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Shaun Hill Paid His Dues: Let Him Start

Daniel ShanksAnalyst IMay 23, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 10:  Quarterback Shaun Hill #13 of the San Francisco 49ers passes against the Arizona Cardinals during the game at University of Phoenix Stadium on November, 10 2008 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Cardinals won 29-24.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

San Francisco Head Coach Mike Singletary has made it clear that no one is safe.

After taking over as head coach in the middle of last season, he discovered that same of the players had become fat and happy. He quickly changed the personality of the team, and helped lead the beleaguered team to a 5-2 finish.

At the forefront of San Fran's improvement was the play of Shaun Hill. The eight-year pro out of Maryland was rarely spectacular, but always solid.

After the J.T. O'Sullivan experiment flamed out in predictable fashion, Singletary called on Hill and he answered the bell.

Hill started eight games (and played extensively in that Seattle loss, Singletary's first game) and posted very respectable numbers (62.8 completion percentage, 13 TDs, 8 INTs, 87.5 QB rating).

Actually, Hill had earned the right to be the starter in 2008. He only started three games in 2007, but he completed 68.4 percent of his passes and threw five touchdowns to just one interception.

There was a revolving door at QB in 2007, but Hill was clearly the most effective in the stat that matters most: wins and losses. San Fran only won five games last year. Hill won two of those, despite playing in just three games.

But Mike Martz's arrival in the City by the Bay put Hill's rise on hold. And I can understand that.

Martz (who was far more successful than I thought he'd be, by the way) runs an incredibly complex system, and O'Sullivan had an instant advantage because he was with Martz in Detroit.

Once Hill got up to speed, he showed that he was capable of running that system. Now imagine what Hill could do with some weapons.

If Michael Crabtree lives up to his potential, he will be the best wide receiver the team has had since TO. And Isaac Bruce's veteran presence should only help Crabtree's development.

If Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker can get with the program, the offense could be dangerous for the first time since I don't know when.

Supporters of Alex Smith are quick to point out that he's had four different offensive coordinators in four years, and is working with his fifth in Jimmy Raye.

But I don't have a lot of sympathy for Smith, because Hill has thrived in two completely different systems.

He performed well under Jim Hostler (whose offense was basically "run on first and second down and throw on third") and Mike Martz (whose offense is harder to learn than calculus).

Even though the two systems were night (more like dark ages) and day, Hill thrived in both. That says a lot about his character and desire to learn, whereas Smith's inability to adjust to different OCs speaks volumes about his football IQ and his internal drive.

I know that Hill is not the sexy pick. I know that Smith was the overall No. 1 pick. But at some point, coaches have to forget about that stuff and make their decision based on production. Advantage, Hill.

Competition is the cornerstone of any successful team, but Hill has proven his mettle time and time again. 49er fans everywhere should hope that No. 13, not No. 11, is under center when the season begins.

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