San Francisco 49ers: Alex Smith Locked in as Starter? Not Yet...

Danny PenzaSenior Writer IJune 17, 2008

What the difference a year makes for 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

After the 2006 season, he had turned heads with his performance under Offensive Coordinator, Norv Turner and looked to be living up to his billing as a No. 1 pick.

Then Norv went to San Diego to take the head coaching job. What ensued was a season at the bottom of the offensive rankings in the NFL for Smith and the Niners.

To add to his woes, Smith didn't make it to the end of the year, and was placed on injured reserve in December. What followed was a controversy with head coach Mike Nolan about how Smith's injury was treated, which put the future of both the coach and the quarterback he drafted into uncertainty.

So now, just weeks before the 49ers report to camp in Santa Clara, it is unclear whether Smith will be under center to start the year.

While he was absent in the backfield last season, Shaun Hill, who was undrafted in 2002 coming out of Maryland, came in and impressed in his first career start against the Bengals. This caused 49er fans to call in radio shows and talk about Hill like he is the second coming of Joe Montana. Hill was rewarded with his late-season performances with a new three-year contract, adding more fuel to the Alex Smith fire.

Nothing is settled, and Nolan has made it clear it may not change in the near future.

"I wouldn't go there right now," Nolan said. "For one, I don't have to go there.

However, Nolan will have to figure out something soon. This season is put up or shut up time for the Niners coach, while the same can be said about Smith.

Will he ever live up to that No. 1 pick billing? He will have to be on the field this season for us to find out.