Sports Out West

Backup quarterback competition heating up for 49ers

NFL: Preseason-Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers

There is no debate that the San Francisco 49ers are now Colin Kaepernicks‘s team. The third year signal caller looks every bit the part of a franchise quarterback and the team will continue to build around him. Even with Kaepernick entrenched as the starter, there is always the possibility that injury can occur. While the 49ers are not going to have Kaepernick be a “running quarterback” by any means, running is still part of his game. Every time he takes off the 49ers will hold their breathe that he doesn’t take a hit that will leave him out of commission for an extended period of time. Injuries are part of the game though, and every team hopes that the next man can step in and perform. If anything were to happen to Kaepernick, do the 49ers have a suitable replacement? 

In a perfect world, it would be a great thing to still have a quarterback like Alex Smith backing up should disaster strike. After all, there was once a time when the 49ers had Steve Young backing up Joe Montana. Because of the salary cap, it’s not realistic to think a situation like that could occur today. The 49ers dealt Smith in large part because of the 7.5 million dollars he was due to make this season.

To sure up the backup quarterback spot, the team made a very good trade in giving up very little to obtain former Cleveland Brown Colt McCoy. McCoy has experience as a starter,  but not a lot of success. He has started 21 games in his career and has a record of 6-15. Overall, he has thrown for 21 touchdowns and has been intercepted 20 times. McCoy did not have anywhere near the talent around him in Cleveland as he does in San Francisco. Could the team be successful should he need to step in?

The 49ers are still a run first team and that in itself could help McCoy. While Kaepernick brings a big play ability to the table, the offense under McCoy could look a little different. Actually, a McCoy lead attack might be eerily similar to the way it looked under Alex Smith. One thing to remember about McCoy though is that he is athletic and can handle some read option duties as he did so in college. He had 447 rushing attempts for 1,571 yards with Texas.

The other player here to not take lightly is Scott Tolzien. Tolzien was signed by the 49ers right before the 2011 season after he was released by the San Diego Chargers. Tolzien has spent his two years in the league learning the 49ers system and that experience within the offense is invaluable. The fact that the Niners have invested that time in him says a lot about what the team thinks of his future prospects. Tolzien has been the third stringer during his time with the 49ers and has never attempted a pass in a regular season game.

Early on, it looked like McCoy was out in front of the competition as Jim Harbaugh said that he was indeed in that backup quarterback role.

“He has been in that role since he got here,” Harbaugh said. “He’s doing very well, picking up the system. And a guy that is really serious and focused on being good and doing a good job. He’s got a lot of things that motivate him to work hard. And he’s worked extra hard, too. He’s doing well.”

As the early stages of training camp began, Harbaugh changed his tune. He backed off the comments that McCoy was the man for the job and declared the competition open.

“There’s nothing shown there,” Harbaugh said of the back up spot.  “It’s very even. And (I’m) very much looking forward to the games and future practices to determine (it). It’s not clear-cut at that position.”

It’s unknown whether Tolzien has stepped up or McCoy has regressed since Harbaugh’s initial comments, but neither player looked particularly sharp in their opening preseason game. McCoy did suffer a stinger to his neck and shoulder in the contest, which may have negatively affected some of his play. He has since returned to practice. 

It’s safe to say the the winner of this competition will be the 49ers’ undisputed backup. There is a possibility though, that the loser may be off the roster all together. The reason for that is the versatility of rookie quarterback B.J. Daniels. While Daniels is a long shot at backup quarterback, his ability to play all over the field will provide him a strong case to stick around. In addition to playing quarterback, Daniels has caught passes while lining up in different formations and also spent time returning kicks.

Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox/USA Today Sports

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a staff writer for 49erswebzone.com and 49ersgab.com. He is also a contributor to Yahoo! Voices and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders.