Emergence of Nate Davis made Huard expendable

It really looked like the 49ers were going to need to keep Damon Huard around as insurance at quarterback this season, but Nate Davis changed all that. With Davis emerging as a legitimate prospect at the most important position in professional sports, the Niners felt comfortable enough to release Huard late Tuesday, making their fifth-round draft pick the team's No. 3 QB for the upcoming season.

There's some risk involved in that, because with Shaun Hill and Alex Smith not exactly establishing themselves as world-beaters this summer – and both missing some time during training camp with minor injuries – there could come a time this season when the 49ers need to call on their No. 3 QB to step in and do the job.

Huard was perfect for that role. A 13-year NFL veteran with 27 games of starting experience with two other teams, Huard showed during the summer that at age 36 he still can play – and might even be able to perform on a par with the two veterans who ostensibly were ahead of him on San Francisco's depth chart.

But the 49ers already had committed themselves to Hill and Smith for the upcoming season. That's not news – Huard new all along where he stood with the Niners when he signed with the team on March 4. He was only going to play this season if something happened to Hill or Smith – or of both played poorly enough that the 49ers would have to resort to their third option to breathe life into the offense.

But one thing nobody counted on when Huard signed in March was Davis falling to the 49ers in the NFL draft at the bottom of the fifth round. With needs elsewhere, San Francisco wasn't necessarily looking to grab a quarterback on draft weekend that could figure in the team's plans this season, especially after signing Huard.

But when Davis – who at one point last season was considered one of the nation's top college quarterbacks and a possible first-round selection by some – was still on the board at the No. 171 overall pick, the 49ers just couldn't pass him by.

And, four months later, boy are they glad they didn't.

In leading San Francisco to come-from-behind victories in each of the past two weeks, Davis displayed innate skills at the position and enough poise to convince the 49ers that he will continue to develop at a steady rate and would be able to hold down the position if the 49ers have to throw him in during an emergency.

An emergency that very well could come this season, mind you.

That's saying something, because Huard looked every bit the part of emergency man this summer. He helped nurture and mentor the younger players at the position since the beginning of spring drills, then always looked good whenever he got an opportunity to get on the field during practice or San Francisco's three preseason games.

That wasn't often, but Huard always looked smooth and capable of running the offense during his limited time in two exhibition games. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown in parts of two games, but showed what he could do over an extended stretch when given a whole quarter to play in San Francisco's preseason opener against Denver.

In that game, Huard entered midway through the third period and later led the 49ers on an 82-yard drive to the winning touchdown, quickly dumping the ball off under pressure to the right spot on a 40-yard scoring pass to fullback Brit Miller, the kind of play an experienced quarterback makes. He then found Bear Pascoe in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion pass that ultimately gave San Francisco the win.

Huard completed 7 of 9 passes for 98 yards and had a quarterback rating of 149.1 in the game, but his days in San Francisco were numbered once the Niners decided to take an extended look at how Davis could perform under pressure the past two weeks. Davis answered the call in shining fashion, directing late comebacks against both the Raiders and Cowboys and making the kind of plays that winning quarterbacks make, even if it was reserves on the other side of the ball.

That made it quite evident that the 49ers couldn't try to stash Davis away on their practice squad in September, and that led to the decision to part ways with Huard now, today, so that he could have a little more time to catch on with the team that signs him before the season begins. And somebody will sign Huard to perform the job somewhere else that he was brought in to do for the 49ers.

Huard won't do it now for the 49ers – he probably still would be the No. 3 ahead of Davis if he had remained with the team – primarily because the Niners, with the way their roster will be configured this season, just don't have the luxury of keeping four quarterbacks on their 2009 roster. No, they'll need that roster spot that would have went to a fourth QB for an extra running back, or receiver, or lineman, or defensive back.

There was no way they could keep four quarterbacks. So somebody had to go. And since Davis represents future promise while Huard was only going to be here for one season at best, it was easy for the 49ers to decide who to show the door.

"I am thankful that we were lucky enough to have Damon here with us this offseason," 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. "He was a professional in every sense. What he did with our quarterbacks was outstanding. He helped them to have a better idea about what it takes to be a pro. Not only did he provide them great tips throughout, but he helped build their confidence. It's one thing to hear what you need to do to get better from someone who never played the game, but when you hear it from a guy like Damon you take his words to heart. I really appreciate his professionalism and his personality."

But it's also obvious that Singletary and San Francisco's other coaches appreciate what they have in Davis.

They have been cautiously reserved in their praise of the youngster despite his fine showing the past few weeks, but Tuesday's move speaks loud and clear about where they feel he fits in with the team.

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