The QBs are all right at 49ers scrimmage

As a chain-mover, Alex Smith already is getting the hang of it. Faced with third-down situations the first two times he dropped back to pass Saturday in his first professional scrimmage, Smith was up to snuff, setting up comfortably in the pocket and zipping completions to keep drives alive. His next completion was a 26-yard rope over the middle to tight end Eric Johnson, a pretty good indication the rookie QB is coming along nicely, along with the rest of San Francisco's rebuilding offense.

It's really rather elemental that the most pressing concern facing the 49ers this summer – and, let's face it, this is a team with a list of pressing concerns – is to identify and develop a quarterback who can lead a developing offense to better results than last year, when San Francisco's feeble attack fell to 26th in the NFL in total offense, the Niners' worst finish since 1978.

Smith continues to look like the man, but it's also nice to have a veteran insurance clause around just in case. Tim Rattay did nothing to disappoint during his time behind center, either, completing five of six passes against the first-team defense. Even Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett had their moments running the show, Dorsey in particular.

You can't really draw any conclusions from a controlled camp scrimmage that didn't include the 49ers' best defender, Julian Peterson, and saw the team's best defensive lineman, Bryant Young, exit after only a few plays.

But the early results are in, and they're encouraging. Smith and Rattay both moved the offense when the first and second units were in, and Dorsey looks sharp in his two drives. And, notably, all three quarterbacks bounced out of pocket and showed an ability to turn the corner on a scramble. Before the scrimmage intermission – at which point mostly second- and third-teamers took over – Smith, Rattay and Dorsey combined to complete 14 of 20 passes for 158 yards.

"Our quarterbacks, in particular, did a very good job," coach Mike Nolan said. "The rook's doing a great job, but we have four guys that are going to be in this league. They're all competing and they all want the job."

Smith seems to want it more than most. The No. 1 overall draft pick beats himself up daily when he doesn't execute each play perfectly, but he just as easily lets his mistakes go and treats them as learning experiences.

The first drive of the day ended when Smith had his fourth pass intercepted by safety Keith Lewis – the only turnover the entire scrimmage – although it came on a strong throw and might not have been Smith's fault as receiver Johnnie Morton wasn't looking back as he rounded off his route.

But on the next play, Smith bounced back by hitting Johnson with the longest completion of the day, and later followed that with a 16-yard completion to Brandon Lloyd to convert another third down that kept a touchdown drive moving.

"It felt good to keep moving the ball, moving it all the way down and actually putting one in," Smith said. "This is as close to a live situation that I'm going to get before a (preseason) game. I've put a lot of time in with this offense, learning the playbook and trying to know my assignments, and I feel like I've come a long way."

It doesn't draw a whole lot of notice with Smith setting the pace, but Rattay also has come a ways since his injury-plagued 2004 season, when he could make it to the starting gate for only nine games because of arm, shoulder, foot and groin injuries. It looks now like Smith will be the starter for the Aug. 13 preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders, but Rattay will have his say before all is said and done in September.

"Both those guys did really good," said tailback Kevan Barlow, who culminated a 65-yard touchdown drive directed by Smith with a one-yard scoring plunge. "I was really impressed by Alex. I felt like he went out there and made some plays, made something happen, took control of the huddle. He did a good job to be a rookie. Hopefully, he'll play like Ben Roethlisberger did last year for the Steelers. And Tim Rattay's going out there looking smooth and calm, too, just doing the things that Rat can do."

It's something to build on as the 49ers move into their second stage of training camp that will end in a week with the almost real deal against the Raiders, when it won't be teammates facing Smith, Rattay and Co. on the other side of the ball.

"It's where it's supposed to be," Nolan said. "We are certainly not ready for the season, but it was good. It was a very good scrimmage and had good life in it. I continue to see guys that really love to play the game, which is important to me. I think there is some chemistry coming together with this football team. We still need to improve on detail things, but I would be saying that if I was coaching the New England Patriots."

Said Smith, "I think we kind of got a taste of it today, and it was encouraging. It's nice to get in a rhythm out there. I did feel good about it. The scary thing is how far I've got ahead of me."


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