Niners still cramming offense with no QB starter Print
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Tuesday, 17 June 2008 23:45
NFL Headline News

 SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -After Shaun Hill wraps up the San Francisco 49ers' final offseason workouts this week, he'll still be wondering whether he's finally going to be a starting NFL quarterback this season.
Alex Smith also will still be wondering whether he'll get to keep his job.
The former No. 1 draft pick is still in competition with career third-stringer Hill for the top role in Mike Martz's offense, and nearly three weeks of minicamp haven't done much to produce a favorite, at least according to Martz and coach Mike Nolan.
``The pleasing thing about it is I do believe we have three guys that could win a game for us, and that's good,'' Nolan said Tuesday, including well-traveled newcomer J.T. O'Sullivan in the mix despite noticeably fewer turns in workouts. ``I like our situation more now than any time I've been in here.''
The competition probably will have to be resolved early in training camp, but Nolan and Martz don't feel any need to declare a starting quarterback early on. The 49ers have bigger concerns and heavier work to do in replacing the NFL's worst offense last season with Martz's inventive, tested schemes.
The installation appears to be proceeding on schedule, with the players and coaches motoring through a two-minute drill in Tuesday's workout with few obvious mental slip-ups. But after the 49ers break camp on Thursday, Hill still plans to spend part of every day back home in Osage Beach, Mo., deep in playbook study, and another part throwing to a local high school quarterback who painted his house last year.
``I feel like it's definitely a fair competition,'' Hill said. ``I've got nothing to make me think otherwise. ... It's going to be an exciting offense, for sure, and we definitely have the players for it. Everybody is excited to get in the offense and see where it takes us. We're a lot further along now than we were a year ago at this time.''
Smith, who's already entering his fourth NFL season, has much the same study-and-workout plans for his five-week break at home in California.
``There's a lot new for me,'' Smith said. ``A quarterback is asked to do a lot, to have a lot of different tools out there. ... A lot of this offense is built on timing, and that comes down to trust that when I let the ball go, that guy is going to be there. Anticipation comes with the confidence of knowing what is going on, and then trusting it.''
One immediate change noticed by both Smith and Hill is Martz's attitude toward defensive pressure. When the 49ers' quarterbacks noticed a blitz developing before a snap last season, they directed blocking protection toward it. This season, Smith or Hill will be more likely to make a hot read for a quick throw into the part of the defense vacated by the blitzer.
That's elementary stuff for the NFL's competent offenses, but it's a new way of thinking for Smith and Hill. The entire San Francisco offense's inflexibility under coordinator Jim Hostler repeatedly showed last season.
``Watching this offense, it looks like there's a gunslinger back there, but it's very much the opposite of, 'Just go out there and fling,''' Smith said. ``Everything is done for a reason. It's very structured.''
Martz still is exploring new ways to use the 49ers' offensive talent. While Frank Gore will have several roles to utilize his superb pass-catching skills in addition to his rushing, tight end Vernon Davis finds himself in multiple offensive roles, sometimes in the same play.
``My role has really changed in finding different holes to sit in so the ball can get to me,'' said Davis, the 49ers' second-leading receiver last year despite being underused in several games. ``I'm running vertical a lot more, using my speed to get down the field.
``People say the system is hard, but if you put time into it, you can make it as easy as possible. Martz, he'll get the most out of you. He'll work you, but he'll make you understand how to do certain things.''
 

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