Repeat after me, 49ers fans: In Martz We Trust.
You’re going to need to believe in Mad Mike. You’re going to need to have faith in the man and his offensive system as the 49ers approach the dawn of the J.T. O’Sullivan era in San Francisco. How strange does that sound, the J.T. O’Sullivan era? Odd, isn’t it?
O’Sullivan started his second straight exhibition game Saturday night, a 34-6 victory over the Green Bay Packers. He’s clearly the winner in the supposed three-way battle for the starting job with incumbent Alex Smith and Shaun Hill, although 49ers coach Mike Nolan won’t publicly acknowledge the obvious. Or, more likely, he’s waiting for Martz to give him the final results.
O’Sullivan was equal parts horrific and terrific against the Packers. He threw an interception deep in 49ers territory – two Packers but no 49er was in the vicinity. He nearly got running back DeShaun Foster killed on one pass, leading him directly into the path of a speeding Packer.
But Sullivan made amends by hitting sensational rookie Josh Morgan with a 59-yard touchdown strike late in the second quarter and by leading the 49ers on back-to-back touchdown drives. After Morgan scored, O’Sullivan sprinted down the field to celebrate – he was the second 49er to reach Morgan.
“I do get excited,” O’Sullivan said after the game. “He made a great play going to get the ball. That was fun.”
At times, O’Sullivan makes you reach for the blindfold. But at other times, he makes you understand why Martz wants him to lead his quick-strike offense. Consider this fact: O’Sullivan completed just eight passes in 17 attempts, but of those eight completions, six went for at least 13 yards and three went for more than 20. He’s aggressive and, at times, a bit arrogant, just like his coach. There are worse things to be as a quarterback or coach.
This is Martz’s system, his offense. No one knows it better. No one’s better suited than Martz to make the call at quarterback. You might not be sold on O’Sullivan, a quarterback who appears to be on a mission to spend time with all 32 NFL teams. But you’ve got to believe that Martz knows what he’s doing when it comes to quarterbacks. If he wants O’Sullivan, that’s good enough for me.
And when it comes to his ability to develop quarterbacks in his system, Martz deserves your faith. As offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams in 1999, he lost starting quarterback Trent Green to a gruesome knee injury during the exhibition season. No problem. He plugged Kurt Warner, the former supermarket stock boy and Arena Football League quarterback, into the starting lineup.
The Rams scored 526 points and won the Super Bowl that year. Warner directed what came to be known as the “Greatest Show on Turf.” He threw for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns and was named the league’s MVP.
Before Warner became Superman, he had been cut by the Green Bay Packers – forcing him to the supermarket job – and had thrown exactly 11 NFL regular-season passes. The point is, Warner didn’t look to be anything close to an MVP-caliber talent. But he fit Martz’s offense. He had a quick release. He could hit his spots. And he hit those spots on time, a must in Martz’s offense.
As offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions the past two years, Martz turned journeyman quarterback Jon Kitna into a 4,000-plus-yard passer, an amazing feat on a team that has been so offensively-challenged for so long.
Is O’Sullivan the next Warner? Let’s not get carried away. He’s probably not even the next Kitna. But don’t be surprised if he exceeds expectations.
Like Warner, he seems to fit Martz’s system. Quick release? Check. Accurate? Well, a semi-check. One thing’s clear. O’Sullivan tries to throw to spots before his receivers arrive. He’s not afraid to let it rip and rely on his pass-catchers to be where they’re supposed to be.
O’Sullivan was asked what it is about his skills that translate so well to Martz’s scheme. For the most part, he sidestepped the question as if it were a blitzing linebacker.
“I just try to be as coachable as I can be and try to soak up everything he’s asking us to do and try to do it exactly like he’s asking us to do it,” O’Sullivan said.
The numbers told a tale of two O’Sullivans. In the first quarter he was 3 of 10 for 30 yards and an interception. His passer rating was a Blutarsky: 0.00. In the second, he was 5 of 7 for 124 yards and a touchdown with a rating of 153.3. Consistent, he’s not. At least not yet.
“I just feel like there’s a lot of room for improvement,” O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan played the entire first half, throwing for 154 yards. And here’s an important stat: He wasn’t sacked. Twice he escaped pressure, avoided a sack and scrambled for a few yards. He’s not Steve Young, but he’s not a statue, either.
“I’m not afraid to get out (and run),” O’Sullivan said. “It’s more of an attitude of whatever it takes to keep moving the chains. I’m not looking to run by any means. If it’s there and that’s all I have, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
Smith took over for O’Sullivan at the start of the second half and completed 5 of 12 passes for 62 yards. He gave way to Hill with 13:33 left to play. The playing time tells you all you need to know about this competition.
It’s over. And if you’re a 49er fan, you should trust that Martz made the right call.