QB Alex Smith making big strides in 49ers offense
Alex Smith is an expert. So says Jim Harbaugh, and he’s the one
who truly matters on this topic.
Harbaugh figures it typically takes a quarterback two full
seasons in a new offense to become a so-called expert.
In the case of Smith, however, he’s already right there if you
ask the coach of the 49ers (No. 4 in the AP Pro32).
Smith got a chuckle out of hearing that the reigning NFL Coach
of the Year was dishing out such high praise after practice
Thursday, and he hardly believes he has come close to mastering
Harbaugh’s unique version of the West Coast offense.
”No, no, no,” Smith said. ”Not at all. A lot to learn.”
While Harbaugh said his starters might play more in the team’s
second preseason game Saturday at Houston (No. 6), he has already
seen plenty from Smith on the field to be confident in his
play-caller as his second training camp winds down.
”He already has great ideas, already very creative, already
very knowledgeable on how to use everything in the system,”
Harbaugh said. ”Way ahead of the curve. I think after a year, you
really know it. But it takes about two years in the system to
become a real expert at it from the quarterback position. But he’s
cut that in half.”
It has certainly helped to be mentored by the former NFL
quarterback, Harbaugh, and to play under the same offensive
coordinator – Greg Roman – in consecutive seasons for a change. The
2005 No. 1 overall draft pick out of Utah, Smith worked under a
different offensive coordinator in each of his first seven NFL
Smith thrived under 15-year quarterback Harbaugh last year and
helped lead the franchise to its first postseason berth and winning
record in nine years.
What Smith will say is that he’s more comfortable in this
offense than any other he has been in during his career – and he
has only played for one other offensive-minded head coach in Norv
”It always just comes down to the details,” Smith said. ”It’s
not drawing up something on a white board or on a piece of paper.
It’s not the X’s and O’s. It’s all the little details of the
execution, what’s really going on on the field, all the little
things. I think the other part of it is just getting a good
understanding of intent, getting a great feel for (Roman) and why
we’re calling stuff and what we’re trying to do and what we’re
trying to get out of it. I feel I’m better at handling those
If Smith can be just as steady as he was a year ago with perhaps
a few more big plays sprinkled into the mix, the defending NFC West
champion 49ers have every reason to believe they will be in the
hunt for a Super Bowl again as many expect them to be. San
Francisco lost 20-17 in overtime of the NFC championship game to
the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
The 28-year-old Smith threw for 3,150 yards and 17 touchdowns
with only five interceptions as San Francisco went 13-3 to win its
first division title since 2002.
Harbaugh can already tell Smith is clicking with newcomers Randy
Moss and Mario Manningham in the upgraded receiving group.
”It’s better than it was a year ago,” Smith said, referencing
the lockout-shortened offseason of 2011. ”I feel like it’s
progressed. When you’re playing quarterback, I feel like you’re
always just working to get better and working to learn. It’s
Five times Smith rallied his team from behind, including four of
those away from Candlestick Park to help the Niners go 6-2 on the
road. His 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with 9 seconds
remaining in the NFC division playoffs lifted the 49ers to a 36-32
victory against Drew Brees and the favored Saints.
In March, Smith was rewarded with a new three-year deal that
pays him $8 million per season. What a change and transformation
for Smith given he’s the guy who was booed by the home fans for so
”It’s not on any particular day or date or throw or play. It’s
just been a process,” Harbaugh said. ”By the time we get here
next year, he’ll have well passed me.”
Running back Frank Gore, Manningham and defensive lineman Justin
Smith are scheduled to play Saturday against the Texans after
sitting out the first preseason game while healthy.
Harbaugh doesn’t plan to change much as the team transitions
soon from training camp work toward the grind of the regular
”The breaking of the camp mode, we don’t subscribe to that,”
Harbaugh said. ”We keep right on going. There’s nothing really to
break to. We’re here.”
Notes: LB Aldon Smith, who injured his right hip in last
Friday’s 17-6 exhibition win over the Minnesota Vikings, walked out
to practice to watch and looked strong moving without his usual
cane. Smith had 14 sacks last year as a rookie. … The 49ers
waived/injured TE Nate Byham, a sixth-round draft pick in 2010 who
missed all of last season recovering from knee surgery to repair a
torn anterior cruciate ligament. … Harbaugh didn’t rule out new
OLB Ikaika Alama-Francis playing in Saturday’s game, but ”Will he
play? We’ll see.”
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and