The Nail: Why The San Francisco 49ers Need To Choose a Quarterback Now

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistMay 27, 2009

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 01:  Michael Crabtree #15 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during practice as quaterback Alex Smith #11 and Shaun Hill #13 practice during the 49ers Minicamp at their training facilities on May 1, 2009 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost,
for want of a horse the knight was lost,
for want of a knight the battle was lost.
So it was a kingdom was lost - all for want of a nail.

It's funny how a team sport like football can also boil down to one position so quickly.

I'm a big proponent of trying to remind folks how critical the offensive line is, or what a difference a blocking fullback can make. I love to give credit to the more faceless, role-playing types who often go unknown.

At the same time, there are some positions of such importance that a problem at that spot can cause a domino-effect which could destroy a team's chances for a good season, much less a Super Bowl win.

One of those positions is, without a doubt, the quarterback.

Now don't get me wrong. Teams have won without a super-human at quarterback. But they always have someone solid under center and usually have a lot fewer question marks than the 49ers have this year.

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Fact is, more often than not when the quarterback is the weak spot, the team can't make a real run at a title.

Maybe the San Francisco 49ers aren't looking at a Super Bowl run. They are retooling.

But isn't that the very reason which says they should get a quarterback named now?

A new full head coach, a new offensive coordinator. Two new wide receivers and multiple other new players along the whole offense.

They all have to be in sync with whomever ends up starting at quarterback.

Do we want to risk that bleeding into the season because Hill or Smith doesn't get the job until preseason the third week?

Sure, both gentlemen have been with the team for several years, so you could argue they are familiar with most of those involved in the offense.

However, this is the first time they have dealt with two new and very key individuals; offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye and quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson.

Whoever wins the job will need to get comfortable with these guys and very quickly.

The sooner the two of them can focus their time on a single starter, the sooner that starter can get a feel for how they think, what they want, and feel able to push back when necessary.

Next, the starting quarterback will need to get on the same page as his wide receivers.

While both quarterbacks should be familiar with the returning wide receivers on the surface, Alex Smith missed last season.

So not only does he need to get acquainted with Brandon Jones and Michael Crabtree, he hasn't even worked much (if at all) with Isaac Bruce or Josh Morgan either—both of whom should factor into the offensive scheme quite heavily.

Smith is also proof of the danger waiting to name a starter brings to learning the offense.

Along with having almost an offensive coordinator for every year he's been alive, Smith has had to practically cram a new offense at the very last minute of a preseason just about every year he's been here. 

He's always had to rush. He's never really succeeded. One definitely has a lot to do with the other.

Why repeat something which has contributed to his lack of development—or risk Hill's—by waiting so long for one man to be the focus?

Getting him—or Hill, who is really my pick though that's a different article—in there as starter is critical to getting this offense hopping right from the go when the season starts.

It gives him time to make mistakes when it doesn't count. It gives him time to build chemistry with his offensive weapons. It allows him to work out all the kinks.

Why is that so important? Let's look at it by stealing the structure from the poem I led this piece with.

The 49ers don't name a quarterback until late in the preseason.

As that's the case, said QB struggles to connect with the receivers both new and old and the passing game struggles again this year.

With a struggling pass game, opposing defenses key on the run game, holding Frank Gore in check and causing either veterans Michael Robinson and Thomas Clayton or rookies Glenn Coffee or Kory Sheets to struggle once again backing up Gore.

With Gore and company unable to move the ball and eat up the clock, the defense once again spends too much time on the field. They play well but tire. They cannot keep the pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Eventually the offense scores. And again and again as the defense tires out.

The offense gets back on the field, down by several touchdowns. The quarterback has to throw the ball more. But as he is struggling to find his chemistry with the targets he has and the defense knows he has to throw, he cannot move the ball.

Rinse, repeat.

Before you know it, they are too many games back to make a run at the division and (all things considered, if that's the case) are unlikely to make a Wild Card.

Hey, by no means is this a sure thing. But with a team that has so many new pieces or pieces in new places, the quarterback needs as much time as he can get to make the transitions smooth and their offense hum.

While it may be hard—some say unrealistic—to wrestle the division title from Arizona or outrun a rebounding Seattle, San Francisco doesn't do themselves any favors by risking coming out slow.

Name the guy. Do it sooner than later, or the season could be lost right as it begins.

All for the want of a nail.