The buzz around the 49ers front office is that officials are all pulling for Alex Smith to win the starting quarterback role this season. We hear this from blogger extraordinaire Matt Maiocco and Matt Bowen from the National Football Post. Bowen goes so far as to say, "that everyone inside the building is pulling for quarterback Alex Smith to win the starting job in camp. Publicly, it's being called an open competition, but a source close to the Niners told us that he believes Smith will win the job."
I'm all for the feel good story of Alex the Phoenix. I'm all for the 49ers being vindicated in their #1 overall choice. But the simple fact is that having this outlook skews evaluators and could put the 49ers' quarterback position in further jeopardy.
Alex Smith had one average season. Just one. He showed some flashes - most notably that rainy game against Seattle where he waltzed in the end zone on a naked bootleg, ball raised in victory.
Let's not forget, though, that Smith is still young in NFL terms. He turned 25 in May of this year. After two shoulder surgeries he is finally back at 100%. Smith has the ability to start fresh this season and have the career he should have had in 2005.
But with "everyone in the building" (Singletary included?) privately pulling for Smith (and why wouldn't they? Heck, they drafted him #1 overall) it makes it all the more likely that he will be rushed onto the field a tad early. And rushing Smith to the field is a recipe for disaster.
Smith's problems on the field were never physical, save the games where he tried playing with a separated shoulder. Smith's problems were in his ability to digest an offense and read schemes. Urban Meyer might as well be freakin' Nostradamous and his famous "non-functional" quote pretty much hit the nail on the head.
Smith needs time to assimilate the offense. He needs time to watch and learn from someone other than Tim Rattay and Trent Dilfer. He needs time to get back to being the Alex Smith the 49ers wanted when they drafted him first overall.
Shaun Hill provides Smith with his momentary reprieve. Hill can win a few games. Despite having lackluster physical skills, Hill can lead the team for a few weeks until the issue of starting Smith is more than a whisper because of the lack of on field results. This is when the team should act. When Hill starts to slip a little - that way Smith starting is an easy sell because right now this team needs to be sold to fans. The "faithful" would rather go to church and pray for a win than spend money on season tickets.
Imagine this scenario: Hill starts the season. He wins a couple games, he probably loses a few more (let's not be mistaken, the 49ers will lose their fair share of games) and eventually the need for a change arises.
By week 8 a revitalized Smith, with time under his belt to assimilate Jimmy Raye's offense, enters the game and is able to play and use his physical skills, rather than think about which receiver is supposed to be open. He is given every chance possible.
And if it doesn't work out? Then the 49ers can officially call an end to the Smith experiment. He would have been healthy, he would have had time to digest the offense, and there would be no excuses. The 49ers can move on and draft a quarterback next year and attempt to learn from their mistakes.
Or they can rush Smith over Hill and basically ignore the fact that Hill at the very least deserves the chance to open the season as the starting quarterback. Hill is renowned for not being a practice player but he delivers on Sunday. Who knows, Hill could start the season and play so well that the issue of starting Smith is forgotten. That's a win for the 49ers too.
Rushing Smith into action is pretty much the one bad move the team can make and right now, they seem to be intent on making it.