Picking the right guy isn’t always a snap


Dead heats. Lively debates.

That sums up a lot of the quarterback battles around the NFL, and it definitely covers the situation at San Francisco 49ers training camp, where Shaun Hill and Alex Smith are vying for the starting job.

Although Hill seems like the natural choice -- the 49ers won seven times in his 10 starts over the last two seasons -- Smith will get an opportunity to reclaim the job. Maybe Smith, the former No. 1 draft pick, will finally get career traction with Mike Singletary at coach, rather than Mike Nolan.

“There is a lot in front of me, and a lot to prove,” Smith said.


Hill impressed a lot of skeptics last season when he took over for J.T. O’Sullivan and completed 62.8% of his passes with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He says he’s looking forward to learning the system of new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, which calls for the quarterbacks to rely on their brains.

“One of the great things that I like about it is how much of it is on the quarterback’s shoulders to check plays or get out of something that might be bad, and into something that could work for us,” Hill said.

Hill and Smith are friendly, likable guys, so their competition is intense but cordial. Still, they’re eager for an answer.

“Obviously, me and Alex both would have preferred that the decision be made earlier so whoever is playing does get all those reps,” Hill said. “Obviously, the more reps the better.”


*--* 2008 W-L YDS PCT TD INT RAT Hill 5-3 2,046 62.8 13 8 87.5 Smith, ’07 2-5 914 48.7 2 4 57.2 *--*

New York Jets

The Jets aren’t gift-wrapping a starting spot for Mark Sanchez, even though the No. 5 pick is unquestionably a cornerstone of the team’s future under Rex Ryan. For the moment, Kellen Clemens is competing for the job, and Ryan indicated this week the two quarterbacks are neck and neck. “Clemens has a better grasp of the system,” the coach told reporters Wednesday. “They’ve both have had their moments and both have had moments where you’re like, ‘What are they doing?’ ”

*--* 2008 W-L YDS PCT TD INT RAT Sanchez, USC 12-1 3,207 65.8 34 10 -- Clemens 0-0 26 60.0 0 1 34.2 *--*


There’s nowhere to head but up for the Browns’ offense, which failed to score a touchdown in the final six games of 2008. It looks as if Brady Quinn will be the starting quarterback, even though he and Derek Anderson -- who got a big-money deal before last season -- are sharing snaps at camp. Quinn looked solid when he was healthy a year ago, playing in parts of three games and turning in a respectable performance against Denver in his first start. An injured index finger that required surgery knocked his season off track.

*--* 2008 W-L YDS PCT TD INT RAT Quinn 1-2 518 50.6 2 2 66.6 Anderson 3-6 1,615 50.2 9 8 66.5 *--*

Detroit Lions


The Lions broke the bank to pay top pick Matthew Stafford, but that doesn’t mean they should hurry him into action. Rushing a rookie can be devastating to his confidence. That’s why it’s important Detroit has a seasoned veteran in Daunte Culpepper, even though he’ll eventually be told to step aside.

Culpepper’s best days are long gone, yet he’s an adequate space-holder until the rookie is ready to go.

*--* 2008 W-L YDS PCT TD INT RAT Culpepper 0-5 786 52.2 4 6 63.9 Stafford, Georgia 10-3 3,459 61.4 25 10 -- *--*


The starting job is not up for grabs now, but in the past Jeff Garcia has always seemed to find a way onto the field. Entering his third season, JaMarcus Russell needs to prove he was worth the investment as the No. 1 pick in 2007. He has done his share of struggling but seemed to turn the corner after the midway point last season.

Garcia insists he’s supportive of the starter every step of the way, but if Russell falters, the savvy backup, who believes he is the best quarterback on the club, will be ready to step in.

*--* 2008 W-L YDS PCT TD INT RAT Russell 5-10 2,423 53.8 13 8 77.1 Garcia, Tampa 6-5 2,712 64.9 12 6 90.2 *--*

Tampa Bay


Were it based only on experience, the starting quarterback job would belong to Byron Leftwich, hands down. He has 46 NFL starts compared with Luke McCown’s seven. But both players have their individual strengths, and either could wind up with the job . . . . temporarily. But sooner or later, the position is going to belong to first-round pick Josh Freeman, the Kansas State product who some scouts believe was the best quarterback in the 2009 draft class.

*--* 2008 W-L YDS PCT TD INT RAT Leftwich, Pitt 0-0 303 58.3 2 0 104.3 McCown, Tampa ’07 1-2 1,009 67.6 5 3 91.7 Freeman, Kansas St. 5-7 2,945 58.6 20 8 -- *--*


With Jay Cutler out the door -- and the coveted Matt Cassel in Kansas City -- the pressure is on new Coach Josh McDaniels to win with either Kyle Orton or Chris Simms, neither of whom set an offensive coordinator’s heart aflutter. It looks as if it’s Orton’s job to lose. He has a so-so arm and isn’t very mobile, but he’ll be playing behind a great line and in a system that won’t ask him to move around too much.

Simms hasn’t been a starter since 2006.

*--* 2008 W-L YDS PCT TD INT RAT Orton, Chicago 9-6 2,972 58.5 18 12 79.6 Simms, Tampa ’06 0-3 585 54.7 1 7 46.3 *--*


Neither Tarvaris Jackson nor Sage Rosenfels had to be too thrilled with the Vikings’ lengthy pursuit of Brett Favre, who, on the eve of camp’s start, announced he planned to stay retired. Still, football is a business, and that was another reminder for them.

Jackson, now coming back from a knee strain, wants to prove he’s more than a stopgap option. Rosenfels, acquired in an off-season trade with Houston, has fairly good accuracy but is prone to turnovers.

*--* 2008 W-L YDS PCT TD INT RAT Jackson 2-3 1,056 59.1 9 2 95.4 Rosenfels, Houston 2-3 1,431 66.7 6 10 79.5 *--*