For a franchise whose legacy includes two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, one of whom many consider to be the best of all time, the San Francisco 49ers have had a remarkably difficult time finding decent play at the game’s most pivotal position.
The last consistently good 49ers quarterback was… Can you guess? It’s been a while. Okay, it was Jeff Garcia, who made the Pro-Bowl in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Between then and now, quarterbacks who have started a significant number of games for the 49ers include Ken Dorsey, Tim Rattay, Trent Dilfer, JT O’Sullivan, and Shaun Hill.
Let’s talk for a moment about Shaun Hill. He was, in my opinion, a fantastic backup quarterback. He was beloved by players, played his heart out, was a natural leader, and made good decisions. He didn’t have a strong arm or any sort of athleticism, but that was okay, because he wasn’t supposed to be the first option. He was supposed to be the emergency option. He fits the Jon Kitna-mold of backup QBs. At one point, though, things were so bad for the 49ers that people were clamoring to start(!) Shaun Hill. Fans extolled the virtues of the clubhouse favorite, and his winning record for the team.
All of the mediocrity, the malaise that has hung over the 49ers at the QB position, seems to be fading away, at last. Finally, the Shaun Hill’s of the world (in this case, Scott Tolzien and Josh Johnson) are fighting for the 49ers backup job, rather than the starting job.
(Sidenote: it looks as if Colin Kaepernick is taking hold of the backup gig, as I’m assuming the coaches wanted him to all along. That’s a good sign; it means he’s making progress as a passer, at least ahead of Johnson and Tolzien. Fans are excited about his ability to run, as showcased in last Friday’s preseason game; be careful, however, to not get to excited. Lots of guys can run, not a lot can play quarterback. Vince Young can run, Tim Tebow can run, Dennis Dixon can run. Unless one of those guys suddenly figures it out, they all look destined for backup QB jobs permanently. Get really excited about Kaepernick when he displays accuracy and touch consistently; that’s when you’ll know he’s ready.)
Interestingly enough, the main player is the same one who’s been here since 2005: Alex Smith. The only thing that has changed? Jim Harbaugh, the coach.