Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Man, The Legend In The Making
By Blogger

He was higher on the depth chart at free safety than he was at quarterback as late as Week 6. Now, he's starting behind center for the second straight game.

He was a rodeo champion.

He was a kickoff and punt coverage demon until he was called upon to play quarterback again.

Last year, a friend and I got our entire section at Candlestick chanting his name. We hadn't seen him play, but we knew. We all knew.

He's already a San Francisco folk hero.

His starting running back calls him Commander Cody. Everyone else calls him Cody Pickett.

This isn't about his statistics, because college football surface stats lie all the time (see: Jason White, Danny Wuerffel, Timmy Chang, et al), but the stats say Pickett was going to be a first day selection in the NFL Draft had he left school after his junior year. 4,400 yards and 28 touchdown passes against only 14 interceptions is pretty damn good. Unfortunately, he decided to finish his schooling and ended up "bombing" his senior year, with just over 3,000 yards and 15 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. Even so, adding just a little context shows he hadn't dropped off nearly as much as it would initially appear. The Washington Huskies' primary runners gained about 200 more yards in 2003 than they did in 2002. It seems there was an added emphasis on the running game that ate into Pickett's counting stats, as he also threw 158 fewer passes in his senior season than he did his junior season. In other words, his could be a case of football seasons' small sample sizes biting particularly hard.

In the present, the now, the immediate-ness of today, Pickett is undoubtedly an NFL quarterback, which is more than one might expect of a guy who started the season fourth string. It speaks volumes to the 49ers' mediocrity that they had four quality backup quarterbacks on the roster and were able to leverage the best of them, Tim Rattay, into only a single late round draft choice. The really interesting aspect of the QB drama, though, is that each guy on the roster, Alex Smith, Ken Dorsey, and Pickett, is considered to have upside in inverse relationship to his current talent level. That is to say that Smith has the highest upside of the three, but is probably the poorest signal-caller at the moment, while Dorsey has the lowest ceiling, but is probably the best QB they have right now. Pickett is considered somewhere in the middle in regard to both upside and current talent, mostly because he hasn't been given a chance to do much of consequence under center. (The Niners have two other guys, Arnaz Battle, and Rasheed Marshall, who played quarterback in college. Marshall, in fact, was the Big East player of the year as a QB and even lined up under center for a trick play this past week. How about sending Pickett in motion with those two guys both in the backfield, with a shotgun snap to one of them? I bet Marshall can throw just as well as Dorsey.)

The beat writer types love Dorsey because he's a local kid who wants nothing more than to play for the 49ers. Team management loves Smith because... well... they're paying him a yachtload of money, and he's gotta be better than Joey Harrington, right? RIGHT? The fans love Cody Pickett because we like guys who play special teams and quarterback in the same game. But beyond that, we see him throw the ball with authority. His throws are not Dorsey's flutterballs, nor are they Smith's "OHMYGODHERECOMESSTRAHAN!" panicked over/under throws. After being spoiled for so many years by Montana, Young, and Garcia, the 49er Faithful have been reduced to cheering wildly for eight yard completions.

Watch Smith carefully while he's in the game. I'm convinced he just doesn't realize he's not up to the challenge. It may be a function of Mike Nolan's unflagging optimism, but he always puts on a brave face and tries his damndest, and comes up with miserable results.

During the Niners' first drive against the Giants, did you see Pickett's touch pass twenty-five yards over the middle that was dropped? I believe.

Did you see his thirty yard throw that Brandon Lloyd mis-read, then adjusted in order to make a spectacular one-handed catch, only to have the whole thing called back due to holding? I believe.

Did you see Pickett run a naked bootleg to his left for a first down? Did you see him run a power sweep to his left for a first down? Did you see him avoid pressure, scramble, and lay into a defender at the end of the run, two yards beyond the first down marker? I believe.

Philip Rivers? Heath Shuler? Have you ordered yet? No? Good, because Alex Smith will be joining you at your table in just a moment.



(A quick bit of self-promotion before I leave you... I haven't been writing much recently because I've been producing songs for my band, 29 Sunset. By the end of this week, all of our songs, some brand new, the rest completely re-worked, will be available for FREE DOWNLOAD at our MySpace page here. I'd appreciate if you'd check it out and leave comments.)


Blogger Ben Valentine said...

I think you're 100% right about Alex Smith. The Niners should have left him on the bench this year. He has a ton of physical tools but there was no way he was ready for the NFL game. Any college QB who operates basically out of the shotgun probably is going to have issues dealing with coverage reads and pressure. Smith needed at least a season to learn the NFL game and probably two.

I'm a Canes fan so the only thing I'll say about Ken Dorsey is that I'd rather him at QB than Vinny Testaverde.

And finally, I did like what I saw from Pickett Sunday. But Nolan didn't let him do enough, which made no sense to me. What did they have to lose letting Pickett throw it? The Giants were stacking eight and nine in the box all day. The fact they continuously went to the run was mind boggling. It was like watching Herm using Brooks Bollinger against Baltimore back in week 4. If he's in a QB, let the guy play, otherwise you're playing into the defense's hands.

Here's to hoping Pickett and Bollinger both prove their coaching staffs wrong and show themselves to be at the very least, servicable NFL QBs. (Though admittedly I'd say Pickett's size alone gives him more of an upside)

11:33 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

More than any possible change in offensive philosophy, Pickett's poor stats his senior year had to do with the fact that he battled a torn pectoral muscle virtually the entire season. But all I know is that if he makes it in the league, that's merely more evidence that the University of Washington is, in fact, Quarterback U.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Todd said...

I agree completely. During the draft, all I could think of when I saw Alex Smith was an athletic Tim Couch. Unlike Smith, Pickett has the respect of his teammates.

11:20 AM  

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