SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The intrigue -- or is it confusion? -- continues.
Mike Johnson, the San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator, offered no new clues about whether Alex Smith or Troy Smith will start at quarterback Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. In fact, Johnson only added confusion on top of confusion.
Coach Mike Singletary said Tuesday that he had decided on a starter but preferred to keep his announcement under wraps until later in the week. Johnson indicated that, as far as he knew, no decision had been made.
So who’s telling the truth?
“Well, I’ve been told to practice both guys and make sure that both guys get reps,” Johnson said Wednesday. “And then the decision as to how we’re going to use those guys will be done later.”
If Singletary has made a decision and hasn’t informed Johnson, it shows a significant lack of communication between coach and coordinator. NFL.com’s Jason LaCanfora reported that Troy Smith will start the pivotal NFC West game, citing sources. Singletary was not scheduled to speak with reporters and declined a request to address the situation.
Johnson wouldn’t discuss which Smith was getting first-team reps or which one he feels gives the 49ers a better chance to win. He’s only following orders, he said.
“I’ve been told that (Singletary) wants me to practice both quarterbacks and give both quarterbacks reps in practice,” he said. “That’s my goal. I’m going to do exactly what I’ve been told to do. I’m going to make sure both guys are prepared to play, and then, when that decision is made later in the week, I’m sure he’ll let me know and we’ll decide and go from there. But the next four quarters, that’s the main focus.”
If you’re wondering whether the Rams are confused by all this gamesmanship, don’t bother.
Speaking on a conference call Wednesday morning, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said, “I’ve always been a firm believer (that) there might be a few things here and there, but you’re defending the system. The thing I know about San Francisco is they run the ball terrifically well. They have a great offensive line. So we’ll have to prepare for both in some regards.”
THADDEUS TIME: With linebacker Travis LaBoy on injured reserve, the 49ers plan to use a three-man rotation at outside linebacker with Manny Lawson, Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said he will probably also use rookie Thaddeus Gibson, who was signed in November but has been inactive for every game, in some third-down situations.
“Thaddeus might get in there,” Manusky said. “You know, it’s kind of hard during the season, if you pick up a young guy and in the process he doesn’t know the ins and outs of everything. But for the most part, yeah, I’d like to get him in there for some third downs.”
Gibson was a fourth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers but was released on Oct. 31. The Niners picked him up the next day.
“It’s been a crazy year, but it’s a crazy business,” Gibson said. “I’ve just got to stay focused and stay grounded and keep working. I was just thankful I was able to go to another team and contribute as much as I can.”
WEDDING BELLS: Singletary will be coaching against his future son in law on Sunday. Rams safety O.J. Atogwe, 29, said he and Singletary’s daughter Jill will marry on May 21.
Asked what it will feel like to play a team coached by his future father-in-law, Atogwe said, “At the end of the day, I have a job to do when I’m on the field. And he has a job to do, preparing his team to win. It’s all business when you’re out on the field. You have to go out there and respectfully do what’s asked of you.”
Even so, Atogwe admitted that he felt intimidated the first time he met Singletary.
“I can’t lie to you,” he said. “The first time I met him, for about five seconds I was intimidated. After that, he said hello and we started talking and then it went out the window.”
Was he nervous because he was meeting Mike Singletary or because he was dating Singletary’s daughter?
“All of the above,” Atogwe said.