Q&A: Nate Davis, Summer of ’09 fan favorite

It happens every summer. Somebody stands out in the second half of exhibition games to emerge as a fan favorite.

Through the first two 49ers exhibition games, the player generating the most buzz is rookie quarterback Nate Davis. He played eight snaps in the first game – all handoffs. Against the Raiders, he completed 6 of 11 with 67 yards and a touchdown.

“It felt good, like I was back at Ball State. . . . The game’s a little faster, that’s all. You can adjust to that. . . . (I) just got to keep on working hard.”

That’s what Davis told me after the game. He seems like a nice enough young man, but it did take three separate questions to coax that out of him.

I think we’ll learn a lot more about Davis this week. He might see a lot of playing time against the Cowboys on Saturday. Backup quarterback Alex Smith is out with a thumb sprain. Shaun Hill is questionable with a low-back strain.

Today, Davis and 36-year-old veteran Damon Huard were the only two 49ers quarterbacks healthy enough to take snaps in practice.

This is one of the 49ers’ big roster decisions. Most teams in the NFL keep three quarterbacks, but every year there are several teams that keep two and several teams that keep four. I do not believe the 49ers have yet made that decision.

I received a lot of questions about Nate Davis, but most of them were along the same lines. Here’s everything boiled down into two questions:

Q: What are the chances that Nate Davis gets the nod over Huard? (Alex N)

A: If it were a straight-up competition in which the third-quarterback job were awarded to the player on the roster the team would be third-most confident in to enter a regular-season game this season, I don’t think there is any question that Huard would get the call.

The argument has been made that the season will already be lost if the 49ers lose their first two quarterbacks – for any reason. I don’t necessarily buy that, though. After all, if you listen to Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, it’s pretty clear they do not expect their quarterback(s) this season to be slinging the ball around the field and singlehandedly winning games. They want a good decision-maker who is not going to lose games.

But, clearly, there are a lot of factors that come into play. If the 49ers’ coaching staff and front office have been impressed with Nate Davis – on the field and off – and believe he has a chance to develop into a darn good quarterback, it would be wise to keep him around and take no chance of losing him.

The 49ers could take a chance the other way, too. They could release Huard at the start of the season and keep Davis as the third QB. Then, if there’s an injury, they could re-sign Huard – assuming he does not latch on elsewhere with another team.

Q: If Nate Davis gets put on the practice squad can he get picked up by another team? What are the chances of this happening? (Jack O)

A: In order for any player to be placed on the practice squad, he must first be waived by Sept. 5, the deadline for all NFL teams to reach their 53-man roster limits. Once that player hits the waiver wire, any team can claim him. If multiple teams make waiver claims, the club with the worst record gets him.

I don’t think Davis would get claimed for the following reasons: 1) Any team that claims him would have to place him on their 53-man roster; 2) He was a late fifth-round draft pick, so every team in the league had multiple chances to select him; 3) Only one team showed up at his pro day; 4) There has never been a question about his physical skills (here’s a pre-draft write-up from Rob Rang), but teams were concerned about his learning disability. Any team claiming him now, would be forcing him to learn a new playbook without the benefit of training camp.

The team that attended his pro day was the Indianapolis Colts, who selected Purdue QB Curtis Painter in the sixth round (after the 49ers took Davis). Painter has completed 21 of 36 passes for 193 yards and an interception. He has his own fan-favorite thing going on in Indianapolis after showing good mobility and a strong arm. It looks as if Painter will win a roster spot, and the Colts will keep a third QB for the first time in a while.

Once a player is on the practice squad, he is still a free agent, of sorts. Any team can pluck a player off another team’s practice squad, but that player must be on his new team’s 53-man roster. The 49ers – or any team – can sweeten the pot to keep a player by paying him more than the practice-squad minimum salary of $5,200 a week. Or, once the 49ers hear rumbling they could lose a player off their practice squad, they could promote him to the 53-man roster.

Q: Nate Davis, enough potential to start in 2010? (Brian D)

A: Enough potential? Absolutely. But Davis might be a project, too. Also, if the 49ers are in need of a young starter next year, the team might be in position to invest a first-round pick on one of the top QBs in next year’s draft class. (You know the names.)

But if you’re sensing a little hesitancy before I declare Davis is going to be the next great quarterback, you’re correct. He has the potential. A lot of players have the potential. But I don’t have a good feel one way or another yet whether he possesses all the immeasurable skills and traits that NFL quarterbacks need to succeed.

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