Season in review: Quarterbacks

SFI breaks down the 49ers' 2005 season by position. Today: Quarterbacks

Starter in season opener: Tim Rattay

Starter in season finale: Alex Smith

Unit MVP: Ken Dorsey/Alex Smith

Biggest disappointment: Alex Smith's slow development

On the rise: Alex Smith

On the slide: Cody Pickett

What went right: The 49ers got a sixth-round draft pick at the October trading deadline in return for Rattay, who never was going to take the team to the next level and almost certainly wasn't going to be brought back in 2006 as part of the team's future plans. Rattay had some quality moments in his month as a starter – including three touchdown passes in Week 3 against Dallas - which gave the 49ers hope when it appeared in September they might be a more competitive team than they turned out to be. Ken Dorsey produced a victory in his first start of the season in Week 8 against Tampa Bay, getting a strong relief performance from Pickett. Dorsey displayed signs of being a capable backup who could lead the offense when called upon. Alex Smith won his final two starts and displayed gradual development at the end of the season, giving some glimpses of the ability that persuaded the 49ers to use the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft to acquire him. He finished as the team's fourth-leading rusher with 103 yards on 30 carries.

What went wrong: The 49ers were the only team in the NFL to throw for fewer than 2,000 yards, finishing with a 1,898 net yards through the air. That was the fewest passing yards in franchise history over a 16-game season. For comparison's sake, the 49ers had almost 800 more yards passing in the abbreviated nine-game schedule of 1982, and threw for 3,455 last year when they started three different quarterbacks. This season, they had started four quarterbacks by midseason because of the trade or Rattay and injuries to Smith and Dorsey. Dorsey's 66.3 passer rating was the best of any quarterback on the final roster, with Pickett coming in at 28.3 and Smith needing a late surge to finish at 40.8 – one of the lowest ratings ever for a No. 1 overall draft pick who saw substantial playing time. Smith barely completed half of his passes (50.9), Pickett completed 40 percent and Dorsey 53.3. Only Dorsey, who threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions, had as many TD passes as he did interceptions. Smith was intercepted 11 times and didn't throw his first – and only – TD pass until Week 17 on the 150th pass of his rookie season. The 49ers' combined quarterback rating for the season – 53.6 – was the team's lowest since 1978. San Francisco quarterbacks also were sacked 48 times; Smith was dropped 29 times in the nine games he played. The 49ers finished the season with just eight touchdown passes – five of them coming from Rattay in the season's first three games.

Looking forward in 2006: The 49ers will continue to build their offense around Smith, and they plan to provide him with better protection and more dangerous weapons at the skill positions next season to hasten his development. Smith will be spending a lot of time at the team facility in the offseason to work on his understanding of the offense and his timing with receivers. The 49ers also must make decisions on whether they want to continue to develop Dorsey and Pickett as their backups, or bring in an experienced veteran to mentor Smith and a new youngster, perhaps a draft pick, to develop as the No. 3.

Final 2005 unit grade: D-minus

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