Multiple times this off-season we have heard from 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and his thoughts on quarterback Alex Smith. If you are like me every time you hear Harbaugh say something about Smith you cringe and take it with a grain of salt. In the past couple of months I have learned to give Harbaugh the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Smith because he is the quarterback guru, not me. But I would still think to myself, ‘what is it that he sees in Smith that the 49er Faithful does not see?’ After two editions of Camp Alex I started to see, in my opinion, Harbaugh’s vision for Smith.
Harbaugh believes in his own abilities to turn Alex Smith around. Come on, you don’t have a track record like Harbaugh developing quarterbacks without having an opinion of yourself that you can make any mediocre quarterback into someone who at the very least can run an offense effectively and not make mistakes. I think this is Harbaugh’s philosophy dealing with Smith. Where the 49er Faithful see unfixable deficiencies, Harbaugh sees fixable problems that he can patch up for Smith to be the starter for just next season while grooming recently drafted quarterback of the future Colin Kaepernick to take over in 2012 or 2013.
Harbaugh’s praise of Smith has rubbed the 49er Faithful the wrong way because we have seen six years of futility that is half Smith’s fault and half the previous coaching staff’s fault. Harbaugh’s praise of Smith is heavy on the optimistic side and I think he is doing this on purpose. Harbaugh knew what he was getting himself into by taking the 49ers head coaching job for a franchise that made a name in the NFL because of legendary quarterbacks. He knew the roster was depleted of starting quarterbacks and with the NFL lockout looming back in January when he took the job, he knew 2011 would be a challenge with the lockout affecting moves teams could make during free agency and the draft. Harbaugh has to embellish Smith’s abilities at quarterback and get the 49er Faithful comfortable with him being under center next season not because he wants him to be his quarterback but he is the best option for the 49ers given the NFL lockout.
Give credit to Harbaugh for having the foresight to provide Smith with a playbook when the lockout was lifted for one day. I would bet it was Harbaugh’s idea to have what has become known as Camp Alex because the next best person after the coaches to present the playbook to the players is the quarterback even if that quarterback never learned the offense. The NFL lockout has hurt the 49ers considerably more so than other teams because of a new coaching staff and the offense and defense they will be bringing to the team. Harbaugh’s praising of Smith accomplished two things. First, to get Smith’s confidence back up after the two Mike’s shattered it and second to lessen the learning curve for the offense whenever it is the lockout ends. Both of these things will allow the 49ers to be competitive in 2011 but with Smith at quarterback don’t expect the playoff appearance drought to end.