Who's No. 1 at QB now?
Here's the numbers from Saturday's exhibition opener for San Francisco's two contenders for the starting quarterback job: --- Veteran Tim Rattay: Six completions in eight attempts for 103 yards and two touchdowns, good for a quarterback rating of 156.2. --- Rookie Alex Smith: Three completions in nine attempts for 25 yards and no touchdowns, good for a quarterback rating of 42.4. Those numbers would seem to suggest a shift in the 49ers' quarterback plans from this point forward, but coach Mike Nolan said after a 21-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders that things will remain the same at the position when San Francisco resumes training camp practices on Monday. "We will, more than likely, maintain the same structure we've had throughout training camp, and throughout this first game," Nolan said. That means Smith is No. 1 in the rotation and will continue to take most of the snaps with the first team offense while Rattay picks up the scraps with the second team. So, just to clear up any possible uncertainty, who exactly is No. 1 on San Francisco's depth chart after Saturday, coach? "It goes the way you see it," Nolan responded. "It would be Alex." Alex didn't get too many opportunities to succeed in his much-anticipated professional debut. Smith came out with the first team and immediately began handing off in the most basic of I formations. Two quarters later, Rattay came out winging it, with dramatically different results. If this was the way the Niners had hoped to introduce Smith in grand fashion as the team's new quarterback, while solidifying him in that role in the eyes of the 49ers Faithful, the team failed miserably. In his NFL debut, Smith was put in virtually a no-win situation, forced to play behind a rag-tag group of predominantly backup offensive linemen against Oakland's defensive starters, while being given no leeway in an offensive game plan that seemed primarily drawn up to not put him in harm's way. But the kid hardly was complaining afterward. "I have to take this for what it is," he said. "I have to play faster. I have to learn from it." When SFI asked about the conservative play-calling when he was in the game, Smith refused to use that as an excuse. Rattay didn't have to go searching for any excuses, either, since he was marvelous during his first two series of 2005. It was completely different for the San Francisco offense when the show was being run by Rattay, who – once training camp began – was stuffed in the back seat of the battle for the starting position that he once owned. Granted, it was against second teamers who provided much less pressure to San Francisco's suspect offensive front, but the Niners allowed Rattay to air it out after being so protective of the high-priced rookie when he was in the game. Rattay immediately took advantage of the situation. After overthrowing Brandon Lloyd on his first pass, Rattay's next throw was a 30-yard missile to Lloyd down the right sideline – a play that gained almost three times as many yards as any play directed by Smith in the first half. On the very next play, Rattay threaded a beautiful 36-yard touchdown pass to Lloyd over three Oakland defenders to erase the Raiders' 6-0 halftime lead and spark the Niners to a 21-point explosion over the first six minutes of the third quarter. Rattay culminated that run of points by throwing nine yards to Johnnie Morton on the first play after an Oakland turnover, then hitting Arnaz Battle on a quick hitch pass that the receiver took 13 yards into the end zone for a 21-6 lead. That was a stark contrast to the way Smith labored and struggled throughout the first half. Each of his first four drives were deflating three-and-outs, and the 49ers had only 19 yards of total offense when the rookie trotted out for his final series with 1:49 left in the first half. Forty-five seconds later, Smith finally led the Niners to their initial first down – but only because he was hit out of bounds by Oakland's Tyler Brayton for a 15-yard personal foul that moved the chains. But that drive couldn't get past the San Francisco 41-yard line before the half ended. When a new half began, the San Francisco offense went from night to day, with Rattay leading the 49ers to their first preseason win since 2003. So, after a night like that, what exactly does Rattay have to do now to reclaim No. 1 status in the practice rotation or, for that matter, on the depth chart? "I just got to keep going out there and practicing well, then going out in the games and keep playing well," he said. "That's all I can do, and all that stuff will control itself."
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