QB Battle Could Determine How Far 49ers Go This Season

Jeremy CostelloContributor IMay 11, 2009

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 01:  Quarterback Shaun Hill #13 of the San Francisco 49ers throws the ball during the 49ers Minicamp at their training facilities on May 1, 2009 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

By Jeremy Costello

When Shaun Hill took over the quarterback job in San Francisco, he brought two things that then-interim head coach Mike Singletary liked.

He brought an attitude of toughness, and he cut down on mistakes.

Perhaps Hill's lasting image of him running down the sideline to dive for a first down without a helmet on in a Monday night game against Arizona was what first thrust him into the spotlight, but Hill brought a competitive attitude that was lacking in the 49ers' huddle for quite some time. He has made it clear he is the leader of the team.

But in this offseason, he still finds himself battling for a starting position. While this may bring out the best of both Hill and competitor Alex Smith, a former overall No. 1 pick who has struggled and has had to deal with injuries early in his career, this could prove to be the biggest difference-maker for the success of the 49ers' offense.

Hill's edge against Smith is the ability to protect the football. Though not perfect, Hill threw less interceptions and was more productive in the passing game. With yet another new offensive coordinator this year, Hill will be put in fewer and fewer situations that may lead to mistakes.

Singletary's old-school flare of pounding the football with a strong running game has given an identity for the team; however, Frank Gore hasn't been able to stay healthy for a full season since he set the franchise mark with 1,695 rushing yards in 2006. The team's drafting Alabama running back Glen Coffee in the third round could prove invaluable to the running game that will prove to be bruising.

With the selection of Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree and the re-emergence of Vernon Davis at the end of last season, the 49ers will have options they haven't had on a consistent basis since the days of Terrell Owens. The 49ers will focus on the running game, and opponents will stack up against that. The ability to counter that will rest on the accuracy of Hill or Smith. Crabtree and Davis are physical, possession receivers who will rely on good timing and accurate passing to give them chances in the open field.

San Francisco will need to balance the running game with creative play-calling, and the quarterback will determine the limits, or potential, of doing just that.