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I had a feeling this would happen sometime, but I thought it would happen sometime in camp. Yup, that's right, Martz just threw O'Sullivan's name into the quarterback mix for next season.
In an interview with Matt Barrows, Martz bluntly stated that O'Sullivan could be the starter, and might even have an early edge on both Alex Smith and Shaun Hill. On the topic, Martz said, "(O'Sullivan) is capable of being a starter in this league. He's not a reliever, if you will. He's not a backup. He'll take full advantage of (the competition). He's a very fierce competitor."
It really all makes sense. O'Sullivan was thought to be the third quarterback in Detroit, and he earned the backup role in short order. Why would he give up signing in Detroit as a #2 to come to San Francisco and be assured the #3 spot? I know that I wouldn't, unless my offensive coordinator let me know that the whole enchilada was wide open.
Martz obviously holds him in high regard. And as Barrows points out in his blog post, O'Sullivan certainly fits the mold of the underdog QB that Martz seems to be drawn to.
When it comes down to it, O'Sullivan has the tools to succeed in the Martz offense. The simple fact that Martz is giving him this opportunity attests to that. But will it be enough to take wrestle the #1 gig from Hill or Smith? If Smith wins out and O'Sullivan wins out the second spot (or vice versa) will the 49ers be willing to pay Hill $2 million a year to carry a clipboard?
It all sets up a very interesting situation. I could very easily see O'Sullivan finishing no worse than second on the team. He is versed in the system, has a relationship with Martz and has enough confidence in his skills to risk his second string spot for a shot at first string, knowing the 49ers already had two quarterbacks in the mix. That is some serious risk taking if you ask me.
Something else to notice is that the Mike Nolan as the "voice" of the 49ers is already being thrown under the bus. When was the last time you can remember a 49ers offensive coordinator muddying the waters like this? Before, if an offensive coordinator spoke to the media it was in support of a player, or in very general (read: non-harmful) way. Sure, the now deposed Jim Hostler had a weekly radio show but you could almost predict what the guy would say every week. It was always safe, always bland and sometimes factually incorrect.
We can read two things from this. One, Nolan hired an offensive coordinator that will be more vocal about the state of the offense and player battles, but we might have already known that.
The second, and perhaps more important thing is that nothing is certain at the quarterback position this fall, especially Alex Smith's incumbency. Smith certainly has the most to lose here, since he is the $50 million dollar man. This will certainly test his mettle (for those who find any way to knock Smith) but at the end of the day, it will only leave the 49ers in better shape. Now in year four of the Alex Smith project the team needs to know what it has in Smith. A starter, a backup, or a could-have-been.
Either way, Mike Martz and O'Sullivan will certainly press the issue and give us fans the answer soon.