The Smith era begins: Rookie takes over at QB

The 49ers are going to Alex Smith sooner rather than later. After San Francisco's disappointing 1-3 start, coach Mike Nolan gave the quick hook to incumbent veteran starter Tim Rattay on Tuesday, opting instead to hand the offense to the 21-year-old rookie who was the No. 1 overall pick in the April draft. Smith will make his first NFL start Sunday against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts. "At this time in the process, I feel it's the right time to get Alex in the game," Nolan said.

After evaluating his situation at quarterback following last Sunday's deflating 31-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City, Nolan made another controversial move that he feels is in the best interest of the team.

"We feel Alex gives us our best chance to win," Nolan said, "and I believe he is ready."

Rattay had another shaky effort against Arizona, when he threw for just 126 yards, completing 11 of 21 passes with an interception. That left Rattay as the 27th-rated quarterback in the NFL with a passer rating of just 70.3. Rattay has completed 56 of 97 passes for 667 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions this season.

Was that a poor enough start for him to lose his job to an inexperienced rookie? Rattay's lukewarm numbers weren't the issue, according to Nolan.

"If we were 3-1, it would probably be different," Nolan said. "But we are 1-3."

Smith started San Francisco's first two preseason games but appeared far from ready to face a first-unit NFL defense. But he has looked sharp in practice since then, and has come a long way since August, according to his coach.

Smith takes the majority of the snaps against San Francisco's first-team defense in practice and, Nolan said, "I hate to say it – from a defensive standpoint – but he has been highly successful in practice."

Smith entered the game midway through the fourth quarter against Arizona and appeared more comfortable than during his starting audition this the summer, completing 6 of 10 passes for 34 yards. In a brief appearance against Philadelphia in Week 2, Smith threw incomplete on his only passing attempt.

Now, he'll have a full week of preparation as the starter and the game plan will be developed around him.

"I like the look in Alex's eye," Nolan said. "He's maintained a confidence in himself and continues to reinforce who he is. As I've said all along, we didn't draft Alex to sit him on the bench. I believe it's the right time for him (to start). Certainly, Alex has some physical strengths that we can possibly utilize as we go forward. He has ability to keep things alive."

And, Nolan said, there will be no turning back.

"Alex will be our quarterback," Nolan said. "It's about winning first. That's why we're doing this with Alex. He will be the guy. I've got a lot of confidence in the guy and the things he can do."

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