Dorsey no doormat at QB

Ken Dorsey isn't exactly stepping aside at quarterback now that Alex Smith has arrived on the scene with the 49ers. In fact, the addition of the hotshot rookie seems to have revitalized Dorsey's game. And, certainly, his spirit. "The way I put it to myself, and the way I put it to anybody," the third-year veteran said determinedly, "is that the day I stop caring about being a starter in this league, the day I stop caring about helping the team in this league, is the day I stop playing football."

Dorsey certainly has no intention of being done playing football for the 49ers, though his critics will have you believe he's on his way out the door with the team now that Smith has been brought in to be the future at quarterback.

To be sure, Dorsey's uneven performance last year suggested he didn't have much of a NFL future. And he didn't exactly wow the team's new coaching regime during the Niners' early minicamp for holdover veterans in April, throwing some passes that were so ugly they actually drew a gasp from a small collection of observers.

But that was then. This is now: In the six weeks since then, Dorsey – taking part regularly in the team's quarterback school under the direction of offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy – has honed his skills and improved his passing to the point that he came out firing impressively during the team's full-squad May minicamp.

It wasn't an aberration, either. Despite sharing a third of the snaps, for three days Dorsey ran the offense smoothly and delivered crisp, direct spirals that often found their targets between the numbers.

It was, quite possibly, as good as Dorsey has looked since joining the 49ers 25 months ago as their 2003 seventh-round draft choice, conjuring memories of his strong progress during spring minicamp sessions last year when he ran the first-team offense while starter Tim Rattay was on the mend after groin surgery.

That strong progress initially carried over to the season after Rattay went down in the opener. Dorsey played well in relief in that game, then almost led the 49ers to an upset victory the next week in New Orleans. But then the progress withered away into dismal performance, beginning in Week 3 at Seattle and continuing during other starts when Dorsey's arm hardly looked of NFL caliber.

But writing off Dorsey now, it seems, would be extremely premature.

"I want to make myself better out there," Dorsey said. "What I can control on the field is getting better each day, and that's what I'm trying to control. I want to be out there. I want to be in the mix. I want to do things. That's the way I'm going to go about things."

And so he has. Instead of sulking that the team drafted Smith, and reading the figurative writing on the wall that selection might entail, Dorsey has freed himself from speculation he has no future with the 49ers, that he's just some doormat for other quarterbacks on the depth chart.

He has made it into something of a new start with the new coaches, and – can it actually be? – people are beginning to talk about Ken Dorsey's potential again.

Niners coach Mike Nolan, in fact, left the team's May minicamp unequivocally impressed, even suggesting that Dorsey – who started seven games last year in place of an injured Rattay – could be a player in the competition for the starting position.

As foolish as that may sound to some – it's common belief the true fight for No. 1 on the depth chart is between Rattay and Smith – it's not really that difficult to envision scenarios in which an improved Dorsey once again is taking snaps as San Francisco's starting quarterback.

And, looking down the road, scenarios also can be envisioned in which it's an improved Dorsey vying for time with Smith at the position rather than Rattay or 2004 seventh-round pick Cody Pickett.

When Nolan was approached with a question regarding Smith moving past Rattay as the starter, the coach responded by saying, "I don't want to rule out Ken Dorsey. Ken Dorsey has done an excellent job. Ken is in the thick of it. He's done very well up to this point and I am very encouraged by Ken as well."

After watching some jaws drop from those who believed it would be a two-QB race for the starting position from the very start, Nolan was asked directly if it was possible Dorsey actually could be in the running for that starting berth.

"Sure he is," Nolan responded.

Dorsey refuses to focus on any of that kind of talk. He's too busy digging into a new playbook, gaining command of a new offense, soaking up every morsel of knowledge that he can apply on the field and improve his chances of getting there once the games come around.

He is more absorbed now than at any point during his first two seasons with the team.

"Quite a bit," Dorsey said. "Just being able to go through the quarterback schools and everything like that, being able to take in a lot of offense, being able to do what we're doing out there, I feel like it has been a great advantage for me. Just being able to have a solid foundation right there and being able to build our way up is a great advantage. This is our base philosophy that we're doing out here now, and these are the things that we kind of hang our hat on."

Dorsey isn't hanging his hat yet on any particular rung of San Francisco's quarterback pecking order.

But during the past month, he has thrown his hat back in the ring at the position. He's a legitimate contender again, not just for a roster berth, but for some playing time that could count.

And he's looking forward to the days ahead when all that sorts itself out.

"We'll just fight," Dorsey said of the imminent summer competition at the position. "We'll see what happens."

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