A scout's opinion: J.T. could be the 49ers QB

Can J.T. O'Sullivan really become a factor in the battle to capture the 49ers' starting position at quarterback this year, as coaches say he will be? The answer is a definite yes, says a former NFL scout who worked with offensive coordinator Mike Martz when he was in St. Louis, and here are the reasons why O'Sullivan could pull a shocker and emerge as the No. 1 guy heading into the regular season.

Russ Lande, a former NFL scout who now is a draft expert for the Sporting News and author of GM Jr's Guide to the NFL Draft, was a scout for the Rams during the time Martz's offenses were tearing it up in St. Louis at the turn of the 21st century and taking the Rams to two Super Bowls with an attack dubbed "The Greatest Show on Turf."

Lande knows what Martz expects from his quarterbacks, and indicates that is why O'Sullivan is working at quarterback with the 49ers today. Martz first became associated with O'Sullivan when both were with the Detroit Lions last year, and Martz came away with good impressions of how well O'Sullivan picked up his detailed scheme and the potential he showed to prosper in it.

"The thing about J.T. is," Lande said, "is he's super intelligent. He's never going to make a mental mistake. Nowadays, in the NFL, above the shoulders is way more important than below the shoulders. You need to have that kind of mental makeup to run Martz's offense. And it says something that Mike brought him in."

The well-traveled O'Sullivan, who now is with his ninth NFL organization, finally threw his first regular-season passes with his eighth NFL team last year when he played in four games with the Lions. After starter Jon Kitna was knocked out in Week 2, O'Sullivan came in and kept the Lions close during a narrow 20-17 loss against Minnesota, completing 13 of 24 passes for 148 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. It remains the primary work of his NFL career so far. He also threw two incompletions against San Diego late in the season last year.

O'Sullivan got extensive playing time during the exhibition season last year, and that's where he really caught Martz's eye. O'Sullivan completed 63 percent of his 86 preseason passes for 675 yards and three touchdowns to record a passer rating of 84.2

O'Sullivan has experienced considerable success playing in NFL Europa, and everybody knows what Martz has been able to do with quarterbacks who emerged from NFL Europa. Or have you ever heard of a guy named Kurt Warner? O'Sullivan was the league's second-rated passer in 2004 while leading the Frankfurt Galuxy to World Bowl XII. Three years later, in the summer before he joined the Lions, O'Sullivan was named 2007 NFL Europa Offensive MVP while again leading the Galuxy to the World Bowl.

"The big question for O'Sullivan is can he make the throws that Martz's offense requires," Lande said. "O'Sullivan is an accurate quarterback, and that's essential for Mike's scheme. But can he nail that 18-yard dig (pattern) that is the staple of that offense? If he can do that, he's going to have a legitimate chance to challenge the other two guys."

Alex Smith and Shaun Hill got most of the work with the first-unit offense during San Francisco's three-day minicamp last week, but O'Sullivan did get sprinkled into the work with the top units, and coach Mike Nolan said that will increase during San Francisco's organized team activities in June.

"I've been impressed with J.T. O'Sullivan," Nolan said. "His familiarity with the offense obviously helps him. He's a little crisper than the other guys because he's had a year in (the system). So, he knows it. But I like his demeanor and his ability just to make a play work. That is important."

Martz, for his part, has been impressed with O'Sullivan all along and says O'Sullivan has a legitimate chance to beat out the two incumbents and be the guy this year.

"Oh, he has an excellent chance, no question about it," Martz said. "If any one of these three guys is going to be our quarterback, I'd be real happy with it. And certainly, J.T. is one of those three. I feel real good about J.T."

And Lande, who knows Martz well, says that's just not talkspeak by any means.

"(O'Sullivan) might be a notch below the other two in what he can do physically," Lande said. "But mentally, he's probably ahead of them. I think O'Sullivan's intelligence in the complexities of this offense give him a legitimate chance to be their guy this year. Now, is he the long-term solution for the 49ers at quarterback? No. But can he win the job and then get in there and win games for a year or two? It's definitely possible."

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