Shaun Hill and Alex Smith’s Different Journeys to the 49ers’ 2009 QB Battle

Andre Tameta
Jul 15, 2009 at 5:35 PM


One was an undrafted free agent that played in NFL Europe.

The other was a highly touted NCAA quarterback that was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Shaun Hill and Alex Smith now vie for the job to be the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback, but their journeys to this 2009 competition have been extremely different.

Hill was not highly recruited out of high school and spent his first two years at Hutchinson Community College. He earned honorable mention honors as a freshman and sophomore, garnering mild attention from the University of Maryland's football scouts.

Hill served as Maryland's backup quarterback in his first year but eventually led the Terrapins to an ACC Title as a senior in 2001, their first since 1985. They went on to the 2002 Orange Bowl, ultimately losing to the Florida Gators 56-23.

They finished No. 10 in the BCS standings and Hill's Maryland career ended with 3,158 yards passing and 19 touchdown passes.

The accurate passer was not considered an NFL prospect in 2002, which fueled him to prove his critics wrong. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent, spending the season as a third-string backup to Gus Frerotte and Daunte Culpepper.

Hill went on to play for NFL Europe, spending the spring of 2003 with the Amsterdam Admirals, where he led the league in passing yards and tied for second in touchdown passes.

Hill then left Minnesota and signed with San Francisco. He began the 2006 offseason third on the 49ers' depth chart, behind veteran Trent Dilfer and Smith.

He took zero snaps as Alex Smith took every snap under center that year.

During his final year at Utah, Smith finished fourth in the 2004 Heisman Trophy voting and was selected as the 2004 MWC Player of the Year.

He led the Utes to the 2005 Fiesta Bowl against the University of Pittsburgh, throwing for 328 yards with an impressive 78 percent completion percentage and four touchdown passes.

Smith then graduated from the University of Utah in just two years with an economics degree and a 3.71 GPA.

The San Francisco 49ers, rookie head coach Mike Nolan and offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy made Alex Smith their franchise quarterback, drafting him No. 1 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft and signing him to a to an expensive six-year, $49.5 million contract.

The young quarterback would have one of the worst rookie seasons in recent memory, throwing one touchdown pass and 11 interceptions as the 49ers stumbled to a 4-12 record.

After the season, McCarthy left to become the Green Bay Packers' new head coach, taking his West Coast Offense with him.

After the challenges he faced as a rookie, Smith went into the 2006 season with Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator Norv Turner and the No. 6 overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft, playmaking tight end Vernon Davis, from Hill's alma mater Maryland.

Future rushing champion Frank Gore also became the feature running back that year, taking the pressure off Smith when Kevan Barlow was traded to the New York Jets.

Smith's first three games of the season saw him throw three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and 814 yards. After struggling in Kansas City against the Chiefs, he then threw for a career-high three touchdowns in defeating the crosstown rival Oakland Raiders 34-20.

He went on to lead the San Francisco 49ers to a three-game winning streak in November.

Smith would meet Joe Montana for the first time on November 5, 2006 during a game against the Minnesota Vikings where the 49ers wore throwback jerseys from the 1980s Joe Montana and his 49er teammates wore.

The 49ers ended up winning the game 9-3.

A few weeks later, one of Smith's career games occurred when the 49ers traveled to Seattle for a Thursday Night Football contest against the Seahawks.

San Francisco trailed the Seahawks 7-3 at the end of the third quarter but Smith performed like the legend in the fourth quarter, leading the 49ers on a long touchdown drive down the field as they took a 10-7 lead.

Smith would strike again, this time evading a sure sack, rolling to the left and completing a bullet pass to Frank Gore for a touchdown that gave the 49ers a 10-point lead.

On the very next drive, Smith put the nail in the coffin by leading another touchdown drive, this time rushing for a touchdown on a naked bootleg.

After losing to the Arizona Cardinals the next week, San Francisco's final game of the 2006 season was against a Denver Broncos team looking to enter the playoff hunt.

Smith and the 49ers upset the Broncos in overtime 26-23 and knocked them out of the playoffs as he threw for 194 yards and a touchdown, leading San Francisco to a come from behind victory for the second time in three weeks.

Smith improved drastically in his second year as a pro, throwing as many touchdowns as interceptions. His final stats were highlighted by 16 touchdown passes, 2,890 passing yards, and a 74.8 quarterback rating.

Not bad for a 22 year old quarterback.

With the relatively successful season in the books, expectations were high in 2007 despite losing Norv Turner as offensive coordinator when he became the San Diego Chargers' head coach.

This left Jim Hostler as the new offensive coordinator.

Hostler's horrible 2007 offense became a punch line in the NFL, but a hit by Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Rocky Bernard started the decline of the season as he drove Alex Smith into the ground, destroying the upstart San Francisco 49ers' high expectations and injuring Smith's right shoulder in the process.

Mike Nolan tried to rush the injured Smith back onto the field, even calling the quarterback out on his toughness. As expected, Smith re-injured the shoulder.

The veteran Dilfer took over as starting quarterback for the struggling 49ers but also suffered a season-ending injury. Dilfer's injury finally gave Shaun Hill the opportunity to prove himself as a starting NFL quarterback.

Hill went on to win two of his four starts, finishing the season with a 101.3 quarterback rating.

Hostler was immediately fired after the season and another Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator in Mike Martz took the reins of the offense.

Alex Smith would eventually toil in obscurity on the injured list, culminating with him re-injuring his surgically repaired right shoulder again before the beginning of the season, ending his 2008 campaign before it even started.

With Hostler out, Martz officially named gunslinging J.T. O'Sullivan as the 49ers' starting quarterback.

O'Sullivan would commit turnover after turnover in Martz's complex offense, finally getting demoted by interim head coach Mike Singletary after Mike Nolan was fired on Oct. 21, 2008.

Shaun Hill would start for the rest of the year.

Hill led the surprising 2008 San Francisco 49ers to five victories and a 7-9 overall record, good enough for second place in the NFC West. His final stats were solid, throwing for 2,046 yards, 13 touchdown passes, and a decent 87.5 quarterback rating.

With a 7-3 overall record as the 49ers' starting quarterback, head coach Mike Singletary named Shaun Hill as San Francisco's starter entering 2009 training camp, but also said he would compete with Alex Smith.

But instability at offensive coordinator continued as Singletary fired Martz due to philosophical differences, replacing him with coaching veteran Jimmy Raye.

In a show of faith, the San Francisco 49ers and Alex Smith agreed to a restructured contract this past offseason, reducing his base salary because he was due to make close to $10 million dollars under the contract he signed as a 20 year old rookie in 2005.

Entering the 2009 season, the two quarterbacks now have the proverbial chip on their shoulders and a lot to prove.

Both signal callers have had success in the past as the San Francisco 49ers' starter, but only one can get the nod.

Who will it be? Stay tuned 49er Faithful....
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


1 Comment

  • charliem
    i am rooting for alex to win the job-- i am sure we will see him behind center soon,can't wait...
    Jul 17, 2009 at 3:06 PM
    0

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