I've spent much of the offseason trying to figure out the best time for this post. The quarterback position has generated more controversy than any other position on the 49ers since Mike Nolan took charge. The team drafted Alex Smith in 2005 to be the quarterback of the future and the controversy has not let up. Last year things culminated with the Nolan-Smith feud last season over Smith's injury issues. The situation was not helped (or maybe it was?) when Shaun Hill emerged to win 2 of his 3 starts late in the season and show poise and precision in the pocket. Alex Smith will be working under his fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons. However, this is no ordinary OC. This is the mad scientist Mike Martz. Smith is running out of excuses and Shaun Hill was gaining a lot of steam late in the season. Oh and then there's J.T. O'Sullivan who actually has experience in a Mike Martz offense.
So back to why now for this post. Word out of 49ers camp is that they really would like to have a clear #1 after these OTAs so that they can have their guy at the beginning of training camp. The best case scenario would see this happen. One of the three steps up and the controversy is dulled until something potentially goes bad in the regular season. However, life is not that simple and these are "non-contact" drills we're talking about. Matt Barrows made a good point late last week when discussing the QB competition. Alex Smith is a good practice QB, which should conceivably give him the edge in the OTAs. Hill has looked better in games, which would mean he'd start slow but gain steam once preseason games get going. And O'Sullivan is the one with experience in the system, so he certainly can't be counted out.
In the past I've thrown up polls on who you think will be starting at a certain position. In this case, I just want to see how divided Niners Nation is on who they think SHOULD be the starting quarterback. I know we've had a million and one conversations about the quarterback position through various threads, but consider this as about official as it gets. If you are so inclined, throw out some reasons for why you voted the way you did. I know this can bring out the passion in all of us, so let's try and keep the discussion civilized and relatively intelligent.
In the meantime, who do I think should be the starting quarterback? First off, I'm going to throw J.T. O'Sullivan out of the discussion because I don't know enough about him and what little I do know, it just doesn't seem likely that he should be the guy given the keys to whatever car this is he's supposed to be driving. It would be easy to say it should be Shaun Hill. He ended the season looking rather impressive and was clearly the flavor of the month in 49erland. While he didn't put up amazing numbers, he won games, and in the end that's all that matters. Alex Smith on the other hand only seemed to cause heartburn in fans and in Mike Nolan. The communication problems over Smith's injury only exacerbated things and I think many fans are still pissed Matt Leinart didn't come out that year and the 49ers were stuck picking between two guys (Smith and Rodgers) who came from suspect programs (in terms of producing NFL-caliber quarterbacks).
In the end, my vote in the poll is going to Alex Smith. It is not because he has the big contract or that an player shouldn't lose his job due to injury. Rather, I feel that long term, Alex Smith has the tools to win games for this franchise ("small hands" aside). Some of the Smith-haters (and that's not meant as an insult) have said he keeps getting excuses and these excuses could go on forever. I don't see the multiple OCs as a reason for Smith not to develop. However, I do believe last year was a bit of a lost year because of the injury issues. At the end of 2006 Smith was showing signs of development and that development ran into a wall known as Rocky Bernard. I certainly can't say for sure that Smith would have continued improving if he hadn't been hurt. However, I don't think anyone can argue that he was clearly going to be god-awful if he'd remained healthy.
I do like Shaun Hill and what he brought to the table late in the season. It is not always the most physically gifted player who ends up being the man. However, if Hill were to get the starting job, I'm curious to see how teams scout him a year later. Although he didn't get a lot of playing time and most teams would still be seeing him for the first time, teams will certainly be more prepared than they were last year. And as with what could've been if Smith had remained healthy, it's entirely possible to think Hill can turn into the long-term answer for the 49ers.
Although I'm voting for Smith, I've reached a point where I just want SOMEBODY to be a clear-cut #1 and end any controversy quickly. The sooner the team can have a clear leader at quarterback, the sooner they can build chemistry around that QB. I think it's more important that anybody be in that position rather than a specific somebody. It's kind of like when a team hands the team to their #1 draft pick QB and says they're all yours. I think half the battle is just instilling that sense of confidence in the rest of the team that the guy running the offense is the best man for the job, and not that he's the guy who'll have to do for now until something better might come along.