Jim Harbaugh likes competition on his roster. He wants competitive offseasons and summer training camps to bring out the best in his players. He wants competitive friction.
Since becoming head coach of the 49ers three seasons ago, Harbaugh often has used the term “iron sharpens iron” to explain his philosophy of challenging players to rise to higher levels by bringing in others to test them.
So as the 49ers begin tinkering with their roster for 2014, it’s logical to assume the Niners will be looking to upgrade their position at backup quarterback.
Veteran Colt McCoy served as Colin Kaepernick’s backup last season, but is now an unrestricted free agent. It’s very possible the 49ers could re-sign him for another year of No. 2 being No. 2 behind Kaepernick. He certainly didn’t do anything during the season that screamed he’s not a capable backup. He appeared in just four games and completed his only pass attempt for 13 yards, in a wipeout victory over Jacksonville in London.
But in four preseason appearances, McCoy was often shaky. He completed 25 of 43 throws for 241 yards and a touchdown, but threw three interceptions and was sacked twice. He hurt his shoulder in the preseason opener, and seemed to have trouble picking up the 49ers offense.
Yet when the regular season opened, McCoy was the 49ers’ best option to be Kaepernick’s primary understudy.
Meanwhile, the 49ers went through a parade of No. 3 quarterbacks, including Scott Tolzien, Josh Johnson, rookie B.J. Daniels, Seneca Wallace, ex-Cardinal John Skelton and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, as Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke looked for someone to challenge McCoy.
Now, it’s possible the 49ers could reach for a quarterback in the mid to later rounds of the draft – as they did with Daniels last year – to challenge for a job. Or, they could bring in a veteran (such as McCoy) to provide stability behind Kaepernick in case the 49ers’ running QB were to go down with an injury. Quite possibly, they could do both.
Former Tampa Bay starter Josh Freeman, the Bears’ Josh McCown (who backs up Jay Cutler) and Rex Grossman have been mentioned in some reports as possible candidates.
To be sure, finding a No. 2 quarterback isn’t at the top of the 49ers’ offseason wish list. It ranks behind wide receiver and cornerback, the team’s No. 1 needs.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, who covers the 49ers, recently listed backup quarterback as a concern.
But in searching for a better option for McCoy, Barrows believes Harbaugh will be looking for very specific qualities. If Kaepernick were to go down, the No. 2 QB would suddenly become very important.
“The 49ers have late-bloomer McLeod Bethel-Thompson on the roster for the 2014 offseason, and he could be a darkhorse candidate (for the backup job),” wrote Barrows. “But they also should try to find a sturdy young passer in a draft that should offer several that quarterback whisperer Jim Harbaugh likes. Remember, his criteria are: athleticism, accuracy and smarts. In fact, smarts might be at the top of that list.”