49ers Blog and Q&A

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

September 1, 2012
Question: Does it matter who the third QB is?


thank god the season is here so I don't have to read about Tolzien anymore. Does it really matter who the third QB is?

Got a chuckle out of this Twitter message this morning. Big Candy is right (I mean, when is he ever not?) There's been an inordinate amount of cyber ink spilled on the 49ers' No. 3 quarterback race this year. But that's only because the 49ers were so loaded up and down the roster that there were no truly compelling roster battles this summer.

The only alternatives to write about were the battle for third tight end, which was won by Garrett Celek, and the competition to be the backup safety. Two weeks ago, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio lamented that, after starters Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, no one had really stepped forward.

It appears that remains the case. The 49ers plan to keep three backup safeties - C.J. Spillman, Darcel McBath and Trenton Robinson - on the active roster, and they have designs to hold onto Michael Thomas via the practice squad. That suggests lingering uncertainty from Fangio, et al.

One interesting scenario involves Reggie Smith, who was in the starting unit opposite Whitner before the 49ers re-signed Goldson last summer. Smith signed a free-agent deal with Carolina this year, but the Panthers released him Friday after trading for another 49er safety, Colin Jones.

Smith was not happy with the 49ers in 2011 and didn't think he was given a fair shot to start. Being unemployed, however, tends to make one less picky about where he'll work.

As for, Big Candy's question, 'Does it really matter who the third quarterback is?' the answer is, probably not. Alex Smith is 28. Colin Kaepernick is 24. Scott Tolzien wasn't active for a single game last year, and chances are he won't take a snap this year, either.

But there's always that possibility. Shaun Hill went into the 2008 season as the No. 3 quarterback, and he ended up throwing 288 passes that year. Troy Smith was the No. 3 in 2010 and, in fact, was not even on the team at this point that year.

My sense of why Tolzien beat out Josh Johnson is that the 49ers feel Tolzien is the better third quarterback and is best suited for that role. Right now, the team's focus is on Kaepernick, whom they feel is the quarterback of the future. Tolzien is a workaholic, study freak that the 49ers feel will push Kaepernick and make him a better quarterback.

That's not to say that Kaepernick is lazy. He's quite the opposite. But it doesn't hurt to have someone under him who is constantly competing.

-- Matt Barrows


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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