Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Shaun Hill gets the start

Shaun Hill was named the starter for the 49ers this season yesterday by Singletary. He has never lost a start at Candlestick, which in itself should award him his place. From what I've seen, he seems to have a better grasp of playing the quarterback position and has more confidence in leading a team. Clearly he's Singletary's guy since he was inserted at halftime of the first game after Nolan's sacking during the season last year. There are troubling reports that Mike Martz had manipulated the QB competition before last season to insure that his guy, JT O'Sullivan, who was one of my buddy's college roommate at UC Davis and more importantly knew Martz's system from being the Detroit backup in 2007, was awarded the starting spot. Nolan, who had promised Hill that there would be an open QB competition, either overlooked or was on board with Martz's plan to start O'Sullivan no matter what. Rumors are that Martz had Hill sidelined during training camp with a fatigued arm even though Hill felt just fine. Now that the 49ers have gone away from Martz's open offense and refashioned themselves to the "running the ball and playing defense wins championships" mentality of Singletary, they think Shaun Hill is the right fit.

Alex Smith's story has been a sad saga. He never seemed to have the stability at offensive coordinator (including losing the highly effective Norv Turner at offensive coordinator) which clearly stunted his development and he also couldn't stay healthy for long. While athletic and intelligent, he just doesn't seem have what it takes to be a NFL star. I think he's a nice guy but not a tough enough competitor. Strangely, Nolan seemed to really dislike him almost on a personal level and perhaps didn't do enough to help him succeed. What Nolan should have realized was that his career with the 49ers was tied directly to Smith's success and development. So goes Smith, there goes Nolan.

I think Smith worked hard to remake himself this offseason and I had high hopes of a personal comeback story. He had taken less money to try to win the starting job. It would have been great for the franchise had the 1st overall pick ditched his "bust" label and started to fulfill all those high expectations from 2005. There's still a long season left and perhaps he will still get a chance to show the NFL what he can do.

Across the bay, the 39 year old Jeff Garcia has landed as the Raider's backup QB. I personally wish the 49ers had just kept Garcia after that 2003 season. He has consistently proven his value as a proven NFL quarterback at his many stops including at Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. Since Garcia, the 49ers revolving door has shuffled in forgettable starters such as Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, and JT O'Sullivan. Worse yet, they still have not found a worthy successor to Garcia to this day. Had they just kept their Pro Bowl QB and not drafted Alex Smith, the 49ers would have been undoubtedly more satisfied with their production from their QB spot. Garcia just has the ability to win games.

That said, the 49ers probably outsmarted themselves when picking Alex Smith. Think about it: a no name guy from a no name school running a gimmicky offense? Really? Its not like Smith had obvious Peyton Manning-like talent, with a big arm and QB moxie. Aaron Rodgers made sense to any casual fan. He had a strong arm, excelled in a big time conference (Pac-10) and ran a pro offense. Plus, the 49ers had no excuse since Cal is in their backyard. Looking back, we now know that Smith's success in college was due to the genius of Urban Meyer.

So who is Shaun Hill anyway? Since Jeff Garcia, he's been the only QB to have a winning record as a starter. Other than that, I had no clue, so I looked him up. Born in 1980, he grew up in Kansas and was quite the HS athlete, leading his basketball team to the state tourney. He also played baseball and lettered in track. He went unrecruited out of HS so he went to junior college for a couple years, then transferred to University of Maryland. He finished his Maryland career with 3,158 yards and 19 touchdowns but was not drafted in the 2002 draft. Hill then signed as a free agent with the Vikings and spent 2003 with Amsterdam of NFL Europe, leading that league in passing yards. Then he returned to the Viking pine. In 2006 he joined the 49ers bench and started his first game in 2007 when Dilfer went down to injury. In 2007 and 2008, Hill went 7-3 with 18 TDs and 9 Ints, threw for 2,547 yards with a 64% completion rate, and finished with a 90.5 quarterback rating. As much as I like him, he still seems more like a game manager. I think the 49ers are still looking for their first true QB star since the days of Steve Young.

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