Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Matchup: Alex Smith vs. J.T. O'Sullivan

Welcome to another of the weekly features I'm rolling out here at Quick Hits... simply called "Matchup". Each week I'll take two opposing figures, teams, issues, etc. and pit them against one another.

This week we start with the hot topic surrounding the San Francisco 49ers these days, the quarterback battle. Former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith has seemingly lost his job to journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan and on the eve of their third pre-season game we take a closer look at who should be calling the shots in the city by the bay.

Alex Smith - To this point in his career you could call Alex Smith a bona fide bust and another in a long line of quarterbacks taken early who fell flat on his face.

His career quarterback rating of 63.5 is lower than that of fellow first-round flops Cade McNown and Todd Marinovich thanks in large part to a 19-to-31 touchdown-to-interception ratio over his three year career.

Thought to be a cerebral signal caller with the ability to move and make plays on the run, Smith instead has been the picture of confusion on the field. Routinely holding the ball too long and making questionable decisions with the football, Smith has done little to prove his backers right.

To point out just how ineffective he's been in his efforts to put points of the board, in 32 career games he's completed only 11 passes on 40 yards or more and has averaged only 5.8 yards per completion.

However for all his faults, it's impossible to place the blame solely at his feet. Not once in his going on four year career has Smith had the same offensive coordinator from one season to the next. That's like showing up to your 9-to-5 every January 1st only to find out everything you were doing the year before is obsolete and you've been returned to "new guy" status. Not fun.

Add to that a less-than-stellar supporting cast and an untimely injury here and there, and the weight of No. 1 overall expectations become near impossible to carry. To most who know what they're talking about, the verdict on Smith is still out. But has his window of opportunity closed or will he get one last shot to prove himself worthy of his lofty draft status?

J.T. O'Sullivan - When you talk about O'Sullivan you can basically forget tossing out any sort of career numbers. In fact he barely has any to speak of having only appeared in five games and attempting only 26 passes, all of them last year in mop-up duty with the Detroit Lions.

Originally a 6th-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2002, O'Sullivan was inactive for his entire first two seasons in the NFL before being waived and then traded to the Green Bay Packers.

O'Sullivan's most notable accomplishments came as a top quarterback in NFL Europa where he led the Frankfurt Galaxy to the World Bowl in 2004 and was named Offensive co-MVP in 2007. Coming off of that MVP performance overseas, O'Sullivan caught the eye of new 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz while he was with the Detroit Lions.

That turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to O'Sullivan who, until meeting Martz, had underwhelmed each and every NFL offensive coordinator he had come in contact with. The guy was even cut by the offensively challenged '06 Vikings.

Through two pre-season games with the 49ers, O'Sullivan is 13-for-25 with a touchdown and an interception, which along with his performance on the practice field (and in Martz's heart) has apparently been enough to convince the 49ers coaching staff that O'Sullivan is their guy.

The Verdict - The reports out of San Francisco have head coach Mike Nolan deferring to his offensive coordinator in this case in an effort to save his job. Which to me means Nolan must really want out of San Francisco, bad.

Just the thought of J.T. O'Sullivan as the 49ers opening day quarterback makes me throw up in my mouth just a little. Honestly, can somebody please explain to me what he's done to earn the starting gig here? I bet you can't. Hell, I bet he can't.

I'm not going to sit here and try to convince you that Alex Smith is all of a sudden going to turn into Tom Brady, but he deserves the opportunity to start for a team that is finally starting to come together in all the other facets of the game.

Not only is Smith the more experienced player, but for my money he's the superior talent. He's quicker on his feet, he's got a cleaner delivery of the football (O'Sullivan kind of pushes the ball out) and having seen O'Sullivan up close I can tell you that Smith couldn't possibly be as bad a decision maker as the man poised to take his job.

O'Sullivan will get the start on Thursday night and likely will do the same in the regular season opener against the Arizona Cardinals. For 49ers fans that fact may very well signal an early look ahead to 2009.

Anyone have Brady Quinn's phone number?

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