Smith likely the early leader for 49ers' starting QB job

Eddie GriffinSenior Analyst IJune 25, 2008

According to the San Jose Mercury News, former No. 1 overall pick will likely be penciled in as the 49ers’ starting quarterback when the team reports to camp on July 24.

But that’s definitely not to say that Shaun Hill or J.T. O’Sullivan can’t win the job in camp, although it’s likely just a race between Smith and Hill.

“The pleasing thing to me is that we have three guys who can win a game for us,” coach said, but then added: “At some point, you have to decide who is going to take more reps. You have to do that in fairness to the other players who are out there.”

He cautioned against reading too much into who takes the most snaps with the first unit, however. The job will go to the player who performs the best at practices and in the preseason games.

Smith is in his fourth season with yet another offensive coordinator. But perhaps he can thrive under Mike Martz as he did under Norv Turner.

Martz and Nolan noted that Smith’s biggest improvement in the offseason work has been getting the ball to receivers more quickly in blitz situations rather relying on his protection to save the play.

“Alex is very athletic,” Nolan said. “He probably has the strongest arm of all the guys. He’s really intelligent. Now he’s got to go in there and put in four quarters and move the ball consistently and make plays he should make.”

Hill is a career third-stringer who got his chance late last year and was quite good: He completed 54 of 79 passes for 501 yards, five TDs and an interception – a QB rating of 101.3. Smith, meanwhile, completed only 48.7 percent of his passes with two TDs and four interceptions for a rating of 57.2. Niners quarterbacks were sacked a franchise-record 55 times last season and San Francisco had the worst offense in the league.

You’d think the team would want some return on its huge investment in Smith, but Hill thinks the job is truly wide open.

“I feel like it’s definitely a fair competition,” Hill said. “I’ve got nothing to make me think otherwise. … It’s going to be an exciting offense, for sure, and we definitely have the players for it. Everybody is excited to get in the offense and see where it takes us. We’re a lot further along now than we were a year ago at this time.”