Alex Smith

King of the Hill

The question no longer is whether Mike Singletary will be the named the permanent head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Surely Jed York and Scot McCloughan are currently working on a new contract for Singletary as we speak, and it would be almost shocking if Singletary wasn’t named in that capacity within the next week or so.

Hell, McCloughan owes Singletary a couple hundred thousand bucks at least for believing in Chilo Rachal. McCloughan was blasted throughout the first half of the season by fans for passing on DeSean Jackson, who was picked 10 picks after the newest starter on the 49ers’ offensive line.

So now that we got that settled, what about another position that has been in flux for years — quarterback? After sitting in the Candlestick Park stands and watching Shaun Hill carve up the Cincinnati Bengals a year ago with short passes, it seemed obvious to me that Hill had taken over the team. Then Hill was signed to a multimillion dollar extension after last season, and it looked certain Alex Smith would struggle to regain the starting role this season.

That turned out to be true, but only because Mike Martz brought his pet project over from the Detroit Lions and installed him as the starter, after an absolute sham of a quarterback competition during training camp and the preseason (a farce that demonstrated once and for all Mike Nolan’s weaknesses in terms of public speaking and honesty). Hill, on the other hand, was saddled with a suspicious shoulder injury and was told in effect, “Thanks Shaun, but the grownups are playing over here. Why don’t you go over there and practice 3-yard outs with Dominique Zeigler?”

Apparently Hill is a terrible practice player, an assertion which has never been truly defined by anybody in the mainstream media. Was he throwing the ball straight into the ground? Was he running into Frank Gore during handoffs? Did he play okay but fail to compliment Nolan on his latest red-and-gold tie? I still find it kind of funny that everyone talks about how great Hill is now, but whenever anybody asked why Hill was ignored after his performance at the end of last year they were dismissed as if O’Sullivan was a combination of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Since the Seattle game, when the 49ers’ not-interim-for-long head coach told Martz that he couldn’t bear to watch JTO — who started the entire first half of this season even though his right hand was coated in KY — throw another interception (which, with Martz’s creepy affection for JTO, would mean in real-world terms Singletary’s decision was akin to telling somebody, “I’m sorry, but you can’t bring your dog to my house anymore because he keeps pooping on my Xbox”), Hill has done exactly what he did last year: play better than any San Francisco quarterback since Jeff Garcia.

The question still remains: is Hill just a guy who makes fewer mistakes than JTO and/or A-dot-Smith, or can he be given the keys for a few years?

Hill’s age isn’t a problem, he’ll turn 29 in a month and has never suffered a major injury. His career stats read like this: 9 games (7 starts), 166-for-257, 1,853 yards, 15 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, for a QB rating of 97.3. More importantly, his record as a starter is 5-2, and didn’t he look better than Brett “I wear Wranglers like Tiger drives Buicks” Favre yesterday?

All that adds up to a pretty compelling case to move Hill from “temp” to “hired” in the same way Singletary undoubtedly will be, and that doesn’t even acknowledge how Hill has improved the perception of his team’s receiving corps. Previously looked at football’s equivalent of the 2008 San Francisco Giants offense, Hill has spread the ball around, making Isaac Bruce, Bryant Johnson, Jason Hill (no relation) and Zeigler look more threatening than any other time this season. Suddenly, the 49ers can focus on drafting a pass-rusher with their next first round pick instead of putting all of their eggs in the Michael Crabtree basket (not that they shouldn’t still think about getting Crabtree if possible, but it no longer seems 100% necessary).

When you add a healthy Josh Morgan to Bruce, Johnson, J. Hill, Zeigler (and since we’re feeling generous we’ll even include Arnaz Battle, because anytime the 49ers beat Favre it feels like everyone’s cup is overflowing with holiday cheer), the wideout position is no longer a vast wasteland of guys who move slower than I do after consuming a deep dish pizza and four pints of Boont Amber Ale at Little Star. In the same way that Singletary seems to have changed the culture and outlook for the entire team, Hill has done the same thing for the receivers. That alone should guarantee him the starting job going into next year.


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