Yes, as Jim Harbaugh pointed out, we love talking about the quarterback position. Why wouldn’t we? Arguably, it’s the most important in any team sport. It’s the position that wins games. Or loses them.
We know quarterbacks. We’ve watched Joe Montana and Steve Young and Jim Plunkett. What we don’t know, after six seasons, is whether Alex Smith is the quarterback who will win games for the Niners. Or whether the less-publicized Jason Campbell will win them for the Raiders.
A partial answer may come Saturday night at Candlestick Park, when the teams and — for a while in the first half — the quarterbacks compete in a preseason game that has more than the usual significance.
Either Harbaugh, in his first season coaching the Niners, or Hue Jackson, in his first coaching the Raiders, will be 0-2, since both teams lost their openers and combined for only one touchdown, that by Oakland.
Either Smith or Campbell will perform well enough in the minutes they’re on the field, or questions of their effectiveness, particularly Alex’s, will remain the unpopular subject of radio talk shows and sports columnists.
“It’s your favorite topic,” was Harbaugh’s observation. In football, it’s everyone’s favorite topic.
It’s the reason the Niners signed 32-year-old Josh McCown. Who, of course, in his years of employment spent one with the Raiders in 2007.
In theory, McCown is only joining the Niners as insurance. But that was the intent when Trent Dilfer signed with San Francisco a few years ago and he came off the bench.
Oakland, of course, now has its fill of QBs, with Kyle Boller and Trent Edwards, who were starters with other teams, along with Campbell.
Edwards received much the same treatment in Buffalo, literal — bashed around by defenders — and figurative — booed by fans — as Smith in San Francisco. You recall when Edwards was at Stanford and the late Bill Walsh, a great judge of the position, forecast a fine pro career in Edwards’ future.
Smith’s future may be in his past, and that is not entirely of his own causing. Alex, as you recall — who dares forget? — was the first pick in the 2005 draft, chosen as much for his athletic skill as his ability to throw a football.
He’s been instructed and reworked by more than a half-dozen offensive coordinators. He’s been injured. He’s been criticized. He’s been a free agent.
He’s been able to survive, which is admirable, but that doesn’t win points with the fans and, in part because of his offensive line, hasn’t enabled him to put points on the scoreboard.
Before the Raiders lost 24-18 to the Arizona Cardinals a week ago, Campbell said, “It’s fun to have an opportunity to come out, although it’s a quick turnaround from training camp.”
How much fun he or, on the other side, Smith has Saturday remains an issue.
They don’t need to be perfect, but they need to show progress.
Harbaugh said after the 24-3 loss last weekend at New Orleans, “I thought we would be a little more effective on offense.”
No matter how effective or ineffective, we’ll continue to talk about the quarterback position. In the NFL, the subject is unavoidable.