Brian Tan | Now Serving
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 08:12
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. NFL teams are in the middle of playoff hunts, college football bowl games are about to begin, the NBA is in full swing and college basketball is already in its own world of chaos.
It seems like years ago that the Arizona Cardinals, who are now 4−8, were sitting pretty with a 4−0 record. The number one overall pick in last year’s draft, Andrew Luck, has been mighty impressive in leading a Colts team that was 2−14 a year ago to a 8−4 record with playoff aspirations. But back where Luck went to college, at Stanford University in Northern California, is an NFL team with one of the more distinctive quarterback controversies in recent memory.
The story of Alex Smith, the draft bust, is a well−known one. Drafted first overall out of Utah before Aaron Rodgers in 2005, Smith never led the 49ers to a winning record in all his years of starting. That is, until Jim Harbaugh made the short drive to leave Stanford and begin coaching the 49ers in 2011.
Right away, Harbaugh took the 49ers from 6−10 to 13−3. Behind the league’s best defense, Smith played very efficiently all year and won a thrilling game against the Saints in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This season, Smith continued his impressive efficiency. He has even put up numbers that prove him to be more than just a “game manager”— the ultimate backhanded compliment for a quarterback who has a great defense playing behind him and whose main job is to hand the ball off.
Then, a week after he won the Offensive Player of the Week award by completing 18 of 19 passes with three touchdowns, Smith suffered a concussion and had to sit out the next week.
Enter backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a 6−foot−5, 230−pound, second−round draft pick, who ran a 4.53 40−yard dash and can throw a baseball 95 mph. Kaepernick led the Niners to a 32−7 Monday Night Football win over the Chicago Bears. He posted impressive numbers, showcasing his athleticism and big arm.
The next week, Alex Smith was healthy and ready to play. But Harbaugh declared that he was going to go with the “hot hand at quarterback,” which meant Kaepernick was starting again. Kaepernick won his next start against the Saints, but lost this week against the Rams.
But is it unfair that Smith lost his starting job because of his injury? He didn’t do anything to lose the job, yet he has not gotten the chance to win the job back since his concussion.
It is obvious that Kaepernick possesses the big−play ability that could be enough to push the Niners over the edge and into the Super Bowl. Smith apparently lacks the explosiveness and exciting possibilities that Kaepernick brings to the table.
Personally, while I agree that it stinks to be Alex Smith right now, Kaepernick is the dynamic the 49ers need if they want to go all the way. As much as I respect Alex Smith — all past failures were forgiven after the dramatic win against the Saints last January — all he can and should do now is support Kaepernick and be the best backup quarterback in the league. Harbaugh has been more willing to take chances with Kaepernick at the helm, and whatever bumps and bruises they suffer now will hopefully be smoothed out come playoff season in January.
Having a quarterback controversy like this is never great. Yet as the 49ers look at their division rivals in Arizona and see that the Cardinals are starting Ryan Lindley right now, it sure seems like there are worse problems — or quarterbacks — the 49ers could have.
Brian Tan is a sophomore who is majoring in Economics and Chinese. He can be reached at Brian.Tan@tufts.edu.