We're two weeks into the season and any quarterback controversy has officially blown by the way side. Whether people still have a problem or not with J.T. O'Sullivan, he is the guy for the rest of this season. As I've said numerous times, it may be a bumpy ride at times, but there's a reason people keep coming back to the roller coaster.
The win at Seattle aside, there still seem to be divergent attitudes about J.T. O'Sullivan and what he can do for the 2008 49ers. Clearly there is a big issue with his contract being up at the end of the season, but that's a discussion for another day. I wanted to open up the discussion about the talent level of J.T. O'Sullivan and what he brings to and takes away from the table on any given Sunday.
I will admit that JTO has won me over so this will lean more towards defending him than a neutral look at both sides. However, I recognize some limitations to and problems with his game. Rather than list strengths then weaknesses, I'm mixing them together as I think some of his strengths are also his weaknesses, for reasons you'll see below.
"Play-making Ability" - As the game was going on, one of the prevailing comments on tv and in the game thread was how much time JTO was trying to buy in the pocket. It's pretty clear this is both a good and a bad thing. On the good side, if the pocket is collapsing and your QB can escape pressure and make plays on the run, good times for all. JTO did manage 32 rushing yards, while also making some passing plays on the run.
At the same time, in a precision offense like that of Mike Martz, it's usually pretty clear right off the bat what will and won't work on a given play. The Martz offense is not built on improvisation. Mike Nolan addressed this briefly while discussing the eight sacks:
Sometimes quarterbacks will see something that they’ll flush early, things like that if they do. But look it: he made some plays off of those things, too, a couple of times. So it’s hard to be too critical in certain respects because he’s the guy pulling the trigger out there, as we all know. He made some plays. There were seven passes over 20 yards yesterday. Just seven. Four of them, every one of Isaac Bruce’s four catches were over 20 yards and obviously much more than that, some of them, with 153 yards. Players make plays, and I thought that there are times that if he feels the need to come out for something, it’s hard to argue with that on certain things. But, obviously, in watching the film, he’ll see, as they all will, who’s responsible for what.
There were numerous times where we all were yelling at the tv, screaming for JTO to just throw the ball out of bounds. For the most part, when O'Sullivan was completing passes, it was as he stepped up into the pocket and hit the player on his precise route. I want to go back over the game-tape at some point but I can't recall many solid completions to wide receivers coming after a made scramble. More often than not O'Sullivan ended up getting popped for a loss.
Accuracy - One big complaint early on was the accuracy, touched off on the overthrow of Vernon Davis early in the first half. I realize JTO wasn't perfect, but it seemed like other than that he was hitting most of his receivers, quite often right in stride, particularly Isaac Bruce. NN favorite Josh Morgan even had a touchdown for the taking but seemed to short arm the pass.
I would like to take this moment to address Isaac Bruce and his role in the offense and in the development of O'Sullivan. I'd imagine Bruce knows the routes of this offense better than he knows his own kids. The shutout against Arizona was rather surprising, but his performance against Seattle was mighty impressive, particularly considering the talent in Seattle's secondary. Considering the precision of the offense and Bruce's knowledge of the routes, I'd argue that JTO was right on the money, at least in hitting Bruce because he hit him in stride perfectly every time.
Leadership - Prior to him taking over the reigns in training camp, I'd heard he was a dick at Davis and his interactions with the media in training camp only seemed to propel that. However, it sounds like he has taken the bull by the horns with this team:
Gore was asked about O'Sullivan's demeanor in the huddle. Gore said when he calls the play in the huddle, he points to each player and really emphasizes everyone's assignment.
While you can see him get pissed on an incompletion or 3 and out, I don't see him calling out his receivers on tv for messing up routes (although Martz (rightfully so) certainly has no problem with that). It's too early to declare him the leader of the pack, but it sounds like in spite of his relatively solitary nature, he is earning the respect of his teammates. The only mention of Alex Smith that I'll make here is that you never seemed to sense that was happening with him. If it's true that JTO is an arrogant prick, maybe that's exactly what you need sometimes from the quarterback position.
When I began this post I wanted to post a poll, but I think I'd rather just hear opinions. If you still have issue with O'Sullivan I'd love to hear your reasons. Do people still believe his accuracy is a major issue? Currently he's throwing at a 65.4% clip, good for 11th in the NFL. Obviously two games is too small a sample size to make legitimate conclusions. However, my view of the first two games is that while he is certainly overthrowing some receivers, he's making enough plays to make up for that. Am I dead-wrong on that? If you think otherwise, feel free to chime in.