Troy Smith, the San Francisco 49ers third-string quarterback, will start in London Sunday.
The change signifies several things. First, that David Carr is not a viable option. Second, that Alex Smith's shoulder is in fact, well, busted. Lastly, this is a sign that 49ers coaching has opened up to experimentation on offense.
A positive light shines on each of these, but a negative shadow is cast as well.
David Carr Is Not a Viable Option
Carr accomplished so little against Carolina, the loss could almost be placed on him. Sure, he handed the ball off well to Frank Gore, but every time he dropped back to pass, a disaster seemed eminent. It may have seemed tempting to start Carr off a full week of practice instead of coming in cold, but at 1-6 and with their backs against the wall, the 49ers decided to roll the dice.
The fact that their backup quarterback is not capable of coming off the bench and playing decently speaks volumes to their inadequacy at the position, but the fact that they're willing to conduct this experiment is a tribute to their coaching staff's attempt to adapt.
Alex Smith's Shoulder Is Busted
For the many Alex Smith haters, this is a blessing in itself. It's still likely, however, that Alex is still the team's best option at quarterback when he's able to play. There's even a small chance that the separation in his left shoulder might even out his old throwing arm injury so he's not aiming high on passes so often.
It's difficult to tell who will be the starter when Alex Smith returns, especially if Troy Smith manages to pull out a victory while he's gone.
49ers Coaching Has Opened Up to Experimentation on Offense
Alex's absence gives coaches the slack they need to conduct this trial without too many people second-guessing them.
Observers will get to see what Troy Smith is about, and how he fits in the currently inept 49ers offense. Perhaps his footwork is good enough that he can play under center without getting stepped on. Maybe the 49ers won't need to tailor their passing attack to fit Troy. It's possible he hooks up with Ginn for deep passes when the Broncos inevitably stack the box to stop Frank Gore.
Good science is drawn from results, though, so there are really no conclusions to make yet.