Why Hill should start, and other answers to questions

There have been a lot of questions tossed my way recently. And I haven’t had a lot of time to answer them. But here are some answers to common questions surrounding the 49ers at this time.

Q: Is this a make-or-break season for Alex Smith? How do you see the 49ers’ quarterback situation playing out?


MM: Smith reworked his contract this offseason to pay him as a backup for the next two seasons. That’s why I don’t believe either side should feel great urgency to rush things along. He is 25 years old. Heck, he could still have a long, long career.


I think it works to everybody’s advantage for Smith to begin this season as Shaun Hill’s backup.


Hill has earned the starting job based on his play when he’s gotten a chance. Personally, I think the sooner they make that announcement, the better for all sides.


Smith has always been placed in a situation where he’s had to rush to learn the system so he could get ready to start Week 1. He’s also had the added pressure and scrutiny that comes along with being the No. 1 pick. It might be advantageous for him to have the luxury of taking a step back while Hill takes the spotlight.


We haven’t seen Smith for an extended period since the end of the 2006 season. If you’d asked me then, I would’ve told you that I thought he was well on his way to becoming a pretty good quarterback. All he needed was more experience, make the expected improvements, gain more comfort with the offense and the NFL, and be surrounded by a better supporting cast.


My opinion should not be any different now than it was in 2006 – unless my opinion now is that his shoulder will prevent him from reaching his potential. I’m no doctor, but I don’t believe his shoulder is going to hold him back. It sure does not look that way when I’ve watched him throw this offseason. He looks just fine.


Hill has done everything right since he’s come to the organization. The man produces, and coach Mike Singletary has to respect that. After all, Hill is the player who talked his way out of a second-half benching and helped the 49ers come back to defeat the Rams late last season.


Hill has been taking snaps with the first team this offseason, and he should be the starter.

And if a change is necessitated, Smith will be in a much better position to succeed coming off the bench. Smith fully recognizes being the backup to open the season is not the worst thing that could happen. He knows if he is not the starter from Day 1, he has to continue to study and work hard and be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity he might get in the future.


Q: If a player is signed to a four-year deal (such as draft picks Scott McKillop, Curtis Taylor and Ricky Jean-Francois) are they guaranteed a roster slot? If not, then is the money that he signed for guaranteed to him even if he’s not playing?


MM: Nobody is guaranteed a roster spot. That goes for Frank Gore and Patrick Willis . . . well, you know what I mean. The only money that is guaranteed for the draft picks you mentioned are their signing bonuses. For instance, last year the club released linebacker Larry Grant, a seventh-round draft pick. He received $44,250 for his signing bonus. Even though he never played a down for the club, he kept that money. It’s just the way the system works. The more money a player is guaranteed, the greater chance he is going to have to make the team.


Q: What do you think of Mike Singletary gathering the team around to lay down the law on the first day of OTAs?


MM: Last year after Singletary took over, there were many days at the end of practices that he gathered the team around for long speeches. You would see some of the assistant coaches looking at their watches and getting antsy.


After about the fourth day of those, I remember thinking, “I wonder if this is too much?” But the players never showed any outward signs of thinking all this was a bit over the top. Everybody on the team I spoke with – both on and off the record – raved about Singletary. And it showed with the kind of emotion the team displayed during games.


OK, so now I’m still wondering if that level of emotion and intensity and focus can be maintained, not only through the entire grind of a long season, but through the offseason program, training camp and the season.


Singletary is a very wise man. He’s much more intelligent than me – I’ll admit that. I think he knows what he’s doing, but that is an issue that he is going to have to give a lot of thought. Coaches generally have to pick their spots.


Q: There’s a “rumor” that the 49ers have interest in Plaxico Burress. What’s the latest?


MM: You know the old saying, where there’s smoke, there’s fire? Well, there’s not even a puff on this one. (And to be fair, as far as I can tell, no individual has reported anything about the 49ers being interested.)


The 49ers aren’t in the market for another receiver, and they certainly have no reason to be interested in somebody whose future is so tenuous.


Here’s a statement that I’m going to stand behind: This receiving corps is the deepest in 49ers history. Never have the 49ers had this many – mostly young — receivers of this quality on their roster at the same time with Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce, Josh Morgan, Arnaz Battle, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones and Dominique Zeigler.


Sure, the 49ers had Jerry Rice and John Taylor for quite a run in the ’80s and ’90s, but this team goes seven deep with good receivers. Do the 49ers currently have a proven quote-unquote No. 1 receiver? Perhaps not. But I think strong, consistent play from the receiver position is a more important component to win a championship than having one All-Pro standout.


By the way, it’s been asked a lot when Crabtree will be ready to practice. The team has no reason to try to rush things along. That is why they are going to wait until training camp to get him going full speed on the practice field. I think even if a doctor cleared him to practice today, they would still wait until training camp.


Q: Would the 49ers have selected Everette Brown had they not traded their second-round pick to the Panthers?


MM: No. The 49ers had Brown rated as a third-round talent. The 49ers did not have any players at that spot they really loved, so that’s why they made the trade with the Panthers.


Yes, there was good depth at outside linebacker in this draft, but the 49ers did not select someone at that position because: a) There was somebody available at another position they liked better; and b) They did not think whomever they chose would be an upgrade over what they already have with Manny Lawson.


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