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Pre-Training Camp Report: QB - By Bryan Hersh
July 9, 2005

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The official start of the Mike Nolan era in 49ers land could be considered the start of training camp at the end of July. That alone is exciting enough to get fans back in the seats at the ‘Stick, and even out to training camp – where for the first time in two or three years, the camp will be open to the public. The 49ers QB conundrum is no less exciting however.

The candidates, Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett, and rookie Alex Smith are in for a dogfight as Nolan attempts to pick a starter for the season. Each QB brings a little something different to the table. Many 49ers fans though are hoping that the first pick in the draft of this year – Alex Smith, will be the team’s saviour though. Right about now most fans are willing to cling on to almost anything that provides hope for the coming season.

Tim Rattay should be the front runner for the starting position. The often injured quarterback was anointed the starter last season. He struggled, but many will argue so did the rest of the team and in particular the offensive line. With the emphasis the 49ers have placed on revamping the offensive line, some hope things will be different for Rattay. Rattay could be this team’s best chance to win. He has the most starts of the quarterbacks on the team, and he has the most experience in the NFL. Now that does not necessarily say much considering the experience of the quarterbacks in general – but it should work in his favour, at least somewhat. From my perspective, the problem with Rattay, is his inability to make the smart decision under pressure. Over the last two years, any time there was pressure in his face or even not in his face, he seemed to make the wrong decision. Sometimes it proved very costly.

Despite only being on the team for a few months, rookie Alex Smith is probably Rattay’s biggest competition. Perhaps that is because outside of Smith, all the other quarterbacks are seventh round draft picks. Smith has been highly touted coming out of college. He is athletic, has a good arm, and is regarded as very smart. Of course, whether or not that translates to the NFL is one big question mark. Smith has been working diligently to pick up the teams playbook, and is said to have a pretty good understanding of it already. The problems of course are that rookie quarterbacks make more mistakes. Additionally, one of Smith’s past coaches explained that Smith really needs to understand the system fully to be effective in it. Still 49ers fans are banking on Smith to bring something different to the table. A winning attitude and perhaps top tier talent. The final obstacle in Smith’s way could be Mike Nolan. Nolan seems to be an aggressive coach, but he might want to test out the offensive line with one of his other quarterbacks before he throws Smith to the fire. Personally, I think Smith has nothing to learn sitting on the bench. It is not like he is being tutored by Montana or Young here. I think Smith will shorten his learning curve by actually playing – and while that may mean rookie mistakes, or not giving the team the best chance to win (initially), in the long term I am quite confident that sooner Smith plays, the better he will be.

Ken Dorsey is likely the third candidate in this rather wide open race to win the starting spot. Dorsey is a proven college winner. In his experiences last season there were times when he look decent, and times when he looked flat out awful. That inconsistency can certainly be attributed to his youth, inexperience, and having less practice time than Rattay. Dorsey is a determined player, and I do not expect him to give up the battle just because the team drafted Smith. I personally feel he makes better decisions that Rattay, but does not have the same feel for the NFL speed yet, and might lack some of the arm strength to really stretch the field. I also think that Dorsey feels more confident going to his later reads and sometimes has shown the tendency to ‘ignore’ his receivers. Again, given the state of the team last year, it is somewhat hard to judge him. The offensive line was dismal, and the teams leading receiver was TIGHT END Eric Johnson.

The sleeper pick to start at quarterback is Cody Pickett. Pickett is the second youngest QB in the system, and outside from a few snaps really has not played in the NFL. Coming out of college Pickett slipped to the 7th round of the draft, after playing a full season with a rather inhibiting shoulder injury. The 49ers took a chance on this athletic quarterback hoping he could return to the form he had the previous year. He is inexperienced in the system and the NFL, and will have a hard time breaking through the rest of the quarterbacks, but Pickett is an interesting prospect and should not be disregarded too quickly.

One thing is for certain, this years training camp, with a new coach, and a heated battle at quarterback is bound to be exciting. Who will emerge? Only time will tell, but I know, sitting here, 19 days from the start of camp – I cannot wait!

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