San Francisco 49ers: Who Is the No. 1 Backup to Alex Smith?

Keith Mathews@macguru05Correspondent IIIMay 23, 2012

San Francisco 49ers: Who Is the No. 1 Backup to Alex Smith?

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    During the offseason, the 49ers acquired another quarterback to join the competition for starter. Josh Johnson, who played with Harbaugh from 2004-2007 at the University of San Diego, was added to the roster. 

    The 49ers now support four passers; Alex Smith (the presumed starter), Colin Kaepernick (a fan favorite with a strong arm), Johnson and Scott Tolzien.

    Alex Smith turned in an almost error-free performance during the 2011 season, sporting the fewest interceptions in the league with only five. He led a depleted receiving corps that was in constant flux as the team tried to find consistent starters.

    Alex also threw for just over 3,100 yards, won 13 regular-season games and led his team to a thrilling postseason victory at Candlestick Park. The second game was nearly won, but the bounce of the ball decided a closely fought contest. The 49ers came that close to sporting new bling on their fingers.

    The hallmark of the 2011 season was that, in spite of 44 sacks, Alex Smith started every game of the year.

    That cannot be depended upon forever. Stuff happens, and if Alex is taken out of a game, who will replace him?

    Here are some facts. You decide.

Scott Tolzien

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    Scott was claimed by the 49ers off waivers from the San Diego Chargers, who had signed him as an undrafted free agent. The 49ers signed him to back up Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick in September of 2011, in time for the start of the regular season.

    In 2010, his third year at Wisconsin, Scott completed an amazing 73 percent of his passes (a school record) to go along with 16 touchdown passes.

    He played in the 2011 Rose Bowl, threw no touchdowns and his team lost the game by three points.

Josh Johnson

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    A local Oakland boy, Josh Johnson quarterbacked the University of San Diego team from 2005 through 2007 with Jim Harbaugh as his coach. He was selected with the 25th overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2008 draft.

    In football, familiarity more often breeds trust than contempt. There is no doubt Harbaugh had a big hand in choosing Josh when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers let him go. Johnson’s college career was greatly enhanced by his relationship with his coach.

    He holds the career passing efficiency record in NCAA Division 1 football with a rating of 176.68. That might be why Harbaugh went out after him.

Colin Kaepernick

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    Another California kid, Kaepernick lived in the upper San Joaquin Valley. He starred in football, baseball and basketball at Pitman High School in Turlock, CA.

    He joined the University of Nevada team in 2006 as a redshirt freshman. In 2007, he replaced an injured Nick Graziano halfway through the second quarter and amassed 384 yards, four TDs and 60 yards rushing in a losing effort to the Fresno State Bulldogs.

    He finished his college career with over 10,000 yards passing, 82 TDs and 24 interceptions. He threw for over 1,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive years. He is the only quarterback to have accomplished both feats in NCAA Division I history.

    The 49ers drafted him in 2011 as the 45th pick as the backup to Alex Smith.


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    There is noise out in the cosmos that the 49ers will keep only three quarterbacks on the roster.

    Mathematics argues in favor of that point.

    The final roster is limited by NFL rules to 54 players. With 11 offensive starters, 11 defensive starters and their backups, 44 slots are already filled.

    The remaining 10 slots consist of one spare quarterback, a kicker, a punter, long snappers and special teams "specialists." That leaves precious few slots for a fourth quarterback.

    There is a bit of slop in the figures, though. A "practice squad" of up to eight players is also authorized.

    So 49ers fans, who will be the backup to Alex Smith?

    And why?