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49ers QB Situation: The Third Rail of 49ers discussions

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What's the third rail you ask? Well, for those who don't know it's the electric rail on the subway system you don't wanna be touching. At election time, there is often talk of how social security is the "third rail of American politics." It's the topic that has to be discussed, but it's also a topic that leads to great acrimony. That seems like a pretty fitting description of the 49ers quarterback situation.

There are several different threads related to the QB situation and I wanted to bring them all together. I've included a poll of where you think the competition stands right now. I'd like you to base your vote on media reports, as well as what you infer from the situation. I'd prefer you note vote based on who you want to be in what position.

I've chosen this juncture for a couple of reasons. First, J.T. O'Sullivan has been named the starter for this Friday's game against the Raiders. Second, the Brett Favre situation has led to wide-spread speculation around the league based on the dominoes that would fall. Heck, people have started talking about the potential for Jeff Garcia to return to the Bay (Of course, since initially typing this, the dominoes have begun to fall).

So, I thought I'd go through and give my thoughts on the positives and negatives of each quarterback. Basically we're talking reasons why a guy should be leading the pack and why not. I'll be honest, some of these pros and cons are debatable (shocking, I know), but this is a combination of my thoughts and what popular opinion has thrown out there. I'm sure I'll miss some of the pros and cons, so please mention them in the comments. This will sound kind of like something in elementary school, but if you throw out a negative about a guy, try and come up with something positive as well. If you can't think of a new one that's fine, but I'd like a somewhat even-keeled approach to this.

Alex Smith
Why he should be #1:1) He's arguably the most physically-talented of the three quarterbacks. 2) He's got the big contract and that should give him an automatic lead. It should be his job to lose. 3) He was showing improvement in 2006 and while he struggled in 2007, it should be a throw-away year because of the injury issues. 4) He's a smart guy who can learn this complicated offense, which is a key for the starter on this team. 5) He has shown ability to make plays outside the pocket, which is essential in this day and age of big, quick defensive linemen and linebackers; 6) He was drafted by Nolan and considering this season is a referendum on Nolan, they might as well sink or swim together

Why he should NOT be #1: 1) He does not appear to command the level of respect from his team that a starting QB should. 2) The communication issues indicate he clearly needs to a fresh start away from Mike Nolan. 3) While we joke about his "small hands," there are certain physical issues that cannot be overlooked. 4) He played in Urban Meyer's spread option offense in college, which is not conducive to development as a pro QB (because he sure isn't Warren Moon). 5) He is not decisive enough as a quarterback, leading to more sacks and a worn down offensive line.

Shaun Hill
Why he should be #1: 1) He won two straight games to snap the ugly 8-game losing streak last season; 2) While not spectacular, he was very efficient, evoking a Super Bowl winning Trent Dilfer (as opposed to 2006 or 2007 Dilfer); 3) He seems to command respect for how he came in cold and made things happen; 4) Although he doesn't have a cannon for an arm, he can make most of the throws necessary to be successful in this league. The Martz offense is not just a chuck it offense and the 49ers have a group of receivers that can make plays on quick receptions.

Why he should NOT be #1: 1) While he did win games, he was not exactly spectacular and the teams he played were not in the best situations (Cincy was falling apart and TB was resting their starters); 2) He can't throw the deep ball like Smith and O'Sullivan; 3) In spite of being in the league for seven years, he has very little in-game experience

J.T. O'Sullivan
Why he should be #1:1) He knows the offense better than Smith or Hill and has worked with Martz longer; 2) He's got an abundance of confidence, which is absolutely necessary to be a good/great starting QB in this league; 3) He can prove what an idiot I was here;

Why he should NOT be #1: 1) He might just be a little toooo confident; 2) Like Hill, he's been around the league for a while and barely left the sideline

As you can see, my pros and cons decrease as we move down from Smith. I have to claim a little ignorance on O'Sullivan. If you check out the scouting report I got from our Detroit blogger, there didn't appear to be much of a chance of O'Sullivan making an impact. And yet, here we are 5+ months later and he's right in the thick of things.

This is not a thread asking for predictions. As we head into the first exhibition game, it's essential to consider the pros and cons of each guy. We have an idea of what each quarterback does well and where they struggle. We need to know what to look for if we want to accurately judge our QBs. For example, if Shaun Hill goes 7-for-10 in the second half on Friday, is it a success and does he move up the depth chart? Well if he's throwing quick passes, it's a plus, but certainly something he's done well to date. Rather, I (and by extension, we) want to see O'Sullivan/Smith/Hill take some chances with their passes. That's not exactly the most original statement, but I definitely think it is something that we need to remember from time to time.

The plan is to run this poll in the days leading up to each exhibition game. Everyone will have their own opinion of how a given QB performed. This will give us a very unscientific way of seeing where the collective public opinion lies.