Roster breakdown: QBs

Now that the 49ers have decided upon the final 53-man roster they will take into the regular season, SFI will break down that roster by unit this week as the team closes in on Sunday's season opener against Atlanta. Today: Quarterbacks

Starter: Tim Rattay

Backups: Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett

What's new: Everything. Rattay takes over as the starter from the departed Jeff Garcia, with Dorsey moving into the backup role in his sophomore NFL season and rookie Pickett becoming the new No. 3 after beating out journeyman Brandon Doman during the summer.

What's to like: Rattay has a fine grasp of the system and is well suited to an attack that will spread the field more often with deep throws. Despite battling significant injury problems during the spring and summer, he appeared to get comfortable fast in his limited playing time at the end of the preseason. A pocket passer with a quick release, Rattay makes the right decisions and is good at checking down to his tight ends and running backs. He is precise and efficient and could turn the Niners into a better passing team than in recent seasons. Dorsey displayed solid development during extended action with the first team during Rattay's down time and looks like he could handle being thrown into a game. Pickett proved to be a seventh-round steal and could be a factor at the position as soon as 2005.

What's to wonder about: Rattay has been able to work his body back to full health over the past month and apparently will be at 100 percent for the season opener Sunday. But his groin injury this spring and forearm problem this summer raised legitimate questions about his durability. With only three NFL starts to his credit, Rattay needed the extra preparation time that he missed out on this year to be as ready as possible for the challenge that awaits him. That could leave him behind where both he and the Niners expected him to be entering the season. Despite his progress, Dorsey was too inconsistent during the preseason to think he can step in against front-line defenders and move the offense effectively.

Key preseason stat: In about three quarters of play over the final two exhibition games, Rattay completed 14 of 18 passes for 152 yards and finished the preseason with a quarterback rating of 120.4 - the sixth-best figure in the league this summer.

Bottom line: The performance at this position will hold a huge key to the season, and the Niners enter their opener with basically the same set of questions at QB that they had six months ago. Nobody can be quite sure what the answers will be as the unproven Rattay gets his shot to follow in the footsteps of the successful 49ers starters that came before him. Rattay's abbreviated exposure in the role during the offseason may mean he still needs more time to get in the flow and rhythm as the season begins. All realistic hopes for success are resting on Rattay, because Dorsey still needs more time before he is ready, though the experience he received running with the first team in practice and preseason games certainly didn't hurt.

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