Smith No. 2 on depth chart behind starter Rattay

Updated: August 24, 2005, 7:53 AM ET
Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Tim Rattay will be the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback for the season opener, reclaiming his job from No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith after just two preseason games.

Tim Rattay
Quarterback
San Francisco 49ers
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
Att Comp PaTD RuTD Int Rat
325 198 10 0 10 78.1

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 of things."

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 TDs.

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 quarterbacks.

"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 San Diego.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press