Who's No. 1? Smith, Carr begin battle for 49ers' starting QB spot

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- No. 1 overall selections in the NFL draft three years apart, Alex Smith and David Carr are now competing to be the No. 1 quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

That competition began in earnest Monday when the 49ers conducted their first organized team activity practice of 2010. The team went to work without departed general manager Scot McCloughan, who left last week in what 49ers president Jed York called a "mutual parting."

As the incumbent quarterback, Smith clearly is in the early lead, with Carr in the background becoming familiar with his new surroundings but also preparing for a shot at the job.

Whoever eventually becomes the starter will be a lot like the guy he beats out. There are striking similarities in both style and career course between the two quarterbacks, both of whom were raised in California -- Smith in San Diego, Carr in Bakersfield.

"He's a California guy," Smith said of his new backup. "Now we've got two of them in the room. We joke about (the situation), that's for sure. This is the second time around for David."

Carr, the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft, spent the past two seasons with the New York Giants. He was the backup to Eli Manning, the No. 1 selection in the 2004 draft.

Carr appeared in nine games and threw just 45 passes during the past two seasons with the Giants. But he might have a better opportunity to revive his career in San Francisco, where Smith hasn't exactly established himself as the franchise quarterback the 49ers expected him to be when the team selected him with the first pick of the 2005 draft.

Carr started 75 games during his first five seasons with the Houston Texans and brings to the 49ers career passing totals of 14,366 yards and 65 touchdowns. But he hasn't started a game since his lone season with the Carolina Panthers in 2007.

"It's a good spot for me here," Carr said. "It's a fresh start with a hungry team. I think it matches where I'm at in my career. This team is ready to go out and prove as a group that they can do it. And I'm kind of in the same boat."

The 49ers signed Carr, 30, to a two-year deal March 15. Coach Mike Singletary and other team officials have stated that Smith is the defined starter entering the season, unlike the past two years when there was open competition for the job between Smith and others.

Smith took every offensive snap for the 49ers in 2006. But after Smith sustained a career-threatening shoulder injury in 2007, journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan was San Francisco's opening-day starter in 2008, and career backup Shaun Hill was the 49ers' opening-day starter last season.

Smith, 25, took the job back from Hill in Week 7 last season and played every offensive snap for the remainder of the campaign. Smith was 5-5 as the starter, finishing with 2,350 yards and a career-high 18 touchdown passes. Smith's final 81.5 passer rating was easily the best of his career.

Hill was traded to the Detroit Lions in March for an undisclosed draft pick.

Smith, who took most of the snaps with the 49ers' first-team offense Monday, looked in control and is conducting himself with much more authority than earlier in his career. He barked out signals and directed traffic while appearing comfortable in both roles.

It helps that Smith is playing a second season with the same offensive coordinator for the first time in his NFL career. Jimmy Raye has returned this year as the 49ers' offensive coordinator, ending a recent stretch when the team changed offensive coordinators every season over a seven-year period.

"I'm much more confident in what I can do right now, without a doubt," Smith said. "Not just physically speaking, but the mental part for sure. Obviously, I'm more comfortable giving my insights and stronger opinions about it, as far as running things and handling things. I'm going to come out here and compete and do everything that I can to become the best quarterback I can to help this team."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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