Now that the San Francisco 49ers have their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in place, they just have one thing left to do—figure out who is going to be the quarterback.
With Coach Mike Nolan appointing Ted Tollner as quarterbacks coach on Wednesday, Tollner and offensive coordinator Mike Martz now face an important task.
They must decide whether former No. one draft pick Alex Smith can recover from a shoulder injury and resume the progress he had begun to show in 2006.
If Smith isn't the man, maybe it will be Shaun Hill, a journeyman career backup who took over last season after Tollner was brought in to help the league's-worst offense. The 49ers apparently would like to re-sign the pending free agent.
If healthy, Smith seems better equipped to handle Martz' let-it-fly offense, which requires good accuracy on intermediate and deep throws.
Tollner has never worked with Martz, although he was previously the QB coach of the 49ers when Jeff Garcia was the signal-caller during the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
He was made the offensive coordinator in 2004, but was let go, along with Coach Dennis Erickson, after that season. He then became Steve Mariucci's OC in Detroit, but that lasted just one year as well—Tollner was replaced by Martz.
The two should be able to add some veteran coaching stability to an offense that lacked it last season under first-year coordinator Jim Hostler and first-year QB coach Frank Cignetti. Tollner arrived last November to offer an experienced hand to the overwhelmed Hostler for the final six games.
The 49ers scored a season-high 37 points in Tollner's first game back, but they never scored more than 21 in any of the final five games. Of course, they were playing with three dismal quarterbacks in Trent Dilfer, Hill and Chris Weinke and one of the league's least spectacular receiving corps.
Tollner and Martz both have run variations of the Don Coryell offensive system, so they should be able to work in harmony to get Smith, or Hill, going.
However, they will need some help on the receiver front, and they will need to get Smith healthy—or Hill re-signed.
Smith is obviously the top choice to run the offense. The 49ers made him the first pick in the 2005 draft, and he showed good progress in 2006. Tollner and Martz should be able to finish the job Norv Turner started if Smith regains his health and accepts the coaching.
"Alex Smith's fundamentals need to be re-tooled. He has to have thick skin because Mike Martz coaches quarterbacks hard," Greg Cosell of NFL Films told the Press Democrat's Matt Maiocco on Wednesday.
"Martz is not a bad guy, he just knows exactly how he wants it done and he really challenges his quarterbacks."
That will make it a two-way street since Martz and Tollner face the first challenge of making sure they have a quarterback.