QB + Mystery = Easy decision
Coach Mike Singletary did not announce a leader — or any preference whatsoever – in the great 49ers Quarterback Competition of 2009. And most impartial onlookers can’t say that one quarterback distinguished himself over the other in the exhibition opener Friday night.
That means one thing.
It means that Round 1 went to Shaun Hill.
As Singletary said, Hill is “less of a mystery” at this point than Alex Smith. Hill has started 10 NFL games the past two seasons since Smith last suited up for a meaningful game. It’s never a great idea to have a mystery at quarterback.
Smith must erase every shred of doubt — or mystery — from Singletary’s mind. And he does not have much time to do it.
I’ve believed Smith had to clearly outperform Hill during the exhibition games to win the starting job. When camp began, the onus was on Smith to outperform Hill. If both quarterbacks play at about the same level during the games, Hill is likely to get the nod.
While Singletary did not throw around excessive praise for either quarterback after Friday’s game, he did say he will be comfortable with whoever wins the competition.
Smith has looked very good during training camp. In previous seasons, he probably would’ve already been named the starter. But the good news for 49ers fans is Hill is also playing as well as I’ve seen him.
Even into the first week of training camp, I had my questions whether Hill could fit Jimmy Raye’s offense. It is essential that the quarterback be able to get the ball down the field to keep defenses from stacking the box against the 49ers’ power-running game. Hill is showing more and more every day that he can do that.
Hill does not throw the deep ball as well as Smith, but he has a very good gauge on his own strengths and weaknesses. He has exceptional timing – a clock inside his head – with good anticipation on his deep throws. He’s more apt to “throw a receiver open,” as opposed to waiting until the receiver breaks into the clear before letting the pass fly.
Also, the screen pass figures to be a staple of this offense, and Hill is very good at putting the ball where it needs to be. Smith, coming off season-ending shoulder surgeries the past two seasons, is still feeling his way with those touch passes.
If Hill goes ahead and wins the starting job, it is certainly not the end of the line for Smith. In fact, I believe the 49ers have never been as high on Smith – since he came to the team – than they are right now.
Smith is signed for this year and next, at reasonable backup money. Smith will get an opportunity at some point. Let’s not forget, he is 25 years old. And he has placed himself into position to succeed when that chance arises.
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