Give Brian Baldinger credit. Way back in the spring, when every expert was saying that Alex Smith would win the 49ers' three-way quarterback competition, FOX's Baldinger predicted the winner would be J.T. O'Sullivan. Admit it. You thought Baldinger was nuts at the time (and there are some chat-room threads that still exist that use more colorful adjectives). If Smith didn't get the job it certainly would go to last year's pleasant surprise, Shaun Hill. O'Sullivan was a distant, distant third back in the spring. I'm not sure Mike Nolan even knew his name.
At the time, I thought Baldinger was picking O'Sullivan just to stand out from the crowd. Ah, but there was method to his madness. Baldinger spent 10 years covering games in NFL Europe and grew to admire O'Sullivan during the quarterback's two stints overseas. Here's how Baldinger, who is in town this week because he's calling Sunday's 49ers-Lions game, explains his prediction. And I would have paraphrased what he said if he wasn't so spot-on in his assessments.
"Well, I knew most of the other guys. I knew Alex and I watched Alex. And I've known Shaun for a long time. I knew Shaun from NFL Europe. I'm pulling for Shaun and I want to see Shaun get 10 years in this league. But I also knew that Shaun wasn't a great practice player. He's a better game player. Once he gets out there, the team moves with him. But I didn't think he would wow anybody in practice.
"I've also known J.T. And he's kind of prickly. He's not the friendliest guy, which I kind of liked about him. I watched him in Europe twice and I used to talk to him on the field before games (in the NFL) when he was the third quarterback. I would talk to him about why third quarterbacks can't get a look, can't get anyone to believe in you, can't get an opportunity. You don't get coached, you don't get reps. So I knew when he came back to Europe the second time (three years later) I'm like, 'This guy's not quitting. This guy's not gonna give it up.' And when you watch him you ask, 'What isn't there to like about this guy?' He's got a good arm. He's got good mobility.
"The only thing that hampers him sometimes is that he tries to do too much like he did (against Arizona). You know, he tries to do too much and puts the ball on the ground. If he could somehow manage that aspect of it ... And I understood it. The reason why you do too much is that you don't realize how big your window of opportunity is. Even Mike Nolan (Baldinger had just come out of a Friday pre-game meeting with Nolan) just said he was trying to win the job versus just trying to win the game. So you're trying to catch everybody's eye - I can make all these throws. Look what I can do. And I thought if he was ever in a system where he could stay calm and they believed in him, he would flourish.
"And the other part of the equation is, I know Mike Martz. Martz is never going to make a name for himself, never going to keep himself out there if he's coaching the No. 1 pick in the draft. So he's got Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick - he's supposed to be great because everybody picked him No. 1. But if he takes a street free agent that's been cut like Kurt Warner ... There's a track record there. I'm gonna take the guy who's tough, who's gritty, that's been cut, kicked to the curb that nobody believes in. And that's how he sort of props himself up."
Who's going to be the top quarterback taken in the draft in April? It might be No. 12 in yellow and burgundy. (I don't think so) but see for yourself as Arizona State takes on the big Dawgs Saturday. Here's whom to watch ...
#12 Rudy Carpenter QB
#63 Pauliasi Fanaika G
#1 Michael Jones WR
#97 Luis Vasquez DE
#33 Dannell Ellerbe ILB
#90 Corvey Irvin DT
#55 Jeremy Lomax DE
#1 Mohamed Massaquoi WR
#95 Jeffrey Owens DT
#36 Brannan Southerland FB
-- Matt Barrows