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49ers camp review: Downer or success?

8/31/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The close of NFL training camps provides an opportunity to revisit NFC West camp previews. The previews set criteria by which each team's training camp would qualify as a "downer" or a "success" -- although the criteria wasn't necessarily exclusive. I'll republish the criteria and follow it with a verdict, continuing with a look at the 49ers.

Camp will be a downer if ... both quarterbacks flounder and veteran Damon Huard appears to be the best option. Unlikely? Perhaps. But the scenario isn't as laughable as it should be. Neither Hill nor Smith distinguished himself during the competition a year ago. Even if Mike Martz was playing favorites when he installed J.T. O'Sullivan as the starter, the fact remains that O'Sullivan enjoyed the strongest preseason of the three. The new offensive system should better suit Hill in particular, and the 49ers have declared this quarterback race a two-man affair, ruling out Huard as a contender. Still, after years of backing up Trent Green, Tom Brady and Dan Marino, Huard wound up starting three of the first five games in Kansas City last season when the unaccomplished Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen were his primary competitors.

Camp will be a success if ... Hill validates his 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter, right tackle Marvel Smith makes it through training camp healthy and the push toward a full-time 3-4 defense validates Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson as promising pass-rushers. Hitting on all three of those might be asking a bit much, but getting two of them right might be enough, particularly if the 49ers feel good about the quarterback situation.

The verdict: The 49ers' camp qualifies as a downer on these fronts. The team never came close to installing Huard as the starter, but Hill and Alex Smith did not make convincing cases for the job. Hill's leadership and 7-3 starting record made him the easy choice, virtually by default.

Marvel Smith scarcely practiced during camp before retiring. Adam Snyder's strong play at Smith's projected spot (right tackle) mitigates Smith's demise, although depth at the position is a concern. Haralson has shown more pass-rush ability than Lawson to this point, but coach Mike Singletary said the 49ers would need to scheme their way to a more consistently effective rush.