The most difficult decision of the Mike Singletary administration will soon have to be made: Who to start at QB. In an attempt to be fair to both parties, I present arguments for both Alex Smith and Shaun Hill.
According to Matt Barrows, Alex Smith has looked healthier, stronger, more accurate this past month than in the previous two years. He was the unquestioned starting quarterback two years ago before his shoulder injury, and was a player who seemed to have a strong upside to his game. Did his shoulder injury two years ago affect his ability to play at a high level? Surely. The question is: How much?
Smith presents the best long-term QB answer for the Niners, when stacked against Hill. Alex is four years younger, possesses a stronger arm, and has greater mobility in and out of the pocket.
Supporters of Smith will state that the Niners' OL has never given Alex the chance to develop his game, as he has been running for his life the moment he stood behind the center.
Critics will say that: He simply doesn't get it; although intelligent, he simply has not been able to transition from the shotgun to playing under the center; that he lacks the characteristic of being a strong leader. Critics will argue that he slumps his head too much, isn't a guy who can rally the team effectively, doesn't inspire confidence. All of these statements would be true to some degree. Even the most strident Smith fans would have to admit that these are specific areas of improvement that must happen for Smith to have a starting role in this league.
Shaun Hill has been the super-sub the previous two seasons. His high winning percentage, and strong QB rating in 2008, point to a guy as a winner. He is a terrific leader, and even though he doesn't have a dynamic arm, he gets the ball in most places at most times (although it surely isn't pretty). He is consistent, and does a solid job at limiting turnovers in most games. Hill is a solid game manager. Players rally behind him, more so than Smith. Hill has the necessary confidence that Smith has lacked at times. Finally, while Smith has struggled to adjust to four OC's in four years (as predicted last season, the 2009 season would make for a fifth OC), Hill seems to assimilate each offense with greater ease.
Critics will state that he has limited upside to his game due to sub-standard arm strength, that he cannot make a number of throws on the field, that he doesn't have the ability to stretch the field. They will state that while Hill must be a game manager to win, Smith can post points on the board, that the offense can be more dynamic.
The Niners have a tough call. Outside of the first month of his rookie season, Smith has never come off the bench in his career, and this could be a good thing or bad thing. In one sense, it might take the pressure off of him to produce right away. However, it might also hurt his confidence to be a backup to a NFL journeyman QB. The momentum this spring has been with Smith. How would he react to not getting the starting role?
On the flip side, Hill has been outstanding in a backup role. The team would have tremendous confidence in Hill if Smith went down with an injury in a game, or simply was not producing. However, he has never gone into a season as the starter, and the expectations for greater offensive production may not match his skill set. Entering the season as a starter is a far different animal than coming off the bench. And yet, when Hill plays, the Niners win. Would that change if he started the season at QB, instead of a relief pitcher?
In the end, the Niners will have to answer the question: Which QB gives us a better chance to win? And the answer could be based upon their thoughts on the offensive line and defense. If the Niners have confidence that they will be able to run the ball efffectively, limit the QB to 20-25 throws a game, and have a studly defense, Shaun Hill would appear to be the better option. However, if the Niners really want to open up the offense in 2009, and feel like the defense will not be strong enough to carry the team this season, Smith may be the better option.
There will certainly be more than 1,000 Smith-Hill/Hill-Smith threads once training camp emerges, and the daily drama will surely stoke fires. Ultimately, the team needs to strongly endorse one guy as the starter, or else risk a tough year. Teams with training camp battles at QB, and uncertainty entering the season, struggle to win games, and generally have sub-500 seasons. The goal should be to announce the QB as soon as possible so that everyone is on the same page.
Bold 2010 Prediction: There will not be a QB controversy for the Niners in 2010. Either Hill will show that he is a starter in this league, or not. Smith will show that he is a stable franchise QB to build a team around. Or, the Niners will target a QB in free agency or the draft, to start right away.
[ Edited by MadDog49er on Jun 25, 2009 at 09:30:42 ]