The discussion centering on Nate Davis and whether he can become a starting NFL quarterback has led to San Francisco 49ers fans trying to convince one another that Alex Smith only needs to avoid losing games in order for the club to succeed.
Quarterback's who play to avoid costly mistakes don't generally have an all-world tight end like Vernon Davis or one of the finest young receivers in the game like Michael Crabtree. Smith has two downfield threats who will, the 49ers hope, emerge as among the best in the NFL. So, Smith will have to complete passes downfield to Davis and Crabtree in order for him to be considered a success and for the 49ers to win.
Davis appears fully capable of completing passes down the field. The problem is that he's only done it against summer camp reserve defenders in the second half of exhibition games. Head coach Mike Singletary went to extraordinary lengths to say Davis was in no way a threat to Smith. And, he explained that Davis needs to work harder and learn the whole offense before he can even begin to think about regular season work.
Forget the notion that Smith just needs to be for the 49ers what Trent Dilfer was for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Dilfer ran a team with a bone-crushing defense and running back Jamal Lewis. Dilfer, even in a very conservative offense, had to stretch the field with a deep pass. So, actually, Smith has to do something consistently in 2010 that he hasn't done in his career—connect on the deep ball.
Smith working with Crabtree, Davis, and others should help him hit the big pass, just like Ted Ginn, Jr. did when he stopped, turned around and leaped to haul in the 65-yard pass from Nate Davis. Davis drew raves for the completion but Ginn had to make a tremendous play or that would've been a 65-yard incomplete pass.
There are some folks who will absolutely flip out if Smith actually does become a conservative, caretaker quarterback: Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. (Well, make that three...no, make it four because Josh Morgan and newcomer Brian Westbrook are expecting to get passes thrown to them down the field, too.)
The 49ers entered 2009 figuring Shaun Hill could just hand the ball to Frank Gore and avoid mistakes and get the club to the playoffs. That plan didn't work so well. The 49ers couldn't get into the end zone with Hill at quarterback, thus Smith won the job.
So, if the 49ers wanted a caretaker QB, Hill would still have the job, right?
Fans don't seem to be grasping the fact that Alex Smith is the starting quarterback. He's only 26 years old. He's not an aging veteran. He's a still-young passer to whom the entire organization has committed for 2010. The 49ers have made so certain their commitment to Smith that fans who are suggesting that Nate Davis be eased into the lineup for a series or two per game have missed the boat completely.
Yes, Bill Walsh did ease a young Joe Montana into the lineup for a series or two in the late 1970s. Walsh put Montana in situations where he could most likely succeed so as to speed up the process of Montana being able to just take the starting job from journeyman veteran Steve DeBerg.
Smith is 26 years old and a former first-overall draft pick. He isn't an old-timer the club has asked to keep warm a seat until they find a young quarterback. The 49ers have committed absolutely to Smith so—they have no intention of giving Davis any playing time in the regular season. It would totally undermine everything they've tried to accomplish with Smith in the off-season.
If the 49ers felt Davis was worthy of a couple of series in every regular season game, they wouldn't have signed veteran David Carr to a two-year deal that nets him around $11 million. Still, some fans talk about Davis being the No. 2 guy and jumping right in there if Smith should fail.
It almost seems like 49ers fans, so desperate for a winner, are skipping right past the part where they wait and hope Smith becomes a winning NFL quarterback. They're already talking about Davis jumping past Carr, because the 49ers surely figure Davis is their quarterback of the future.
Smith is their quarterback of the future. He's 26 years old. Davis is 23. If Smith gets the job done, the 49ers won't be looking for ways to give Davis a chance to steal his job.
This is the season that Alex Smith has to win or move along. The 49ers have invested in him and, moreover, they've invested first-round draft picks and millions of dollars in game-breakers Crabtree and Davis. Smith has to run the offense, avoid mistakes and get the ball down the field to game-breakers.
The 49ers' future is right now and it is all about Alex Smith.
Ted Sillanpaa is a Northern California sports writer and columnist. Reach Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org