So this is what a fair quarterback competition looks like huh? Remember last year when Mike Nolan claimed to hold an open competition between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith, only to have him stubbornly stick with Mike Martz’s choice? The ensuing catastrophe cost Nolan his job and Mike Singletary did what any rational person would have done; bench the turnover prone, sack taking yahoo. I remember begging for someone else, anyone else, even Joey Harrington. Joey Harrington. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that and Shaun Hill led the 49ers to a respectable 5-3 record to end the season..
Hill has earned the right to be the starter for the 49ers. He has been consistent and reliable. He won’t hold on to the ball too long and will make the right reads. I like that he wins games without the physical abilities other quarterbacks have, and pulls through with grit and moxie. He’s a leader who doesn’t quit. However, I am not ready to give up on Alex Smith. I am in the minority of camps that still believe Smith has something to offer the 49ers.. I love his athleticism. I love his arm strength. What he lacks is what Hill possesses, and vice versa. If they were combined, you’d have yourself a Jeff Garcia type quarterback with a stronger arm. (Didn’t the 49ers have Garcia? You know when they were good? Oh well, never mind that.)
Smith has never had a fair chance to prove himself. Whether it was being mishandled by Mike Nolan, or the pressures of a young quarterback learning a new offensive system every year, it has left a bad mark on him. He is not too old to make a comeback. He is only 25 and has years left as an NFL quarterback. He hasn’t even played enough games to develop bad habits like David Carr. 32 games is not enough to label him the notorious “b” word, especially when half of those games show growth as a QB. 2890 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions are fine numbers for a second year starter. If Norv Turner had stuck around or Smith had not had his career derailed by an injury, he could have improved to a regular 3000+ yard, 20+ touchdown passer. Without any kind of stability, of course Smith couldn’t function properly. Who could? It’s ridiculous to ask someone to play under a new system each year and realize their potential.
Last week Shaun Hill got the start, but Alex Smith received the bulk of the reps with the first team. This week might be the same with the roles reversed. It is very interesting to see that even if Coach does have a favorite, he isn’t showing it. I’m very grateful to Coach Singletary for actually giving his quarterbacks a fair chance to earn the job. I like both quarterbacks and their separate abilities, and I do expect Hill to win the position, but I will be rooting for Smith to get a second chance, a real chance.