Alex Smith is suddenly a key player in San Francisco.
After years of mediocrity, the Niners turned things around last season and Smith had a career year. So far this offseason, Smith has new choices at wide receiver in Randy Moss, 35, and Mario Manningham, giving the quarterback options he never had.
“It’s like waking up on Christmas,” Smith said. “You have a lot of new toys out there, new presents. The first day, it was surreal out there throwing balls to Randy. The physical skills everybody knows.
“The thing you appreciate a lot is the guy’s a true pro. He’s played a lot of football. He’s incredibly smart out there.”
New expectations abound in the Bay Area. Smith, who had been considered an unproven talent in his career, organized informal offseason workouts at San Jose State during the NFL lockout and was not even certain to be the starter. Coming off a 13-3 regular season and an overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the 49ers loaded up players around Smith.
Often outplayed and overshadowed by the NFL’s best defence, Smith and the 49ers offense became an easy target for San Francisco’s shortcomings. Smith ranked 19th in the NFL with a career-high 3,144 yards passing and struggled to find wide receivers.
One thing the 2005 number one overall pick out of Utah no longer seems to lack: confidence.
“This is the honest truth: I could absolutely care less on yards per game. I think that is a totally overblown stat because if you’re losing games in the second half, guess what? You’re like the Carolina Panthers and you’re going no-huddle the entire second half and, yeah, Cam Newton threw for a lot of 300-yard games. That’s great. You’re not winning, though.”
Newton, the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, ranked 10th in the league with 4,051 yards passing last season. The Panthers finished with a 6-10 record.
From boos to a breakout season, not much else has really changed with Smith’s status in San Francisco. The 49ers flirted with free agent Peyton Manning— who ultimately chose Denver — until settling on Smith with a three-year deal that has some $16.5 million guaranteed.
Smith showed incredible efficiency last season, tossing 17 touchdown passes to only five interceptions. Yet he states his play has to improve.
“We were so inconsistent when we had to throw the football. Third-and-mediums, third-and-longs, we weren’t very good. Red zone, we weren’t good at times. We got to get better there.”