Why Pickett won't play

Tim Rattay is hurt. Ken Dorsey already has had his shot. The 49ers are 1-11 and going nowhere. So why not try rookie quarterback Cody Pickett this week against the Arizona Cardinals?

Because this is the NFL, that's why.

As Rattay struggled in recent weeks and the 49ers sunk to the very bottom of the NFL standings, the call came out to coach Dennis Erickson from several members of the media: How about giving Pickett, the team's seventh-round draft choice, a shot behind center to get a glimpse of what he's got so that you can better evaluate him for the future?

To be sure, there will be a lot of evaluating going on come January by the 49ers at the quarterback position. After what they've seen from Rattay and Dorsey this year – and not a lot of it has been good – it makes sense to a lot of people to throw Pickett in there to see what he can do, particularly since the season already is a lost cause.

But it doesn't make sense.

Look around. In the NFL, rookies just aren't ready to step in and play quarterback. Sometimes, that approach can thwart their development and utltimate potential.

OK, what about Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, you're saying?

Obviously, Roethlisberger is an exception. An aberration, actually. He is protected by a solid offensive line, an outstanding running game and a defense that is ranked No. 1 in the league. Do not underestimate what having that support around him in all areas means. It allows Roethlisberger – undoubtedly a top talent – an opportunity to grow into the position while the Steelers win.

A better example is Eli Manning of the New York Giants. After breaking the bank with cash and draft picks to acquire the overall No. 1 pick in the April draft, the Giants obviously wanted to push him into the lineup as soon as possible.

But the Giants became one of the NFL's early surprises, starting 4-1 with Kurt Warner at quarterback. However, after the Giants lost three of their next four games, coach Tom Coughlin gave Warner the hook, and the Manning era began.

The Giants haven't won since, and Manning has been overmatched, leading the Giants to just 23 points in his three starts. Manning likely will be a star in the NFL someday, but it was a mistake for the Giants to hand him the controls with their season on the line.

And it's a mystery why they did it, because at 5-7, New York still is only a game out of a playoff berth in the weak NFC.

Who knows if Manning will really benefit from the beating he is taking with the weight of New York's playoff hopes resting on his right shoulder?

That's where the correlation to Pickett comes in. Obviously, Pickett's situation is different than Roethlisberger and Manning. Those rookies were brought into winning situations with expectations to keep things moving forward. Pickett would be brought into a losing situation in which he would be thrown to the wolves.

If the Niners really think they might have something for the future in Pickett, why would they want to bring him in before he is ready in meaningless, playing-out-the-string games behind an offensive line that would struggle to protect him?

And know this: With the 49ers experiencing weekly protection breakdowns, opposing defenses would come after the rookie relentlessly with blitz combinations he never has seen before. It would not be pretty. Even worse, it could shatter his confidence.

Rattay and Dorsey have been sacked a combined 42 times this year, which is on pace for a team record. Even though Pickett might be more mobile than either of those two, he would be a sitting duck facing the firing squad.

Pickett is one of those legitimate projects, an athletic prospect who needs time to develop. In an ideal world, as most football people will tell you, rookie quarterbacks should get a year or two with a clipboard in their hands before they are ready to play the most important position in professional sports.

That doesn't always happen, but there are reasons for the 49ers to keep 2004 as Pickett's redshirt season, and they know it.

And besides, they might as well spend these final four games evaluating Rattay and Dorsey, since one of them might not be back with the team next season.

Dorsey sat all of last season behind Rattay and Jeff Garcia, never getting his first NFL snap until the team's opener this year. After learning and watching in 2003, Dorsey appeared ready to step in after a fine spring showing and respectable effort during the preseason and the team's first two games against Atlanta and New Orleans.

He didn't look nearly as good in starts against Seattle and Chicago, playing so poorly that it raised questions about his future with the team and quieted talk that he's San Francisco's quarterback of the future.

All the more reason to play him now instead of throwing Pickett out there. And the 49ers might be doing that the next few weeks, since Rattay is "very questionable whether he will play this week or the week after that," according to coach Dennis Erickson.

A MRI exam Monday revealed that Rattay has a partially torn right fascia in his right foot, a condition he played with the entire game Sunday after suffering the injury on San Francisco's third offensive play in a 16-6 loss at St. Louis.

"Now it's worse," Erickson said Monday. "If he can't move around and protect himself, I'm not going to play him. So you go with Ken, and then Cody would be the second quarterback. Again, that remains to be seen."

And that's the only way you'll see Pickett playing quarterback for the Niners this season – if he is the last healthy player they have standing at the position.

That's the way it should be. Let the kid have his season to learn on the sidelines. With this team, there will be plenty of time and opportunities for Pickett to show his stuff in 2005.


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