Alex Smith will get a new opportunity to succeed this season, but chances are that he will continue to fail. The San Francisco 49ers will need to know where to turn when this happens.
Drafted as the first pick overall in 2005, big things were expected from Alex Smith. Unfortunately, his rookie year he threw a miserable 11 interceptions with only one touchdown. Since then he has done very little to prove he can be a starting quarterback in the National Football League.
Of course Smith has had his excuses. He has never had consistency at offensive coordinator and each of his head coaches were defensive specialists. Some believe that the addition of quarterback expert Jim Harbaugh will help turn his career around. On the other hand, he might be too far along in his career to fix bad habits.
If Alex Smith inevitably fails, the 49ers will have some options of what they should do at quarterback.
This is the most likely option and the one that the San Francisco 49ers and their fans are looking forward to the most.
Since draft day, fans have envisioned Colin Kaepernick to take over as the starting quarterback. At this point however, he is not quite ready for the NFL. As a dual-threat quarterback he has the chance to be a very dangerous weapon that can help win a lot of games in the future, but that will come with time.
Unfortunately if Alex Smith starts losing some games early in the season, head coach Jim Harbaugh might be forced to start the young quarterback sooner than later.
One thing that Mike Singletary failed to do as a football coach was make adjustments. He believed that a strong enough team could run over and through everyone, and if the team knew it was coming he would just run harder. New head coach Jim Harbaugh is known to be better and making changes based on personnel and the competition.
If Alex Smith does not step up to finally be the quarterback the 49ers thought he would be back in 2005, the team should still be able to succeed by using the weapons around him. Frank Gore is a Pro Bowl running back and Kendall Hunter has impressed so far this preseason. They can also try to get the ball out to the receivers and tight ends by using low risk quick passes and screens.
There have been successful teams over the past decade without extremely talented quarterbacks. It requires good coaching and other players stepping up, but it might be enough to get them into the playoffs.
The season would have to already be in terrible shape for this to occur, but stranger things have happened. If Alex Smith cannot survive the season and if something happens to Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers will need someone to stand in.
The team has already signed the veteran Josh McCown to be their third string quarterback. They do not want him to appear in a game, but he knows the West Coast offense and should be able to do enough if a spot start is needed.
If the team remains short on quarterbacks, there are always unsigned players with NFL experience waiting for a call. Daunte Culpepper and Jamarcus Russell are unsigned, but for good reason. It is also possible Marc Bulger could be convinced to come out of retirement for the right price.
A lot can happen before the October 19th trade deadline. Teams can realistically fall out of contention by this point, or contending teams could need to fill a major hole. Although it is rare that any major deal takes place during the season, there is always the possibility something newsworthy takes place (see: Randy Moss).
One team that could be parting with a quarterback is the Denver Broncos. They have already attempted to shop Kyle Orton before deciding he will be the starting quarterback. If they decide to promote Tim Tebow to starter, Orton will certainly be a trade candidate. The Broncos also have former starting quarterback Brady Quinn on their roster. If Alex Smith fails to meet expectations and the team decides that Colin Kaepernick is not yet ready, Quinn might be a decent holdover option.
The least appealing short term option might turn out to be the best long term solution. Alex Smith is definitely not the quarterback of the future, and Colin Kaepernick might not be either. They could give Kaepernick a chance, but it is possible that he will be as unsuccessful as Smith.
If they both fail, the San Francisco 49ers can take a page out of the Carolina Panthers playbook. In the 2010 draft, they took Jimmy Clausen in the second round. A year later, they took another quarterback in Cam Newton with the first overall pick. After picking Colin Kaepernick in the second round in the most recent draft, the 49ers would still take a quarterback if they were given the first overall pick.
Current projections are that Andrew Luck is one of the most complete quarterbacks in years. Unless something terrible goes wrong this season, he will likely be the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. He also played with current head coach Jim Harbaugh last season at Stanford. If the 49ers have a terrible year, Luck will end up being the best choice as their future quarterback.