It's J.T. at QB - as it should be

It wasn't just the obvious decision. It was the only decision. The 49ers were way too far along with J.T. O'Sullivan to turn back now. He had to be named the starting quarterback for San Francisco's regular-season opener next month. If the team had come to any other conclusion, there would be even more stupefaction than when O'Sullivan vaulted to front-runner status at QB more than two weeks ago.

There was plenty of reason to question the decision then. There's much less reason now.

It happened fast, but O'Sullivan has proven himself as a guy who can move the offense and stand up to both the on-field and off-field obligations of being a NFL starting quarterback.

This wasn't a decision of desperation by the 49ers, as it might have seemed when O'Sullivan suddenly became the quarterback taking all the first-team snaps earlier this month. This was a decision based on merit.

And, as Mike Nolan pointed out when he broke the news Friday afternoon, it was a decision that had to be made in the best interest of the team.

"Now it's time for us to get ready for the regular season," Nolan said. "For our football team's sake, it's time to get ready for the season and in particular our opening game - so it puts more focus on where it should be going forward."

To be sure, the focus this summer has been on the team's unusual and unpredictable handling of the quarterback situation, which began on the first day of training camp practice with Alex Smith and Shaun Hill trading off practices with the first-team offense.

O'Sullivan? Even though Nolan had said during spring drills that the sixth-year journeyman would be part of a three-man "open competition" for the starting job, O'Sullivan looked every bit like an afterthought and a guy on the outside looking in when he didn't take any snaps in 11-on-11 team drills during the first seven days of training camp while Smith and Hill got all the work.

But with Smith and Hill struggling to pick up the complex system of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, O'Sullivan got his opportunity and ran with it. He began getting first-team snaps a few days before the 49ers' joint practice with the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 4. He began getting all the first-team snaps when the 49ers returned to practice after that joint session.

And as the preseason games proved, even though O'Sullivan has some ball security issues he needs to work on, he's clearly the best man to run the Martz offense, now, here, as in today. And the 49ers are in no position to wait around for Smith - and to a lesser extent Hill - to get it. They need to be ready to shoot from the gate when Arizona comes to town in September.

O'Sullivan gives them the best chance to do that, and really, that's all that matters. This is a very here-and-now decision for a team that no longer can worry about for the future. The future has arrived for the 49ers. The future is now.

What about the future as far as Smith is concerned? That's an issue for tomorrow, not today. Smith - the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick, the youngster in whom the 49ers have invested so much time and money - still is clearly the most talented and physically-gifted quarterback on the San Francisco roster.

But as he has displayed so far in the preseason, he still is an unrefined product not ready to consistently lead an offense - at least not this offense. In many ways, Smith has looked this summer much like the diamond-in-the-rough he was when he first arrived in San Francisco. That's not a guy ready to run the show.

It's different with O'Sullivan. Through the experience of bouncing around eight different NFL organizations since he was drafted by New Orleans in 2002, O'Sullivan is ready. Now it's J.T.O's show.

"J.T. O'Sullivan is our quarterback and I'm expecting him to succeed," Nolan said. "We've made our decision. I'm very confident that J.T. is at the point where he's our best man for the job right now."

O'Sullivan would have had to implode during Thursday's exhibition game against Chicago for the 49ers to even consider going in any other direction. Instead, he produced a stellar performance, completing 7 of 8 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown in just more than a quarter of action to send San Francisco on its way to a wild 37-30 victory.

That left O'Sullivan 20 of 33 for 351 yards passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions in three preseason games, good for a passer rating of 91.8. Smith, who completed just 16 of 38 passes in the three games, has a preseason passer rating of 67.4 and Hill's passer rating is 57.3

Looking at those numbers, you can almost say O'Sullivan won the job by default. But the fact is, while Smith and Hill continued to struggle over recent weeks, O'Sullivan displayed signs of being able to thrive in the system.

"This hasn't been a case of Shaun and Alex not performing well," Nolan said. "This has been a case of J.T. O'Sullivan performing very well and that's where we are. He's got very good command of the offense - probably the better command between the three right now - and he played well in all three preseason games. He played with consistency and we moved the ball well as a unit. We scored points, and he did the things that I think are really important playing that position.

"I don't want to take anything from Shaun and Alex, though. I still have a lot of confidence in them and I mean what I said all along that we do have three guys that can win games for us."

But only one of them can do it at a time - and only one of them is ready to do it now. And that one is J.T. O'Sullivan. As it very well should be.

Niners Digest Top Stories