Still, it was best that Smith be seen as somebody coming to the rescue, rather than the appearance that he was again being handed the job without earning it.


–It was obvious what offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye thought during training camp when he said it is imperative in his offense for the quarterback to be able to make throws down the field to complement the team’s power-run game. Hill has a lot of good qualities, but he’ll never be a feared vertical passer. Smith’s problem has been inconsistency with the short passes. His intermediate and deep balls are very good, and his style is a better fit for this offense.


–So this might be the best-case scenario for the 49ers. Hill began the season, as expected, and Smith immediately played well after replacing him. The 49ers are 3-3, so all has not been lost as a prelude to Smith getting another chance to be the team’s starting quarterback.


–There is a reason so many top picks at quarterback do not succeed. One reason is those quarterbacks selected high in the draft generally go to bad teams and are asked to turn things around quickly. The 49ers were a very bad team when Smith arrived fresh out of college. He was a project, arriving from a spread offense in which his reads were different. He had to learn the basics, such as the footwork required in taking snaps behind center. There were a lot of factors working against Smith in his first two seasons. And no matter how good he was – or wasn’t – the last two years of shoulder injuries could not have been avoided.


–Now, finally, we might get a chance to see Smith and form rational opinions about his ability to play quarterback in the NFL. Let’s remember, he is still only 25 years old. And this is the best chance he’s had to experience success.


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Yes, Smith played well in the second half of Sunday’s game against the Texans. But let’s not get too carried away with it. After all, even he said the Texans gave him some “stagnate” defensive looks. “They’re not throwing as much at you up by three scores,” Smith said.


It was funny to read this morning’s Houston Chronicle on my way out of town. The Texans’ defenders were not expecting to see No. 11 enter the huddle at the start of the second half. Heck, they didn’t know who he was.


“I didn’t know who the guy was when he came out,” said Texans defensive end Mario Williams, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. “I really didn’t. . . . He definitely managed the game for them. He was getting rid of the ball and moving the ball.”



Said cornerback Dunta Robinson, “We were zeroed in on one guy (Hill) for so long, and then you put in a guy who has absolutely nothing to lose. He’s going to throw it up and do whatever he can to make sure he’s going to stay on the field.”


Robinson said he knew Smith’s identity, but everybody in the huddle was asking, “Who’s No. 11? I think it threw our game off a bit. I didn’t get to explain it to them, but now I think they all know who 11 is.”


This is my favorite. It comes from Houston linebacker Zac Diles. “I was like, ’11?’ It’s been so long since he’s had any game time that we didn’t even scout him last week. Everybody was like, ‘New quarterback.’ I was like, ‘Smith? Smith?’ I had to remember his first name, too. Alex Smith. But he came in and did his job.”


Texans coach Gary Kubiak said, “When you’re the backup guy and your team’s struggling, you can just go in and cut it loose. And that’s what he did. He went in there and made some great throws.”


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