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Niners promote Smith to starting QB

Overall No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith was promoted to be the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback after only four games as Tim Rattay's backup.

SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 4, 2005) -- Overall No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith was promoted to be the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback after only four games as Tim Rattay's backup.

Smith will make his first NFL start Oct. 9 against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts at Candlestick Park. The former Utah star played in two of the 49ers' first four games, mopping up in losses to Philadelphia and Arizona.

"I feel that Alex gives us the best chance to win, and I believe he's ready," San Francisco coach Mike Nolan said. "Tim has handled everything very well, but at this time in the process, I believe it's time to get Alex in the game. ... At 1-3, we didn't draft Alex to just sit him on the bench. At 1-3, I believe we need to begin to utilize him."

Rattay completed 57.7 percent of his passes this season for 677 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions. But the 49ers' offense has struggled, with stark deficiencies in time of possession, total yards (1,989-995) and points (132-76).

The 49ers managed 168 total net yards Oct. 2 in a 31-14 loss to Arizona in Mexico City. San Francisco's offense was shut out by the Cardinals, though Smith went 6-for-10 -- his first NFL completions -- for 34 yards after Rattay was pulled in the fourth quarter.

Smith was the 49ers' starter in their first two preseason games, but he struggled to move the offense. His throws frequently were hurried and inaccurate, and he still was learning the intricacies of the West Coast offense.

Nolan gave the starting job to Rattay, Jeff Garcia's longtime backup who had an impressive preseason. The seventh-round draft pick started nine games in 2004 while recovering from three injuries.

At the time, Nolan said it was important not to be "wishy-washy" with the decision so Rattay could play without fear. But after three consecutive dismal performances by San Francisco's offense, Nolan made a change anyway.

Though Smith was a second-stringer in September, he got nearly as much practice time as Rattay. The natural zip on Smith's practice throws is obvious, and his mobility as a former spread-option quarterback with the Utes is something Rattay can't match.

"He's been well-prepared every week," Nolan said. "That's one of the things that's impressed me. I've watched that, and he's prepared from that standpoint. If he gets hit hard or makes a mistake, it's not very often that he comes back and does the same thing."

Smith didn't immediately return a call to his cell phone. The 49ers had the day off.

Smith doesn't get an easy assignment in his debut against the unbeaten Colts. Starting left tackle Jonas Jennings is unlikely to play with a torn labrum in his shoulder -- which means Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney probably will go against backup Anthony Clement, who was embarrassed by Arizona's Bertrand Barry on Oct. 2.

"There's always game plan things that you take into consideration, and that will be one of them," Nolan acknowledged. "I believe everyone who plays Indianapolis addresses the Freeney issue, and that will be attended to. I believe it's the right time. I don't get too much into basing the right time on the opponent."

The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2005, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

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