The person who will cast the key vote in one of this year's most hotly contested elections says he's undecided. And if any candidate is ahead in his mind at this early juncture, he's not saying.
Coach Mike Nolan, whose job very well might depend on whom he chooses as the 49ers' No. 1 quarterback, said he's seeing Alex Smith "do things that I haven't seen him do before, in practice or in games."
An example is that, during the team's voluntary workouts, he's getting the ball to receivers more quickly in blitz situations rather relying on his protection to save the play.
"Alex is very athletic," Nolan said. "He probably has the strongest arm of all the guys. He's really intelligent. Now he's got to go in there and put in four quarters and move the ball consistently and make plays he should make."
Given Smith's physical advantages, is it fair to say he has an edge at this point?
"I wouldn't go there right now," Nolan said. "For one, I don't have to go there."
Challenger Shaun Hill tends to play better in games than he shows in practice, Nolan said. "Shaun's been OK in practice, but he's that type of player."
To which, Hill said, "I'm not sure that's a good thing when you're trying to win a job on the practice field."
The other challenger, newcomer J.T. O'Sullivan, hasn't been given many chances to run the team in the no-pads workouts, in which contact is limited and the offense has a decided advantage over the defense.
O'Sullivan, however, is in the mix as well, Nolan said. "He's probably as competitive as anybody we've had around here. He knows the offense. He has an advantage from a knowledge standpoint because he's been in it a year already (in Detroit last season)."
Nolan likes O'Sullivan's spirit, especially when he's getting on a teammate to perform a play correctly. "Every time he's in there, if the play is not exactly right, you can see he wants it exactly right." On the other hand, the coach said, "I know the least about him."
Before training camp opens July 24, Nolan, offensive coordinator Mike Martz and quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner will have to decide how they want to apportion each quarterback's time with the first unit during the workouts.
Nolan said they'll need to do that to lend some "continuity and consistency, not just for the quarterbacks but the guys who are listening to the cadence. ... If they're getting a different quarterback all the time, it's hard for them as well."
He cautioned against reading too much into who takes the most snaps with the first unit, however. The job will go to the player who performs the best at practices and in the preseason games.
Call it spin or rationalization, but the coach insisted he's comfortable going into training camp for the first time with an unsettled quarterback situation.
He admitted he previously might have been living in "la-la-land" in believing that, in Smith, he had a settled situation. He thinks any of the three players could win a game. "I like our situation better now than any time I've been here," he said.
As the quarterbacks struggle to impress the coaches, they're doing it while learning the complicated Martz offense. Smith said the "gunslinger" image of the Martz passing game is off base.
"It's the opposite of going out there and just making something happen," he said. "It's very structured."