Critical time for Dorsey

A year ago, quarterback Ken Dorsey was viewed as the future of the 49ers. Now, things are a lot more tenuous for the second-year player.

In fact, no 49ers player might have more riding on the final four games of the regular season than Dorsey, who will start Sunday's game against the Cardinals in place of the injured Tim Rattay.

"I believe we will continue to evaluate him," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "I really believe in the starts that he had he was plying hurt a lot of the time."

Dorsey has started three games this season, and his play dropped off considerably after he guided the 49ers to a narrow 30-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 2.

His last start was a forgettable 23-13 loss to the Chicago Bears on Oct. 31, the second straight Dorsey start that netted the 49ers no offensive touchdowns. But since that game Erickson said he has seen a different Dorsey on the practice field.

"The velocity that he has on the ball and what he's been doing in practice since Tim has been back as the starter is much better than it was, for example, in the Chicago game," Erickson said. "The thumb affected him in the Chicago game. He won't admit that, but it did."

In addition to an undisclosed thumb injury, Dorsey was also struggling with a groin strain that limited his mobility and ability to use his lower body on some of his throws. Dorsey has completed 62 of 115 passes for 591 yards, with no touchdowns and four interceptions this season.

This could be a critical time for Dorsey because the 49ers have virtually assured themselves one of the top two picks in the April draft. If junior quarterbacks Matt Leinart of USC and Cal's Aaron Rodgers declare for the draft, the 49ers could find themselves in a position to select one of them.

Because teams don't typically keep four quarterbacks on their roster, the 49ers would probably then release one of their incumbent quarterbacks.

Rattay is virtually assured of returning. There are many in the organization who do not believe Rattay has received a fair chance to show what he's capable of accomplishing because his offensive line is considered the worst in the league and his receivers are below average.

In addition, Rattay has been riddled with injuries this year. He sustained a torn groin tendon in March that forced him to undergo surgery and miss three months of off-season workouts. Then he missed three weeks in training camp with a forearm strain.

Rattay was ready for the start of the regular season but sustained a dislocated right throwing shoulder that forced him to miss the next two games. Rattay missed another game with a recurrence of his forearm strain.

With all the injuries, Erickson said it is difficult to fully evaluate Rattay for the future, too.

"We haven't seen a lot of him," Erickson said. "He's been hurt all the time. It's really hard to give anybody a fair evaluation. Obviously that's something that we'll look at after the season. It's hard. It really is."

Rattay is expected to miss at least a couple games with the injury to his right foot.

"The report that we got is that he can't put weight on it for two weeks," Erickson said. "Which means he would miss this week, of course, and probably next week. We'll re-evaluate next week. He won't play this week."

Rookie Cody Pickett has shown that he possesses the tools to be a good NFL quarterback. Recently, Bill Walsh, who no longer has ties to the organization, said he believes Pickett could be the long-term answer for the team.

The one quarterback on the roster who seems to be surrounded by more questions is Dorsey. So the onus could be on him in the final four games of the season to prove to the organization that he belongs.

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