The 49ers began spring practices more than two months ago with Shaun Hill and Alex Smith competing for most important job on the team. The message back in April was that both players were on equal footing, but that really wasn't the case. Coach Mike Singletary knew what he had in Hill, the player who ran the offense during the second half of the 2008 season and who is perhaps the 49er most responsible for Singletary landing the permanent head coaching job. But Singletary really didn't know much about Smith, who has spent most of the last two years recovering from shoulder surgeries and trying to regain his shattered confidence.
One of the biggest lessons of all the minicamps and OTAs, which ended today, is that Singletary has a legitimate quarterback competition. Smith is throwing the ball well and his confidence is as ironclad as it's been since college. Singletary touched on that today.
"Well, I think the playing field is level now," he said of the QB competition. "I think before the offseason began, I wasn't really sure where Alex was. You know, he's been through a lot in four years. I think in order for he and Shaun to compete on level ground, he had to get healthy, he had to get his mind focused, I think he had to let go of some of the bitterness that happened to him, some of the bad things, and get the bad taste out of his mouth and be ready to go. I think that has happened."
Singletary did reiterate that if the season were to begin tomorrow, Hill would be the starter. But Smith now has a legitimate shot of knocking him out of his perch.
Singletary also said there would be no J.T. O'Sullivan-like move from the back of the pack by Damon Huard this year. The 49ers are concentrating on Hill and Smith alone as starters this summer.
"Basically, he is the third guy right now," Singletary said of Huard. "He knows that he's not gonna get a lot of snaps. He knows he's not going to get a lot of looks. Anything can happen in the season, but he knows full well what the intent it going forward."
Asked about his rookie class, the first two names out of Singletary's mouth were Glen Coffee and Scott McKillop. Of McKillop, the fifth-round linebacker from Pitt, Singletary said: "He's just raw. He's just got to work on technique, and he's going to be a big help to us as well." Coffee, meanwhile, took all of the first-team reps at running back. Frank Gore, along with several other veterans, skipped the non-mandatory final day of OTAs.
Overall, Singletary seemed very happy with what the 49ers accomplished this spring. He said the main goal was letting his players know exactly the type of worth ethic that would be required of them this season, something he established early on with a series of Marine Corps-like endurance drills. But every bit of praise Singletary has doled out to his players has been tempered with this message:
"I told everybody - daily - that we're behind. We're behind the elite teams in this league. And for us, we can't relax. We can't blink. We'll take this time off, but we've got to keep our eyes on the vision ..."
-- Matt Barrows