49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

August 3, 2008
Q&A: In Alex we trust?

Question: Matt, I just started reading your blog and I've really been enjoying your updates. It's tough being a Niners fan in NY. I was just reading some of your blogs from last season to get a feel for how your opinions played out (generally right on by the way)! In many of those blogs you actually defended Alex Smith up through his injury and fall out with Nolan. That being said, my question is...based on everything you've seen so far this preseason, is he going to be the guy or should we start putting our faith elsewhere?
Chris, NY, NY

Answer: Leave it to the New Yorker to come with the high heat. Ok, I'll bite. Here's what I think: I think O'Sullivan has been the sharpest quarterback in camp, mainly because he has a full grasp of the offense whereas Smith and Shaun Hill do not. (When will they feel comfortable/confident? That's the big question going forth). I think of Smith and Hill, Smith has looked better. Smith is certainly the most athletic and has the best arm, but that O'Sullivan and Hill have that hair-trigger release Martz likes. Of O'Sullivan and Hill, O'Sullivan has the bigger arm.

Now let's talk politics. Here's a simple (oversimplified) way to look at things. Each QB has a major backer. O'Sullivan's is Martz. After all, it was Martz who wanted the 49ers to grab him on the free-agent market and the 49ers paid more than a team normally would for a journeyman QB. O'Sullivan also has that Cinderella storyline that Martz seems to like. Hill's is Nolan. Hill won a couple games at the end of the season and immediately thereafter, Nolan declared Hill would get to compete for the starting job in '08. You also might recall that Nolan and Smith had a bit of a tiff last season that, no matter how he spins it today, still stings Nolan. Smith's backer is Scot McCloughan. Drafting Smith was McCloughan's first - and biggest - decision as personnel director. As GM, he also must take into account how much money the team has invested in Smith. Read into that what you may ...
- Matt

martz n jto.jpg JTO.jpg

Question: "Nolan said Smith didn't take control of the first-team offense because that would have been unfair to Hill." Matt, you wrote it. But do you believe it? Does anyone actually believe this sham that Shuan Hill could be named starter for the first game of the regular season? Does anyone believe Nolan will essentially proclaim the first pick of the 2005 NFL Draft -- his first pick -- a bust, and go with a journeyman to right the franchise? If not, how do you NOT give Smith more reps with the first team? This is crazy.
Mike, Montclair, NJ

Answer: Here's what Nolan's thinking (I think): I think he doesn't believe that Smith is a team leader and that forcing him to win a three-way competition will result in players having more respect for him. Of course, you could argue that, if Smith indeed lacks his teammates respect, it is in large part due to Nolan undermining him last season. That would be a very good argument.
- Matt

Question: Hey, Matt! Fellow UVa fan here again! I'm wondering what Alex's demeanor has been during this first part of camp. Is he being aggressive and showing his leadership abilities, or is he more passive, meek and quiet, just letting things happen to him? Seems to me if I were him, I'd be doing anything and everything I could to win the job! I hope he comes around and can be the QB we all wish for, bringing us a couple (at least!) Super Bowl Championships! Here's hoping for the best! Go NINERS! Go Cavs!
John, Tucson

Answer: It's a great question (and not just because you're a U.Va fan). Alex is the type of guy you'd want your sister to marry but I've often wondered whether he is too nice to run an offense. He has a fine line to walk this summer, though. The fact that he's sharing snaps with two other players is as much a mental test as anything else. If he suddenly develops an attitude, it might be counterproductive to his chances ... By the way, I've already scolded Josh Morgan for choosing Tech over U.Va. Last year, he was one of four senior WRs on a Tech offense that ran the ball every chance it could. U.Va., meanwhile, hasn't had a decent WR since Germane Crowell. Morgan in a Cavaliers uni = first-round pick.
- Matt

Question: Any news on Cam Colvin? Is he headed for the practice squad or will he get cut? What are the chances Ashley Lelie gets cut?
Patrick, Montclair, NJ

Answer: Wow. Barrows is popular in the Tri-state area .... Colvin had a few nice catches in yesterday's practice but mostly has been quiet. Dominique Zeigler seems like the better receiver, and yet, the 49ers have already seen what he can do. They might be more intrigued by Colvin's potential and will want to develop him on the practice squad. Which is a long way of saying, I'm not sure ... As for Lelie, I think it's obvious the 49ers like him or else they would have gotten rid of him in the offseason a la Darrell Jackson. His calf strain certainly isn't helping his reputation as a player who lacks grit. He was running routes yesterday, so it seems as if he's close to returning to the practice field.
- Matt

Question: Matt: What ever happened to Joe Cohen? I was hoping to hear a lot of positives about him this summer and no one mentions him at all. Is he hurt or just not effective?
Walt, Quincy, Ca.

Answer: Cohen rejoined practice in training camp. He's the third-string NT. I've been following him in one-on-one blocking drills. He looked understandably rusty early on but has been improving. Barring injuries, I think he's destined for the practice squad.
- Matt

Question: Will the 2008 offensive line be an improvement over the 2007 version?
Greg, Sacramento

Answer: Yes. If I were the 49ers coaches, I might be a tad nervous about both guard spots. But the tackle situation has to be encouraging to Mike Martz, whose offense relies on excellent pass protection.
- Matt

*** By the way, the glitch that has prevented some of you from posting Qs has been fixed, so fire away **


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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