Coach Mike Nolan announced the decision Tuesday at the
conclusion of the 49ers' first full practice following the death of
offensive lineman Thomas Herrion, who collapsed in the locker room
in Denver on Saturday night.
With a memorial service scheduled for the evening, the players
and coaches seemed grateful to focus on something other than their
grief and mourning -- and Smith, Herrion's college teammate and
friend for two years at Utah, was able to put his first pro
disappointment in sharp perspective.
"I know how this works," Smith said. "This is a team game.
This isn't all about me. I think the team wants to win now. We
expect to win now, and as of right now, this looks like the right
decision. Hopefully, I keep getting better and keep pushing it. Who
knows what happens in the future, but right now, I understand it."
Smith struggled as the 49ers' starter in their first two
preseason games, while Rattay was outstanding as the backup. Rattay
started nine games for San Francisco last season in his only season
as a first-stringer, but struggled all season with three injuries.
Smith's job status wasn't his greatest concern Tuesday. He was
still coping with the loss of Herrion, one of the first players
Smith met when the quarterback arrived at Utah in 2002. They became
friends, starting together on the Mountain West Conference
championship team the next season.
"It was great to always have him around," Smith said. "No
matter what mood you are, if you saw him, he's always going to make
you smile. He's a guy who was never down, always upbeat. He's
singing, he's telling jokes. He always had that big grin on his
face. He's a guy you would love to have around."
Herrion protected his quarterback one more time last week,
jumping up to sing along with the rookie in a rousing rendition of
Utah's fight song before a team meeting. After seeing Herrion's
collapse in the locker room in Denver, Smith knows he'll be shaken
for quite a while.
"It's so unfortunate, knowing him and his background, and his
family, and knowing what he was trying to do, the kind of person he
was," Smith said. "It really makes you think. It makes you
reflect on a lot of things.
"It makes going 2-for-7 pretty insignificant in the big scheme
While Smith was understandably somber, Rattay took the news with
his usual placid demeanor. He has worked closely with Smith in
training camp, and the players have developed a friendship that
transcends their competition.
"I've been working hard, [and] I'd like to say I was excited to
hear it," Rattay said. "I just felt like if I kept practicing
hard, something good will happen. You can't get too upset or too
happy in the course of training camp."
The first-team offense floundered with Smith in charge in the
first two preseason games. He failed to lead San Francisco to a
first down on his first four series of the exhibition opener
against Oakland, and he went through similar struggles in Denver.
Smith went 5-for-16 for 43 yards without a touchdown pass in the
first two games, while Rattay was 13-of-19 for 194 yards and three
Nolan said the competition is closed, with Rattay remaining the
starter for the season, barring injury. The coach began camp hoping
Smith would win the job and discounting the wisdom of keeping a top
draft pick out of action, but he had nothing but praise for both
"I was pleased with both of them, but naturally Tim has showed
the upper hand when it came to experience," Nolan said. "The
rookie did a very good job for a guy that's had to come out and try
to learn as much as he can. He's done everything to prove that
we're right in our [draft] selection. He'll just get better and
better and get closer to having that job, but in the meantime, it
is Tim's job right now, and I look for him to perform well."
Carson Palmer, the No. 1 pick in 2003, spent his entire rookie
season on the Cincinnati bench behind Jon Kitna. Phillip Rivers,
the No. 4 pick in 2004, sat out last season behind Drew Brees in