Niners should go with Dorsey at QB vs. Bucs

The 49ers still are holding out hope that Alex Smith will play in Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but here's what would make a whole lot more sense: Let the rookie quarterback rest his sprained right knee this week, along with his bruised confidence, with the NFL's No. 1 defense coming to town.

It's probably going to happen anyway, considering the way Smith was limping around gingerly Wednesday with a cumbersome brace on his ailing knee. The team is saying Smith has a strain in the ligament that's holding his kneecap in place, and he was downgraded from probable to questionable on Wednesday's injury report.

Smith sounded about as hurt as he looked.

"I'm feeling better than the last couple of days, but I'm still frustrated," he said. "It's a little swollen and a little stiff, so it's hard to say. I made big improvements from yesterday to today, which is nice. Obviously, tomorrow is a big day, so if I make those same improvements, who knows?"

The 49ers should know. While Smith's injury isn't serious, it certainly is enough to keep him out this week. Haven't the 49ers put their prized franchise quarterback in harm's way enough already? They'd just be doing that worse by sending him out with limited mobility against the league's top defense.

Coach Mile Nolan said he expects to make a decision on his starter Thursday, but the decision should be made already. This is the perfect situation to bring in new backup Ken Dorsey, who has been on a crash course of shaking off the rust the past week after veteran Tim Rattay was traded to the Buccaneers eight days ago.

Playing Dorsey won't accelerate Smith's development – which at this early point already seems to be the primary purpose of the 2005 season – but, at 1-5 and reeling, the 49ers really don't need to throw a gimpy Smith in front of another aggressive defense that will be coming at him like a runaway locomotive.

Let Dorsey do that. At this stage of their careers, he reads defenses better and can unload the ball quicker, even though he doesn't have the ambulatory skills offered by Smith. There is no reason not to let him step in amid these kind of circumstances.

Dorsey has seven NFL starts to his credit, so the 49ers should go with his veteran experience in this situation, not only to see what he can do – Dorsey hasn't played in a game since starting San Francisco's final four games last year in place of an injured Rattay – but also to give Smith a chance to step back and take a breath after his first two NFL starts produced a glaring 17.5 quarterback rating.

It's virtually a no-brainer for Nolan.

"It does look more favorable now that Ken would be the guy," Nolan said after Wednesday's practice. "Alex needs to get the work. Right now, it leans toward Ken because (Smith) missed today. We'll make the decision (Thursday) depending on where Alex is at. The situation would be different if you were an experienced guy that has played a long time. This is a whole different type of deal. This one is leaning the other way, so we'll see."

Before last week's trade, Dorsey couldn't buy a snap in practice as Rattay and Smith got most of the work. Dorsey took the bulk of snaps against the scout-team defense last week after Rattay was shipped out. On Wednesday, he was running the first-team offense.

So stepping into the starting lineup against the Bucs seems like the next natural step in that progression. After all, after backing up the injury-plagued Rattay last year, Dorsey certainly knows the drill.

"It's my job to be ready at all times," Dorsey said. "It's been a roller coaster, a crazy two weeks. But that's the way the NFL is. You never really know what's going to happen."

But Dorsey knows what's going to be happening this Sunday against a defense that leads the NFL in five statistical categories, including total defense, rushing defense and third-down efficiency. He was bounced around pretty good last year during his seven starts, so he has experience at being target practice for opposing defenses.

"It's nice to get out and get the team reps because those are the things I've been missing and it feels good to be back out there," Dorsey said as he gets up to speed on executing the playbook. "Having that experience (from last year) under my belt helps me, and just getting my feet wet again this past week or two helps me, too. I'd like to think I prepared myself as well as possible for this moment."

That should be good enough for the 49ers this week. Particularly with Smith saying, in something of a cryptic comment, that "after talking to the doctors, I think it's kind of one of those things that's week to week and then it's depending on how I feel."

If doctors are telling Smith his knee is "week to week," then he should definitely be sitting this week while Dorsey runs the offense.

"I have a lot of faith in this coaching staff, and I know they're going to make the decision that's in the best interests of the team," Dorsey said. "And whichever one they make, that's going to be a decision that's fine with me."

That decision should be Dorsey – not only in the best interests of the team, but in the best interests of Alex Smith, too.

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