With this week’s release of the NFL Schedule for the 2012-13 season, and next week’s NFL Draft, fans have begun the long, arduous journey from May to September. This period of time is often referred to as “The Desert” and it can often seem as such. Of course there are breaks in the action: Mini-camps, OTA’s, trade rumors, rookie signings, etc. In an effort to become 49er fans sherpa along this journey, I plan on taking in depth looks at various players in the coming weeks and breaking down their 2011-12 performances and looking forward to their 2012 chances. In an effort to break the monotony of our journey I also will intersperse articles breaking down my Top 5 at various positions in 49er history.
In the first installment, let us discuss our fearless leader on the field, quarterback Alex Smith. This past season, Alex seemed to grow by leaps and bounds, performing at or above his previous totals in every single category we rate quarterbacks on. Aside from the tangible numbers, Alex also clearly grew by leaps and bounds in the categories that matter most: heart, guts, determination, drive, leadership, and confidence. The question must be begged however, is this a sign of things to come? Or a fluke? Is this the real Alex Smith? Or will he relapse in to one of his former alter egos that we saw in the previous five seasons?
Of course we all hope that the Alex Smith we saw in 2011 is the real one. That he has grown and matured in to a high middle level to low top tier quarterback and can really lead this team to the promise land. Hopefully, his previous seasons were (as most speculate) marred by changing offensive coordinators every year, by an unstable coaching staff, lack of production by wide receivers, an ever changing and young offensive line, and countless other setbacks. With the arrival of Jim Harbaugh last season and his pedigree with mentoring quarterbacks and his knowledge and passion for the game, Alex Smith most definitely made the most of his situation and learned, and grew in his position both as a quarterback and as the leader of the 49ers. The questions remains, which Alex Smith will we see this year?
With the additions so far in the offseason of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and the 49ers plan to get more help for Alex in the draft, be it from the offensive guard spot, another wide receiver or another tight end, the head office of the 49ers organization clearly believes in Alex Smith and wants to give him the best chance they can for him to succeed.
But there was that whole “Courtship of Peyton Manning” thing that throws a kind of dark cloud of things. What was that all about? I mean, I get it, it’s Peyton Manning but that doesn’t change the fact that it shows a slight lack of faith in Alex Smith whether they want to admit it or not. Sure after Peyton spurned their advances, the Niners organization immediately signed Alex Smith to a new contract and stood shoulder to shoulder with him saying things like, “He is our quarterback” and other idioms and cliche statements that one says when they are caught courting someone else, but maybe I’m reading to much in to it.
What makes this plot so intriguing is that Alex Smith can do something that no other #1 overall pick has done in the history of the NFL. Until this past season, Alex was labeled a bust, five seasons and five disappointments. In his first five seasons, Alex Smith was abysmal, routinely benched, and religiously booed by fans week in and week out. He was on his way out of the league and no one would have thought of him again. He was about to become another Ryan Leaf, another Akili Smith, another Jamarcus Russell, you get the idea. Then came the regime change, a new era in 49er football and with that, a second chance for Alex Smith. Now, if Alex can prove that last year is the real deal Alex, he will complete a turn around the likes of which no one has ever seen, going from a hated, punch line to an elite quarterback.
Alex completed the 2011 season with career highs in passing yards, TD/INT ratio, completion percentage, and quarterback rating. He accomplished this with the help of no receiver. That’s right, Alex threw for over 3,000 yards with Braylon Edwards, and Michael Crabtree, both of whom were non-existent. That leaves Vernon Davis and Frank Gore, without doubt two of the best players on the team yes, but two players does not an “offensive arsenal” make. So which Alex Smith will we see? With the additions already made, and the inevitable additions to come in the next few months, it is imperative that we see the Alex Smith we saw in 2011 or a better version of that man, and I believe we will. Alex Smith is too talented, and too smart to not excel in the situation he has been placed in. This team will contend for a Super Bowl this year and Alex Smith will be the captain of the ship on the way to New Orleans next February.