Dickey: Smith the clear choice as starter

It was only an exhibition game, but it was gratifying to see Alex Smith play well in the 49ers’ win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night. Now, maybe the clamoring for Nate Davis will abate.

Fans always get excited about backup quarterbacks during the practice games. Remember Cody Pickett? He’s playing in the Canadian League now.

Backup quarterbacks are playing against defenders who won’t even be on the roster once the real games start. So, they often look good — as Davis did last summer.Fans also often root for backups. My experience with this goes back to George Mira in the ’60s. 49ers Coach Jack Christiansen was under pressure from media and fans to start Mira, instead of the much better John Brodie, so he finally did. Mira had a terrible game and the 49ers lost badly. Christiansen stormed into the postgame interview and said, “Well, you wanted Mira. You got him. Are you happy?”

Brodie was often underappreciated by both fans and media, mostly because he had an impossible task: Overcoming the hole a weak 49er defense often dug for him.

After he left, and fans saw a parade of bad quarterbacks until Joe Montana arrived, everybody finally understood that Brodie was an outstanding quarterback.

Now, it’s Smith who is on the hot seat. Many 49er fans have been clamoring for Anybody But Smith, and he doesn’t have many supporters among the media, either.

On a Comcast show, Rich Walcoff insisted that David Carr would provide serious competition for the starter’s role. I disagreed, saying Carr had been brought in primarily as a veteran backup who could step in if Smith were injured. In fact, coach Mike Singletary has said there is no competition for No. 1.

Smith didn’t help himself with a 3-for-9 effort in the first exhibition, but he looked like a quarterback who had control of the offense on Sunday night when he marched the team 69 yards down the field for a touchdown on the opening drive.

He did this with some significant pieces missing. His two main receivers, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, were both sidelined by minor injuries. Frank Gore was kept out so he’ll be fresh for Ehe season. Newly acquired running back Brian Westbrook was also kept out.

None of that seemed to make a difference to Smith, who found alternate targets. He got good protection from the offensive line, and when he didn’t, he stepped up away from the pressure. He looked comfortable working out of the pro set and dropped back in the shotgun only once on the opening drive, on a third-and-long, which he converted.

Meanwhile, Nate Davis did not look sharp when he played, and Singletary had some harsh words for him after the game.

No matter what fans or media might think, Smith is the 49ers’ quarterback. The team’s fortunes will rise or fall on his performance.
For some time, I’ve said I believe the Niners will make the playoffs this year. A big part of that is my faith that Smith will step up and provide the consistency they need at the quarterback position. Sunday night was a small step in the right direction.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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