Expect more competition for backup QB

<P>Rick Mirer served his purpose with the 49ers. Now that the veteran quarterback has officially departed the organization, San Francisco can move forward and develop a reliable plan at the position behind starter Jeff Garcia for the immediate future. </P>

That's something the Niners began to do last year when coach Steve Mariucci made a tough decision to go with second-year man Tim Rattay instead of eight-year veteran Mirer as Garcia's backup entering the season. Neither Mirer or Rattay had been particularly impressive during exhibition games, but the team opted to accelerate Rattay's development after he filled the No. 3 role behind Garcia and Mirer in 2000.

Now Rattay, who remains unproven entering his third NFL season, must step up and assert himself as a legitimate backup this year if he expects to remain in the team's plans. He'll get that opportunity this summer with an extensive audition during the Niners' five-game exhibition schedule. He'll also have a different kind of competition than he faced last year from Mirer - whose uninspired preseason performance gave the impression he was just sticking around to pick up a paycheck.

This time, Rattay will be challenged by younger players who also would like to secure a place in San Francisco's future at quarterback - Giovanni Carmazzi and Aaron Garcia.

Carmazzi was the team's third-round draft pick in 2000 - selected four rounds ahead of Rattay - who missed all of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Garcia was signed as a free agent on Jan. 30 and joins the 49ers after a record-setting career in the Arena Football League.

Garcia was the 2001 Arena League Offensive Player of the Year after passing for 4,514 yards and 104 touchdowns. Coincidentally, Garcia and Carmazzi both were star quarterbacks for Sacramento prep powerhouses during their high school days. Mirer's stay with the 49ers, however, was not without its merits. He provided stability at the position during two seasons while Jeff Garcia developed into a Pro Bowl star.

Mirer seriously challenged an unproven Garcia for the starting position in 2000, then provided veteran depth at the position while Garcia blossomed. Mirer also was instrumental in helping nurture Rattay during the past two seasons.

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