Ok maybe that's a cheesy headline, but it's actually kind of true. Whether you're for or against 49ers QB Nate Davis (as opposed to those of us in the middle), the young man has inspired an inordinate amount of debate. I suppose this isn't surprising given the struggles of 49ers quarterbacks since the departure of Jeff Garcia.
Whatever the situation, it's not surprising some folks have latched on to Nate Davis as the guy of the future. They might not be calling him the next Montana, but they want him out there ASAP. Other folks have made it clear they think Nate Davis is nothing, is not going to make an impact in the future, and has no place on the 49ers roster going forward. Both sides have been quite vocal in their support or lack of support for Davis.
I bring all this up because of my own position, and my curiosity about the extreme folks thoughts on certain issues. When it comes to Nate Davis I am definitely excited by his potential, but I'm also not ready to bet the farm that he's the long term answer. I think the potential exists for him to be a long term answer, but I don't think the team needs to put him out there at this point in time.
What I want to do with this post is offer the various counter-arguments I see to the two extreme positions. I believe that it's way too early to make any sort of hard judgments about Nate Davis one way or the other. I can say with virtual certainty that plenty of folks will disagree on both sides of the debate, so please feel free to fire away with your opinions. And given how some of these debates have developed in the past, let's try and keep things respectful.
After the jump, I consider the two sides of the coin. There's no poll because I don't see this as a black and white issue even with numerous poll options. So whether you agree or disagree, let us know your thoughts in the comments...
Argument 1: Nate Davis should be starting now
I'd first like to clarify this argument. There are certain folks who want to see Nate Davis out on the field later in the season after the team is completely out of playoff contention. I am not talking about this argument. I think a little mop-up time is certainly not completely unreasonable. The argument I take issue with is the argument for getting Davis out there starting now, or as soon as possible.
The easy counter that seems to come up frequently is to point to Alex Smith's rookie season in 2005. Smith was in over his head and was just annihilated out there. Why do that again with Nate Davis as a rookie? Well, this is not actually the argument I would make, at least in its entirety. The 2009 San Francisco 49ers are much different from the 2005 49ers. This team is struggling, but this team also has a lot more talent on it and clearly Nate Davis would be surrounded with an immensely improved group of skill players.
The one area one might compare would be the struggles of the offensive line. And that's where my point is in countering this argument. As much as people complain about Alex Smith and Jimmy Raye, this offensive line is rather abysmal. They'll make a nice play once in a while, but more often than not it seems like Alex Smith has to run for his life. Actually, it's not even running for his life, because many times he has no time to run. Nate Davis certainly has a cannon for an arm and can get the ball deep to Crabtree, Davis and Morgan. However, when a quarterback has 1 second before the pass rush is on him, how exactly are the wide receivers supposed to run their vertical routes? If somebody can answer me that question, maybe you should send the 49ers a postcard.
Argument 2: Nate Davis is useless and has no place in the long term plans of this team
This is more of a summary of that side of the debate, than anything word-for-word. So feel free to correct me if you think I'm misconstruing the argument(s). The way I read it, some folks contend Davis is never going to be a good quarterback and the team needs to consider alternative options.
My problem with this side of the debate is the fact that Nate Davis has been in the NFL for less than one season. I realize his only game action came in the preseason, which is one reason I'm not prepared to name him the savior. At the same time, I don't see why the anti-Davis crowd can't admit that he showed some talent in the preseason (even if it was against backups). It is only preseason, but showing some skills in preseason has to be better than performing poorly in the preseason, right? Or am I wrong on that? Please feel free to rebut this presumption.
I know some folks are concerned about the learning disability, but that's another thing that I think is being overblown. Nate Davis has dyslexia, which basically involves an individual's ability to read, write and spell. It interferes with an individual's "acquisition and processing of language." The team brought Davis in before the draft and had him work with QB coach Mike Johnson. Obviously learning the playbook might be an issue, but I'm guessing the coaches figured that was something that could be overcome. Seeing as he learned the Ball State playbook, I'll agree with them on that. As far as in-game action, the only issue I could see would be in the hurry-up offense when Davis might be reading the play-chart on his forearm. However, I'd like to think the team has figured out a way to overcome that. I could be wrong, but that seems like a fairly basic issue to resolve.
Handling Nate Davis
As I said at the top, I fall somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to Nate Davis. I definitely see some skills that could project into the quarterback of the future. However, I also realize 1) it's only based on preseason performance, and 2) putting him in right now behind such an abysmal offensive line is not the smart move. If the team is in fact going to push him as the #1 guy next year (I'm not expecting it initially), why not get a couple big hogs on the offensive line to keep him upright? Build up that offensive line and suddenly those weapons could be absolutely fierce. Davis and Crabtree have looked good this year. Imagine how they would look with more time to develop their routes?
So how would I handle Nate Davis, long term? I'd go with some variation on the Carson Palmer/Steve McNair philosophy. Palmer was drafted in 2003 and sat out the entire year behind Jon Kitna. He never touched the field in a regular season game and then was named the starter at the beginning of the 2004 season. Steve McNair was drafted in 1995. He saw action in 4 games, starting 2 his rookie season. His second year he appeared in 9 games, starting 4. Both seasons the #1 QB was Chris Chandler, who finally gave way to McNair completely in 1997.
So, I'd say if Davis is going to see any playing time, it should be late in the game against the likes of Detroit and St. Louis, if even then. It's a bit more difficult in this situation because you don't have the aging veterans that know they're being worked out the door. You have a young guy in Alex Smith, and a still relatively young guy in Shaun Hill, who won't be quite so accommodating (even if they act nice about it). Hill's only chance as a starter going forward is if the team cuts loose Smith and wants a bridge to the QB of the future, be it Nate Davis or anybody else. But clearly Hill's not a long term answer (or even really a short term one). But the general idea, whomever you're rolling out there, is that Nate Davis could conceivably become your starting QB either midway through 2010, or at the start of 2011. I know that's too long a wait for some folks, but I think if you build up your offensive line this year it's worth the wait.
One interesting little fact about McNair, the year before McNair was drafted, Jeff Fisher took over as head coach with six games left in the season, and had the interim tag removed for the next year. Last year Mike Singletary was interim head coach for 9 games, before having the tag removed. And he also has a rookie QB. It's a bit of a stretch, but it's fun to consider those random possibilities.
Of course, if the offensive line is really the problem, and it's enough to make Alex Smith a better QB next year, that throws a monkey wrench into the plans I suppose.