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They Did Alex Smith Dirty

Back-up QBs are always getting over. We need to put a stop to that.

By Khalid Salaam November 29, 2012, 08:22 AM EST

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San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith should be heated. He should go to coach Jim Harbaugh’s office and demand to have a sit down. While there, he needs to tell him that he ain’t about this back-up life. He needs to tell him to reconsider. If Harbaugh still says no, repeat it. If nothing happens, he should then give a shady remark to a writer from the Contra Costa Times or San Francisco Chronicle. Be the bad guy if necessary.

Smith didn’t get beat out for his job as starting QB – he was concussed and lost it via injury. That’s not supposed to happen. Harbaugh broke an unwritten rule about losing your job due to injury. A stint on the chilling list is not supposed to get you benched. But here we are. Benched by the one guy last year that had his back. That must sting. It’s especially problematic since Smith initiated his own downfall by disclosing to coaches that he had blurred vision after a hit. Thanks Coach Harbaugh, you just sent honest concussion disclosure back five years. Good luck trying to get the next guy to confess due to this ordeal.

After two weeks with former back-up, now starter Colin Kaepernick at the helm, Harbaugh has pretty much made it a done deal that he’s going with the new guy. Smith has mostly played it cool, but, at this point, he must recognize the sanskrit on the wall. You got your spot blown, dude; and you might not ever get it back.

I have no idea what the back-up NFL QB parallel is or what it looks like. Not sure if there is one. All I know is they stay getting fawned over. Holding clipboards during timeouts, clapping and high-fiving the starter. Always just happy to be there. There whole aura smacks of “Hey, I’m trying to function.” Meanwhile, they’re plotting and looking for an entrance strategy. They’re competitors and this is a job, so I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with what they’re doing.  But I’m not saying they’re absolved of all behind the scenes theatrics, either. These guys have agendas – I’m sure of it. Maybe Smith thought Kaepernick was his friend.

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Beat writing is a tough gig. The travel, the late nights, the janky media lounge – it’s not for everybody. They have a constant need to create interesting story ideas. If a team is struggling, or, more specifically, if the QB is not putting up 3 TDs a game, then slobbing on the back-up is their go-to move.  And if the replacement gets a shot and actually ends up playing well, then you got yourself a QB controversy. That always sells.

In this case with Smith and Kaepernick, it seems obvious what a risk this is. Nobody is saying that Alex Smith is Peyton Manning (remember how the 49ers went after him in the off-season? They’ve been trying to get rid of Smith), but he’s led San Fran for the last year and a half. This is a team that’s right there with anyone in the whole league. To change now reeks of arrogance and overthinking. There hasn’t been much national pushback either. Sorta surprising when you think about it. Let this serve as an official shot taken. First, I need people to get off of the Kaeperick bandwagon.  You got people out here acting like the Niners winning their last two games is due to his mastery of the offense. The defense scored TWICE last week. Can’t we just let things shake out before we anoint him? At some point over the next few games, defensive coordinators are gonna figure him out, recalibrate, and make life hard for him. That’s just the nature of the league. This could easily happen during the playoffs. Easily.

Back-up QBs represent potential and it’s easy to get seduced by the energy of treasures yet uncovered. But just because it worked for New England (Brady, Drew Bledsoe), doesn’t mean it will work for every team. In 2002, Eagles QB Donovan McNabb went down to an injury, as did his back-up Koy Detmer. So third-stringer A.J. Feeley steps in and wins four out of the next five games. The next season, fans in Philly spoke his name with reverence; some suggested he should be the starter. But McNabb had that locked down, so the Eagles traded him to Miami in ’04. The Dolphins thought they had found themselves a franchise QB, but all he did was stink up the joint. Seattle found about this circumstance in the off-season when they signed Matt Flynn before realizing that Russell Wilson was better (honestly, they were fortunate).

Year after year, we never seem to learn our lessons with QBs. It's such a vital spot that teams willingly risk themselves into non-sensical decisions. There has to be a better way.

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When fan bases like Oakland start screaming for Terrelle Pryor or writers criticize Matt Cassel in Kansas City before they realize Brady Quinn isn’t any better, it would be nice if they could acknowledge the rest of the roster. Mark Sanchez is called every name in the book; and yet GM Mike Tannenbaum was allowed to skate free most of the season, even though he’s the author of the suspect lineup the Jets put out there every week.

We’ve taken and glamourized the QB position to the point that it’s almost all we talk about. Logically, we know the importance of solid offensive line play, but, if the QB is sacked routinely, we assume he can’t read the defense quick enough. If a ball is intercepted, we assume it’s a bad throw, instead of a great play by the CB.  Booing the starter is easy work and requires very little nuance. Intellectually, we can’t see beyond the QB. It’s like a cheat sheet for fake fans. You hear a bunch of people say “so and so sucks” and then you join in.  Meanwhile, it’s the left tackle that’s holding the entire offense back and yet we can’t identify him or even what he does. Some people say it’s due to the amount of money the QB gets but really I’ve never really bought that. When your guy throws three picks in a game do you ever blame his contract?  No, you don’t.

So yeah, being a back-up QB is a pretty nice gig if you can get it. No pressure and your check still clears at the bank. When fans see you at the mall, they show you love and radio shows discuss your upside ad naseum. Until they see you play, and then all bets are off.

Kaepernick is having the best month of his life and Niner fans think they have their franchise guy, but they better be careful not to get too excited. This whole thing can fall apart at any moment. It always does.

 

 

 

Tn-1

Khalid Salaam was formerly deputy editor of The Shadow League. 

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TheShadowLeague.com, a site dedicated to presenting journalistically sound sports coverage with a cultural perspective that insightfully informs sports fans worldwide. Founded and developed by media entrepreneur Keith Clinkscales, TSL is owned by Shadow League Digital a multi-platform content creation company.