Hill picked up new offense well during offseason
Mike Singletary says the 49ers' quarterback competition is too close to call. But he acknowledges that if it's too close to call, the job will likely go to Shaun Hill, who finished the second half of last season as the team's starter and might be the person most responsible for Singletary getting the job as the 49ers' full-time coach.
The 49ers probably feel a lot better about their quarterback situation now than when the offseason began.
The team appeared ready to offer Arizona Cardinals free agent Kurt Warner a contract in the neighborhood of $15 million a season to leap to the 49ers during the offseason in a brief courtship that now appears something like a charade orchestrated by the Warner camp.
Warner remained with the Cardinals – getting the sweet new deal he sought from his old team – and the 49ers had no other choice but to stick with Hill and Smith.
But now sticking with those two hardly looks so bad.
Hill has appeared to get a better handle on new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye's offense, while Smith has thrown the ball better this offseason than at any point during his tenure with the 49ers.
The 49ers no longer feel burdened to force Smith into action. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft signed a new contract this offseason that will pay him backup money for the next two seasons, giving him an opportunity to revive his career with the team.
Because the 49ers do not have a starting quarterback, stability with the offensive system or a head coach who has tenure, the team is still playing catch-up as training camp looms at the end of July.
But after the 49ers completed their offseason program, Singletary said he was confident that his club had shown enough improvement to give him confidence that a playoff spot was within reach.
Hill and Smith both showed dramatic improvement in Raye's scheme. And if the non-padded practices showed anything, it's that Raye plans to employ the strengths of the personnel.
The 49ers have a big offensive line that should excel in a power running game. Running back Frank Gore, the team's best offensive player, is at his best running downhill. And the 49ers' quarterback, whomever that might be, should benefit greatly from a potent running attack and the ability to keep defenses flat-footed with play-action passes.
OFFSEASON STANDOUT: WR Josh Morgan showed a lot of promise as a rookie, but injuries kept him from taking on the kind of role the 49ers had envisioned. This offseason, Morgan has clearly been the 49ers' best receiver. He has a chance to have a breakout year as veteran Isaac Bruce has shown no eagerness to be around the team. Bruce, the 49ers' leading receiver last year, only appeared for the team's one mandatory minicamp, watching most o the action from the sidelines.
LINEUP WATCH: When cornerback Walt Harris sustained a season-ending knee injury in May, the 49ers signed veteran Dre' Bly to compete for a starting job. That competition should be interesting, as he battles third-year player Tarell Brown and former 49ers starter Shawntae Spencer for the job on the right corner. Bly and Brown both saw a lot of time with the starting unit as Spencer and Nate Clements missed a lot of offseason work due to injuries.
ROOKIE IMPRESSIONS: The 49ers want to feature a power-running attack, and they want to keep starting RB Frank Gore fresh throughout the season. That is where third-round pick Glen Coffee enters the picture. Coffee is a powerful, one-cut runner who should get ample opportunity to carve out a niche for himself as the 49ers want to spread around the workload. Coffee has picked up the offense well during offseason workouts and appears well-equipped for the role the team is expecting from him.
INJURY WATCH: RT Marvel Smith did not take part in any 11-on-11 work during the offseason as a precaution. Smith finished the past two seasons on injured reserve with back injuries. Other than quarterback, the competition at this tackle position figures to be one to watch. Smith will battle against Adam Snyder for the starting job. Snyder has moved around the offensive line a lot during his first four seasons with the team but now is working primarily at right tackle.
CONTRACT TO WATCH: WR Michael Crabtree was generally regarded as the best receiver available in the draft ... by everyone but the Oakland Raiders. While Darius Heyward-Bey was selected at No. 7 overall, Crabtree was picked No. 10. The 49ers have a good track record of signing their picks by the opening of training camp, but will Crabtree seek a contract more in line of what Heyward-Bey receives from the Raiders?
BIGGEST MOVE: A week before the draft, one high-ranking 49ers official said he thought history would prove that Crabtree would ultimately become the best player of the incoming rookies. But, choosing with the No. 10 overall selection, the 49ers did not believe they had a chance to get the Texas Tech wideout. Things went the 49ers' way, and Crabtree fell to the 49ers. What was once a liability for the 49ers, could become a strength. The 49ers have a promising corps of wide receivers. However, it remains to be seen exactly how much Crabtree produces as a rookie. After all, he underwent surgery in March to repair a stress fracture in his foot. Crabtree did not take part in any of the 49ers' offseason workouts. He is expected to be available to practice when training camp opens in late July.
KEY LOSS: Veteran cornerback Walt Harris is one of the 49ers' most-respected players. However, his season came to an abrupt end in May when he sustained a torn ACL during offseason work. Harris was projected as a starter this season. With him out of the picture, the 49ers signed veteran Dre' Bly to compete with Tarell Brown and Shawntae Spencer for the starting job at right cornerback.
NEEDS ADDRESSING: The 49ers averaged fewer than two sacks a game last season. It is an area of great need, yet the team did not do much to solve the problem during the offseason. Fourth-year player Manny Lawson will get a chance to rush the passer this season after being used a one-down outside linebacker in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme last year. The 49ers did not draft a pass rusher, and the only free agent they added was former San Diego Chargers reserve Marques Harris.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's the thing that I'm excited about in this camp. Those guys know that we aren't going to give you anything. You've got to earn it. You've got to compete for it and he knew that coming in and he's definitely a competitor" –
49ers coach Mike Singletary on veteran cornerback Dre' Bly, who was not guaranteed a starting job after being signed to replace injured Walt Harris.
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Alex Smith is coming off shoulder surgery for the second offseason in a row. This year, things feel a lot different, he said.
"It's frustrating to see in the film room if it's your shoulder that's not allowing you to do something. That's never happened to me," Smith said. "I'm back to where I feel like I can do everything on the field right now. I can really focus on getting into the offense and being a better quarterback and not have it sit in the back of my head that my shoulder is not feeling very good."
Smith will continue to compete against Hill for the starting job when training camp opens and will have a legitimate opportunity to unseat the team’s incumbent starter before the regular season begins.
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Rookie offensive tackle Alex Boone has a lot of ground to make up, after missing all but the final five days of 49ers' organized team activities. Boone was prohibited from participating in the team's practices until Ohio State had gone through its graduation ceremonies.
Boone, who has experienced some alcohol-related issues, will be remaining around the 49ers' team facilities in the weeks leading up to the beginning of training camp. So he feels he will have the chance to catch up on everything he missed.
"I'll be here with all of the guys, and that will help," Boone said. "I'll catch up. Talking to the coaches and players is really going to help me out."