49ers positional analysis: Quarterback

With the calendar now nearing mid-June, it's time to break down the personnel the 49ers currently have on their roster, for better or worse, at each individual position. The names and numbers will surely change by the time the team is actually practicing and playing football again, but here's a status report with the scheduled start of training camp fewer than seven weeks away. Today: Quarterbacks

Starter at beginning of 2010 season: Alex Smith

Starter at finish of 2010 season: Alex Smith

2010 positional grade: C-minus

Quarterbacks currently on roster: David Carr, Colin Kaepernick (second-round draft choice)

Pending free agents: Alex Smith (unrestricted), Troy Smith (not tendered)

Need to upgrade position before season: High

The quarterback position has been a thorn poking in the progress of the 49ers for the better part of the past decade.

It has often hurt to watch the quarterbacks the 49ers have put on the field to lead their offense since the team unceremoniously shipped out three-time Pro Bowler Jeff Garcia during the 2004 offseason, even though Garcia still had some good years left at the position.

Since then, the 49ers have gone back and forth between Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett, Alex Smith, Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill, Chris Weinke, J.T. O'Sullivan, David Carr and Troy Smith at the most important individual position in professional team sports.

Not one of them has a winning record with the team.

That, obviously, needs to change with the next quarterback/quarterbacks the team puts on the field if the 49ers are ever to get anywhere and become winners again.

The 49ers will begin a new era at quarterback in 2011 after selecting athletic University of Nevada product Colin Kaepernick in the second round of the NFL draft two months ago.

But the more things change, the more they remain the same. At the same time the 49ers were adding Kaepernick to their roster as their heir apparent at quarterback, coach Jim Harbaugh was telling everybody that he expects to have Smith back as his starter this season.

After six laborious seasons – not one of them ending with a winning record – Smith appeared to have worn out his welcome in 49erland during last year's 6-10 finish. The No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 draft, Smith never became the savior QB the team hoped he'd be by taking him with that top pick. Smith, in fact, never really even established himself as a legitimate NFL starter during that time.

But now, after a unique offseason due to the NFL lockout, it appears Smith will get one more chance to do that. Even though he's technically still an unrestricted free agent as of today, both Smith and the 49ers have made it clear he will be returning to the team this season. He'll sign a new contract with San Francisco as soon as the lockout ends.

It's also clear that Smith will go into training camp this summer – whenever training camp actually arrives – as the leading candidate to be the team's starter once more. It ostensibly will be his job to lose, just as it has been in practically every summer since Smith arrived on the scene.

That is, unless the 49ers pull an about-face when the free-agency scramble begins and decide to bring in a legitimate veteran to compete for the starting role this summer. But that scenario seems highly unlikely and would be a complete surprise in light of recent events, which included Harbaugh giving Smith a playbook in April and Smith leading player-organized workouts in June.

It's still uncertain where veteran David Carr, the only quarterback currently under contract with the 49ers, fits into the picture. San Francisco coaches lost all confidence in Carr last season to the point they made untested Troy Smith the starter after Alex Smith was injured in October.

That, ultimately, took the 49ers nowhere. Troy Smith went 2-4 as a starter, and it took opponents little time to expose his weaknesses. The 49ers did not tender a contract offer earlier this year to Smith, a four-year veteran, meaning the team has relinquished his rights and has no intention of bringing him back this season.

The 49ers will have a third quarterback in the mix behind Alex Smith/Kaepernick, and that could still be Carr, who expects to be given an opportunity to compete at the position after telling a reporter this month that coaches "told me they are going to roll the balls out there and the best player is going to play."

But Carr is just as likely to be released as he is to ever play another snap for the 49ers. He is owed $2.375 million this year in the final season of his contract with the team, and that's too much money for the Niners to be paying their No. 3 quarterback.

If Carr still is around after free agency, he'll get his chance to earn that money as the No. 2. But the 49ers could just as likely cut him and use that money to bring in a younger veteran who might be a better fit, since Carr seemingly has no future with the team.

Alex Smith still might have a future, and the 49ers are likely to invest their hopes and intentions on him as the starter again this year while allowing Kaepernick to develop at a gradual pace. But if Kaepernick adjusts quickly to the learning curve, he could get an opportunity to make an impact this season.

But that likely will be determined by how well Smith and the team are doing on the field while Kaepernick handles a clipboard on the sidelines.

So this position still is poking at the 49ers, and that won't change until they find some stability that has been missing since 2006, when Alex Smith became the first quarterback in franchise history to play every snap in a season while leading the Niners to a 7-9 finish.

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