Fifth Year Senior: Alex Smith Looks to Graduate from Draft Pick Potential

Jason FigueiredoCorrespondent IMay 14, 2009

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 01:  Quarterbacks Alex Smith #11 and Shaun Hill #13 of the San Francisco 49ers look on during the 49ers Minicamp at their training facilities on May 1, 2009 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Finding areas where the San Francisco 49ers needed improvement used to be easier to spot than a flashback set up on Family Guy.  Things are slowly getting better in the city by the bay but a few holes still remain.  

After yet another year of improvement by the Niners’ defense, the lack of firepower by their offense remained the concern moving into the offseason. 

And while most of these concerns were addressed in free agency and the NFL Draft, the one hole that is threatening to sink the entire offense is still the biggest question mark on the table: Who is taking the opening day snap?

In the NFL Draft, the Forty-Niners were given a little gift when the very talented Michael Crabtree from Texas Tech dropped down to the 10th pick.

A few months earlier, San Francisco appeared to have addressed their WR issues by signing former Tennessee receiver Brandon Jones but they were right to grab this enormous talent left hanging on the draft board.   

Crabtree has the ability to become a marquee receiver in the NFL and could be a staple in the 49ers offense for many years to come.  He will also be able to learn a lot from returning future Hall of Famer reciever Isaac Bruce.   Bruce will be able to mentor the young receiver and hopefully accelerate his learning curve in the new league.

Crabtree alone makes me more interested in the 49ers receivers than I have in years, sad to say since that loud mouth, two lettered character left.  But to take a line out of his book, these receivers are still going to need someone to throw them the damn ball!

Who is going to take the reigns at QB is still the biggest hole San Francisco has and if a true starter doesn’t step up, it could once again spell disaster.

Shaun Hill finished the season strong for the second straight year but there is something about him that experts and fans are not sold on.  He makes good reads but lacks the arm strength to make those game-changing throws down field. 

But if the other QBs can’t find the open receiver as often as Shaun does, don’t be surprised if he throws the first pass of the regular season.  

The Alex Smith experiment is reaching it’s second to last year and Smith is so committed to being a 49er that he took a huge pay cut for these seasons.  I’m still holding out hope for Alex, especially after this move by him. 

I mean come on, the guys has gone through more offensive coordinators than Joey Tribbiani has girlfriends. It can’t be easy.  With these new weapons at his disposal, maybe an Alex that wasn’t there before will show up at training camp.

Two pick-ups at the quarterback position in the off-season shows us that GM Scot McCloughan knows where the issue lies but perhaps seems a little confused on what direction to go in the future. 

In free agency, McCloughan signed 35-year-old Damon Huard, which was interesting to say the least.  Many fans will remember Huard from his days backing up Dan Marino and Tom Brady and his out of the blue season with Kansas City in 2006 where he stepped in for an injured Trent Green and threw 11 touchdowns with only one interception.

Huard was able to match that touchdown mark a year later but threw 13 picks along with it. Last year, Damon was the Chiefs opening day starter but suffered a concussion in Week Two that made him miss his next start and eventually led to a collapse in the following weeks. 

His flaws were exposed and his abilities have been questioned every since. 

If Huard sees any starting time this year, it means something has gone horribly wrong with Hill and Smith.  I don’t think Huard will vie for the number two spot let alone the starting role and depending on how Nate Davis performs in camp, he may not even be on the sidelines in Week One.

Nate Davis was San Francisco’s fourth pick in the NFL draft and has some people excited about how his numbers compare to other MAC quarterbacks that recently made the jump to NFL.   Like Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, Nate was elected MAC Offensive Player of the Year in their final collegiate season. 

In his 2008 campaign, he posted 26 touchdowns with only eight picks while completing over 64 percent of his passes. Davis also has shown that he has some speed, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and running in five TDs.   Now how this all translates to NFL numbers will be something we will have to wait and see.

Davis is still far off from seeing any really NFL playing time but he definitely is an interesting development to keep your eyes on during the off season and into preseason.  The true battle will be between Smith and Hill and this year fans are hoping that the answer doesn’t make them shake their heads in wonderment like last year.  

The success of the San Francisco 49ers lies deeply in how quickly they can find a starting quarterback and how fast their choice can produce out of the gate. 

Depending on whether or not the correct choice is made, the Niners could either taste the joy and excitement of the playoffs or find themselves watching the playoffs from the couches and tasting their wife’s famous bean dip instead…again.   

It should be a very interesting spring!