Lombardi identifies Bulger as likely Niners’ QB target

NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi, a 49ers scout from 1984-87, often invokes Bill Walsh when he discusses quarterbacks (wouldn’t you?) At the NFL Combine, Lombardi mentioned Walsh when the subject of signal-callers was first raised during his meeting with the media.

“Coach Walsh told me in 1984 when I was picking up his dry cleaning that the hardest position to evaluate was the quarterback and it was even harder to coach,” Lombardi said. “So I think that still holds true today. I think there’s very few people that have expertise at evaluating the quarterback and even fewer that have expertise in coaching the quarterback.”

If so, the Niners appear to have an edge in that department this season with Jim Harbaugh in charge of the quarterback-evaluation process. And as Lombardi notes in this article, San Francisco figures to have plenty of company in evaluating this year’s crop of college quarterbacks – at least 11 teams, he figures, could be looking to select a quarterback in the early rounds of the draft.

In looking beyond the draft at the Niners’ quarterback situation, Lombardi sees San Francisco as potential players for Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer, assuming he’s on the trade market. And he also “fully expects” the Niners to pursue free agent Marc Bulger, not a name that’s generally been linked to San Francisco.

Bulger, who will turn 34 on April 5, didn’t throw a pass (and earned a base salary of $3.8 million) as Joe Flacco’s backup this past season in Baltimore where he played for Harbaugh’s brother, John. He endured three injury-filled and largely disappointing seasons with some wretched Rams’ teams from 2007-09. Bulger threw 27 touchdowns and 34 interceptions in his final three seasons in St. Louis.

• I meant to put this item in an earlier blog. I forgot. And I’m shoving it in here so you aren’t deprived of any totally random statistical information.

Here’s the setup: Michael Crabtree, as you know, missed training camp in 2009 due to his holdout. He missed most of training camp this past season with an injury. Perhaps not coincidentally, his connection with Alex Smith was off at the start of both seasons, but then improved significantly.

If the lockout drags on, Crabtree might have another abbreviated training camp in 2011 (No telling if Smith will still be chucking him the ball.)

Here’s a look:

Alex Smith to Michael Crabtree
First 4 games
16 of 27, 193 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs
QB rating: 41.7

Last 7 games
30 of 56, 410 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
QB rating: 89.1
Note: Smith replaced Shaun Hill at halftime of the Niners 24-21 loss to the Texans on Oct. 25. The game also marked Crabtree’s NFL debut.

Alex Smith to Michael Crabtree
First 3 games
6 of 19, 81 yards, 0 TD, 4 INT
QB rating: 6.6

Last 8 games (7 starts)
32 of 47, 343 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
QB rating: 94.5

• No one is organizing telethons for out-of-work pro football players, but some players on the fringes of NFL rosters will be facing I-really-need-a-job financial issues if there is a lengthy lockout.

Placekicker Fabrizio Scaccia, 26, who ended the season on the 49ers’ practice squad, is one player who could use a little offseason-workout money. Scaccia has been working out in his hometown of Port St. Lucie, Fla., since the end of the season. He played for the UFL’s Sacramento Mountain Lions last year and made about $10,000 for his two weeks on San Francisco’s practice squad.

“I have a little bit saved up, but I’m definitely running low,” Scaccia said. “… So hopefully we get it on the road soon.”

• Bad news, folks. Patrick Willis appears to be taking his first step toward being on the Madden NFL 12 cover (And what we do have for our winner, Chuck? … A compound fracture! And lupus!)

In EA Sports’ bracket-style, 31-player, one-fan-base competition, Willis, a No. 7 seed, is squaring off against the Seattle Seahawks’ 12th man, a No. 10 seed. On Thursday evening, Courtney, e-mailing on behalf of EA Sports, was kind enough to inform me that Willis was beating Seattle’s 12th man by a “considerable margin” in the fan voting, 54 percent to 46 percent.

The first round ends Monday. If Willis advances, he will meet Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward or Cincinnati’s Carlos Dunlap in the Sweet 16.

I’m sure Courtney would want me to inform you that you can vote at www.espn.com/maddenvote.

Also, here are some of the fates that befell past Madden cover boys: 2009 (Brett Favre, stinky season with Jets); 2007 (Shaun Alexander, fractured foot); 2006 (Donovan McNabb, sports hernia); 2004 (Michael Vick, fractured fibula); 2002 (Daunte Culpepper, 18 TDs, 23 INTs) …

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