The Best Seat In The House For All Your News On The 5 Time World Champion Niners

The Best Seat In The House For All Your News On The 5 Time World Champion Niners
A review and commentary on the history & lastest events surrounding the 17 time NFC Western Division & 5 -Time World Champion San Francisco 49ers. From 1946 and the All America Football Conference to 2009 and the road to a 6th Super Bowl title - For true fans of the scarlet and gold! Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Position By Position Battles - Quarterbacks

With the training camp count down to 24 days, we thought we'd evaluate the positions going into camp, starting with everyone's favorite, quarterback.

Alex Smith rolled right in a game last year against the Saints at Candlestick and then he glared at an open receiver 7 yards away. A voice rang out from above the 49ers' press box as Smith continued to cling to the ball and stare. "THROW IT! (BLEEPING) THROW IT!" He eventually did, completing the pass. But with Smith's inexplicable delay, the play went for 2 yards instead of 8 or 10. The voice may have belonged to a fan. More likely, it was one of the 49ers coaches. Their booth is upstairs from where the media sits and at times, their voices can be heard through the open window, particularly when they yell. Can Mike Martz tap Alex Smith's talent?
The story illustrates Smith's major challenge as he attempts to retain his job against challengers Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan - the ability to think and act quickly. If one quote illuminates Smith's checkered four-year career, it's the oft-mentioned one his former coach at Utah issued. Urban Meyer, who now coaches the Florida Gators, said the day Smith was drafted that unless Smith knows exactly what the offense and defense is doing, he'll be "non-functional." Last year, offensive coordinator Jim Hostler put too much on Smith. Hostler expanded the playbook and forced the quarterback to rifle through a series of reads on every play and made him responsible, at times, for recognizing blitzes. It compounded Smith's perfectionist tendencies and froze him. One 49ers defender complained privately that in drills without a pass rush, Smith would sit back and stare at the patterns instead of throwing.

So can Smith know his own offense and the opposing defense enough to unlock his abundant talent when a defensive staff works 500 hours in a given week trying to confound him? And on offense, Smith himself said it's impossible to know the entire Mike Martz scheme, making it sound as if Martz's offense was "The blob," - a breathing, moving and ever-expanding organism?

Martz, nevertheless, may save him. He recognized what Norv Turner saw two years ago - that he must unclutter Smith's mind. Give him one or two reads and then instruct him to either throw it away or take off all the while making Smith process everything faster - the huddle, his drop, his recognition, his delivery. Turner constantly hounded Smith to hurry in practice, sometimes doing it while he dropped to throw. When slapped a mic on Martz during one of the June OTA practices, Martz was captured imploring Smith to hurry three times. I thought of a story I did on him in the Chronicle a few weeks after he was drafted while watching Smith this spring in OTA's easily out-perform his challengers.
Smith and his family graciously allowed a photographer and me to go to his parents' home in San Diego for a profile. With his Dad, Doug, a former prep football coach and now a high school principal, Smith watched his game tapes. I asked the Smiths to pop in a tape and talk about what they saw. We watched parts of different games while father and son broke down the plays. Smith looked and sounded like football's version of a young Jason Kidd. He was a step ahead on everything and he exuded confidence, even a cockiness. On the screen, Smith digested the defense in an instant and fired the ball to an open receiver despite having five of them in the pattern on nearly every play. In Smith, there's something special. But can it be tapped or is there too much baggage after disappointments, injuries, a once-poisoned relationship with his head coach and four coordinators in four years? Can Smith remove all of that plus his own immense, play-stopping intellect to get to the pool of talent below? In training camp and the season the answer will un-spool.


Hill is the anti-Alex. While Smith was tossed into the lineup as a 21-year-old rookie, Hill threw one incomplete pass in his first five seasons in the league. Smith was a first overall pick, Hill was undrafted. Smith was looked upon as the franchise quarterback, Hill needed to beat out Jesse Palmer and then former University of Akron player Luke Getsy the last two seasons just to claim his roster spot.

Shaun Hill is a gamer.

While Smith can look impressive in practice, coach Mike Nolan said Hill saves his best for games. Hill also "throws through" or throws to an area before a receiver breaks, something that Smith struggles with. But like Smith, last year, Hill also had a defining play. It came in the third quarter of his first start against the Bengals at home. Faced with a third down in a tight game, Hill settled in a shotgun formation. At the snap, tight end Vernon Davis didn't move, seemingly forgetting the snap count. It allowed defensive end Robert Geathers a free pass at Hill. But he avoided Geathers with two quick steps, one towards the line of scrimmage and the other to his right. As Geathers flew past, a composed Hill continued to run right and threw a completion to running back Maurice Hicks for the first down. Hill executed the play so adroitly, you had to look at the replay a few times to see what happened. But can Hill maintain this excellence of play? He tore up the Bengals completing 21 of 28 passes for 197 yards. While subbing for the concussed Trent Dilfer a week earlier against the Vikings, he completed 22 of 28 passes for 181 yards. Minnesota gave up more passing yards than any other team in the league last year. Cincinnati ranked 26th in that category.

When Hill faced Tampa Bay, which owned the stingiest pass defense in the league, he was 11 of 24 for 123 yards. In all of his appearances except Tampa Bay, his completion percentage was high and his yardage was low, which confirms his lack of arm strength. The overriding questions for Hill: Is he athletic enough and is his arm strong enough to overthrow Smith for the starting job? He faces another challenge. The 49ers paid Smith about $7 million this offseason to continue his contract, meaning Smith has strong advocates within the organization.

The former UC Davis player deserves some sort of award. Who can name a quarterback who has existed on the fringes of nine NFL rosters in seven seasons? It's an unusual feat. Martz has an abiding belief in O'Sullivan and seemingly insists that he be part of the competition for the starting job.

1 comment:

Fl├╝ge Bangkok said...

I really like Shaun Hill. I think he could make it to one of the best players ever.

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