Smith gets chance to show he was right choice

Smith faces one of most important starts of career

In the early months of 2005, the 49ers visited extensively with quarterbacks Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers before making a decision on which player the organization would choose with the No. 1 overall selection of the NFL draft. The 49ers selected Smith, and then watched Rodgers go on to become one of the league's top young quarterbacks with the Green Bay Packers.

Smith joined a miserable team and was asked to become the starter just five games into his rookie season. It was not pretty as the 21-year-old struggled throughout his debut season with expansion-like talent around him.

Meanwhile, Rodgers dropped deep in the first round to the Green Bay Packers and sat behind Brett Favre for his first three seasons.

Rodgers has now started 25 consecutive games for the Packers, while Smith will make his fourth start in a row for the 49ers when the clubs meet Sunday at Lambeau Field.

There is little question in Green Bay that Rodgers is the quarterback of the present and the future. Smith has the remaining seven games of this season to prove he has a future with the 49ers.

Smith makes one of his most important starts against the Packers, as the 49ers remain in contention in the NFC West behind the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers will certainly need more production from Smith, who threw for just 118 yards last week in the 49ers' 10-6 victory over the Chicago Bears. The win snapped the 49ers' four-game losing streak – two of which were on original starter Shaun Hill's watch.

"We know the offense has to play better," Smith said. "But we got the win, and that's the important thing. Now, we just have to build on that momentum."

Coach Mike Singletary said he is pleased with the way Smith has played since taking over as the 49ers' starter at halftime against the Houston Texans several weeks ago with the 49ers trailing 21-0. He said he has seen enough signs that Smith is quickly developing into a quarterback who has a chance to be "special."

He'll want to be special Sunday in Green Bay – a place the 49ers haven't won since 1990 – to show that San Francisco picked the right guy after all back in 2005.

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LINEUP WATCH: Receiver Isaac Bruce sat out the 49ers' game last week against the Chicago Bears with a reported ankle injury. But Bruce was clearly going to receive a decrease in playing time even before he was told to watch the game in street clothes. With a 10-day break, Singletary said he expects Bruce to be back in uniform, but he will not be in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season. The 16-year veteran has lost his starting job to second-year pro Josh Morgan. But the bigger question is whether Bruce should also be bumped back another peg to allow third-year player Jason Hill to take over as the No. 3 wideout. Hill has been very productive in his limited playing time this season. The 49ers also have to try and find a way to get Brandon Jones involved, since they gave him a $16.6 million deal in free agency during the offseason. Jones has yet to record his first reception as a 49er and is averaging just 1.2 yards on six punt returns.

UNDER THE RADAR: Left tackle Barry Sims has played nearly three full games after starter Joe Staley went down with a knee injury Nov. 1 on the first offensive play against the Indianapolis Colts. Sims came to camp with the modest goal of just winning a spot on the 53-man roster. Now, he's protecting the quarterback's blind side. And Sims, an 11-year veteran, is doing more than just holding his own. He did a good job against the Colts' Dwight Freeney in his first extended action, and he followed it up with strong performances against Tennessee and Chicago.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

---- TE Vernon Davis is coming off his lowest output of the season, but he is still the team's top threat in the passing game. Davis has 45 receptions for 493 yards and seven touchdowns, as he makes a bid for his first Pro Bowl appearance.

--- S Mark Roman, the team's dime safety, recorded an interception Thursday night against the Chicago Bears. It was his first interception since December 2006. Roman was the starting free safety for the 49ers through 2007 and '08 before getting surpassed in the starting lineup this season because of his lack of playmaking.

--- -QB Alex Smith has played relatively well since taking over as the 49ers' starter from Shaun Hill. Smith has completed 64.8 percent of his passes, as opposed to Hill's 56.1 completion rate. Smith has averaged 6.6 yards per pass attempt, a half-yard better than Hill's average. But Smith has six touchdowns and six interceptions, while Hill threw five touchdowns and two interceptions in 33 fewer pass attempts.

--- RB Frank Gore has rushed for 551 yards and six touchdowns on 105 carries this season despite missing most of three games with an ankle injury. Gore is also second on the 49ers with 26 receptions for 211 yards.

--- WR Brandon Jones was the 49ers' most expensive free-agent acquisition. While he has yet to catch a pass, Jones is being used on punt returns. But he has just 7 return yards on six attempts with no fair catches.


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