Liotta: Preseason is no time for a QB battle

They sure don’t waste any time when it comes to the NFL preseason, do they? Seems like yesterday the teams reported, and today there’s a game. Literally.

In fact, the Hall of Fame game pits the Indianapolis Colts vs. the Washington Redskins tonight in Canton, Ohio. On Friday, the 49ers bus across the Bay to play the Raiders for their exhibition opener.

This preseason will not be easy for Mike Nolan or the 49ers, who have four preseason games to answer the biggest football question a football team can be asking this time of year: Who will be the team’s starting quarterback?

And there is no worse time for a team to identify its quarterback than during the preseason. NFL exhibition games have none of the complexities of real games.

It’s almost comical that the 49ers’ quarterback position has come to this: Alex Smith, the first overall pick four years ago, vs. Shaun Hill, an undrafted free-agent signee who spent more than five years in the league before throwing an official pass.

From the biographies, it should be Smith by knockout. And that’s the rub. After a genuinely positive 2006 season, Smith took a huge step backward on the field last year, completing less than half of his passes for a passer rating of 57.2. By the time it was over, Smith was throwing all kinds of stuff off the field as well, trading barbs with his head coach over their relationship.

Hill, meanwhile, actually passed for an NFL quarterback during his playing time last year. He completed 68 percent of his passes, throwing five touchdown passes and only one interception. He won two games and posted a passer rating of 101.2.

The 49ers have 240 minutes of pretend football before they have to name a starting quarterback, and none of those 240 minutes are going to mean a thing. All anybody can hope for are some positive performances that will enable Nolan to exude confidence when he names his starter.

Because come the Sept. 7 opener, no matter what happens this preseason, none of us is really going to know if the 49ers have a quarterback they can depend on this season.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner.

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