Three and Out: 49ers

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Three quick hits on the San Francisco 49ers:

Smith's the exciting QB choice: Shaun Hill and Alex Smith have looked good at times during the first two weeks of camp, but neither has been convincing enough to distinguish himself as an obviously good choice for the starting job. The exhibition schedule will decide this race. The season becomes more interesting, in my view, if Smith emerges as the starter. We know what Hill offers. We know what Hill is likely to offer longer term. We aren't sure about Smith yet. Hill would certainly be the safer choice for 49ers coach Mike Singletary. Smith would be the more exciting one.

Giving the ball to Gore: The 49ers' decision to rest Frank Gore instead of playing him in the exhibition opener was perfect. There's no reason to risk Gore's body during fake games given how much offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye plans to use him during the real ones. All signs point to a big season for Gore. He's healthy, the 49ers want to re-establish the run and Gore is enjoying an outstanding camp. Third-round choice Glen Coffee is no threat to Gore in the short term, but if the decision to draft him gave Gore extra incentive, the 49ers are the winners.

Tough front seven: The 49ers' front seven was already strong. Kentwan Balmer's improved play could make it deeper and better. The 2008 first-round choice didn't do much as a rookie. Coaches have repeatedly praised him this offseason. Balmer does seem improved. Too many of the 49ers' recent first-round choices remain question marks, from Smith to Manny Lawson to Vernon Davis. Getting first-round contributions from Balmer would be nice.