Point-counterpoint on 49ers' quarterback race

August, 14, 2009
8/14/09
12:43
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The earlier item casting Alex Smith as the "exciting" quarterback option for the 49ers generated a discussion I'd like to continue here.

What I wrote: Shaun Hill and Alex Smith have looked good at times during the first two weeks of camp, but neither has been convincing enough to distinguish himself as an obviously good choice for the starting job. The exhibition schedule will decide this race. The season becomes more interesting, in my view, if Smith emerges as the starter. We know what Hill offers. We know what Hill is likely to offer longer term. We aren't sure about Smith yet. Hill would certainly be the safer choice for 49ers coach Mike Singletary. Smith would be the more exciting one. 

The phrase "obviously good choice" carried a high cringe factor for me on the re-read -- "obviously superior option" was what I meant -- but you get the point.

Rick writes via Facebook: Couldn't agree more. While the conservative, logical side of my brain says Hill should be the pick, the gambler in me says Smith should get the nod. To me Hill is the perfect backup QB. The kind of guy who goes out there when the starter goes down, manages the game, doesn't try to do to much and isn't going to lose the game for you, a game manager type. But when you're down by 4 with 1:18 to go in the 4th quarter of a playoff game, I'm not sure he has the talent and/or bravado to march the team down the field for the winning TD. Smith is very young still, has not been put in a position to succeed since coming to the league and, I believe, if given the reins with a coach like 'Sing' who has his players' back and instills confidence, and the same OC for more than one season at a time, I still believe he can be a very good QB in the league.

Mike Sando: I would be more interested in seeing the 49ers with Smith, just to see what would happen, and if it's close, I think the 49ers owe it to themselves to find out. But that's easy for me to say.

Kevin via Facebook: First, unquestionably Smith has had a very raw deal in the NFL. Injuries, coaches who hated him, a billion coordinators, all that stack up against him. However, Hill is the obvious choice.

I think too many people in sports, NFL in particular, love athletes and forget that winning is all that matters. All Hill has done is win. People discount his wins saying it was against weaker competition, or the defense improved or he doesn't have the physical tools. When has it been evident he doesn't have the physical tools? Again, the guy wins. As soon as it becomes apparent he doesn't have the athletic ability to win, then switch. Until then, it's actually insane to switch it up. What kind of message does that send to the players? "You guys are winning, but we assume this won't continue, so we're going to make changes."

Alex Smith has the potential to win games ... but so far, all he's done is lose.

A winner with the potential to lose is better than a loser with the potential to win.

Aaron via Facebook: "A winner with the potential to lose is better than a loser with the potential to win."

Wow, that's a hell of a quote.

Mike Sando: So you would call Alex Smith a loser and Shaun Hill a winner based on games played in vastly different circumstances, with each man's health an important variable?

Aaron via Facebook: I think he's hit on an important point, Sando. This goes beyond the "If it's not broke, don't fix it," cliche. Smith has not shown himself to be as successful in game situations as Hill, even when healthy. While Smith has the POTENTIAL to be better than Hill, he still represents a risk, since he hasn't consistently proven himself to be at least as good as Hill.

If there were no noticeable difference, I'd say Smith should get the starting job. But at this point, starting Smith is still a risk and an unknown, when compared to Hill's relatively modest win-streak.

I think Hill is also a more natural-born leader. Have you seen the rapport he has with his offensive line? How many Quarterbacks befriend the line in the way he has done? While Smith is more quiet and reclused, Hill is out there talking, leading, and building up that trust with the rest of the team. When Smith shows me he has those leadership skills, I'll fully back him over Hill.

Mike Sando: Hill is popular. I agree that the 49ers should not go with Smith as the starter unless he earns it during the preseason. He has to outplay Hill to make this race close and make up for the gap Hill established with his play last season. Like I said, it's easy for me to say I'd be more interested in seeing what Smith could do. I've got nothing invested in the decision other than my own curiosity.

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