QB craziness

It was quarterback craziness Wednesday at 49ers Central. In one corner, you had newcomer Jesse Palmer fending off questions about his stint as "The Bachelor." In another corner, you had Hall of Famer Steve Young fending off questions about whether he still could step behind center in a pinch if the 49ers needed him Sunday against the New York Giants. And then, on the field, you had erstwhile fourth-stringer Cody Pickett taking his first snaps as the 49ers' starting QB. When will the madness end?

Not this week against the Giants, that's for sure.

Pickett, who was running around in practice as a scout-team wide receiver and defensive back just a few weeks ago, officially was named the starter for Sunday's game against the NFC East-leading Giants, becoming the fourth different QB to start behind center for the 49ers in their past five games.

That's all well and good, say the 49ers, who are impressed by Pickett's persona as a scrappy go-getter who can command the offensive huddle as well as the three quarterbacks who were in it this year before him.

"Cody's a guy's guy," said right tackle Kwame Harris. "Cody's a cool guy. I can't think of one person on this team he hasn't spoken to our can't relate to."

Said right guard Eric Heitmann, who also will be responsible for protecting Pickett in his first NFL start: "This team has enormous respect for Cody. He's always hung in there. He might have been the fourth-string quarterback, but he was always looking for opportunities to get on the field and do things in practice. He's got tremendous worth ethic and a fire about him."

Stay with us, folks. It gets better.

"Cody's tough," Niners coach Mike Nolan said. "He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he's athletic, and I think there's a belief by the other guys, too, that he'll get his first downs. He's stayed very positive, and that's what I look for. Cody's been doing everything he can."

Nolan went on: "As a matter of fact, when I made him the third quarterback, he was worried that when we let Tim (Rattay) go and he became number three, I wouldn't be able to activate him, because he would have to be the 46th man, which can't go on the field. He said, ‘I still want to cover punts and kickoffs. In practice, I want to be able to play wide receiver and DB.' That says a lot about that guy. Some other guys like to sit back and wear the baseball cap, but he didn't do that. He's helped us out of a jam several times."

Pickett, the second-year signal-caller, got glowing recommendations and commendations from all. But those are the kind of things you'd expect the 49ers to say, because they really can't talk much about what Pickett can do as a starting quarterback, since he's never been one. His NFL experience consists of mop-up action in the second half of one game last season, when he tossed two interceptions among his 10 passes, and a crucial fourth-quarter stint last week when he took over for an injured Ken Dorsey with 10:33 to play and the 49ers holding on to a tentative 12-10 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Pickett and the 49ers left that game a 15-10 winner, and a new member of the 49ers starting quarterback club was born.

Now that he's in that glamour spotlight – even if just for a moment – Pickett now faces the questions about being a renegade cowboy performer, since he was a teenage rodeo star while growing up in Idaho. The fact that he ran down on special teams and made the first tackle of his career just two plays before he took over for Dorsey at quarterback only adds to his swagger.

"It's probably got blown way out of proportion, but it's alright," Pickett said of the "Cowboy Cody" talk. "That's how I was raised and I grew up around that. But you guys are probably taking it a little too much."

At least Pickett wasn't deflecting attention from his time as the star of a reality television show in which he broke hearts and had his dating-game moves with dozens of women exposed weekly in prime time.

That role belonged to Palmer, the star of ABC's "The Bachelor" in 2004, whose new role is backing up Pickett now that Dorsey and rookie Alex Smith still are hobbling with ankle and knee injuries, respectively.

"It's two years old, but I don't mind talking about it at all," said Palmer, who would rather be known for his skills on the football field than with a field of eligible women. "I don't take myself that seriously."

But he's serious about getting up to speed with the 49ers, because the trend of recent history suggests he could be playing quarterback for them against his old team Sunday.

Is that crazy, or what?

"The way our quarterbacks go down… Hell, who knows when it will be (that Palmer might play)?" Nolan said. "I hope not. I say that, not because of Jesse, but just because I'm tired of looking at guys go down. If it does, we'll go in and we'll expect him to operate under the conditions we've set forth for him in play-calling and things. I think he has the ability to make a play."

One quarterback whom the 49ers definitely won't turn to is Young, who was at 49ers headquarters Wednesday for a news conference to talk about a ceremony in his honor that will take place at halftime of San Francisco's Nov. 20 home game against Seattle.

Young, looking extremely fit and spry, might have been the best quarterback in the building even though he's 44 and hasn't played since his last season with the 49ers in 1999.

Of course, considering the 49ers' current situation at the position, Young was asked if he ever gets the itch to still play – and if he could still do it, since he doesn't look a day older or less out of shape than when he left the team.

"Yes, that (itch) will never go away," Young said. "Theoretically, I could go do it, sure. No – it's a young man's game. Truth was, when I retired I could've played, but it's a young man's game."

So take that as a positive for the 49ers, because they can't get much younger or inexperienced at quarterback than they are today.


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