Pressure Point: Time is now for Smith
The best quarterback in the NFC West over the past few seasons, Kurt Warner, has retired. The division might be there for the taking for the 49ers. That is, if they get quality quarterback play. Which, of course, brings us to Alex Smith.
The 49ers appear to be quite comfortable and confident in Smith, and he did revive his career to some degree last season. Fellow No. 1 pick David Carr was brought in as a backup and there is little pressure on him to excel at this point. All the heat is on Smith. Carr is more physically gifted and could see playing time if Smith can't consistently lead the offense.
Scouts Inc. Pressure Point
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Everyone knows coach Mike Singletary's persona. He wants to hit people in the mouth. His offense was originally designed to attack defenses downhill and lean very much on Frank Gore's running talents, often with a fullback in the game. QB Shaun Hill fit this style quite well and acted as a game manager who didn't hurt his club and kept the chains moving. But Hill was incredibly limited as a passer and, in the end, you can't hide your quarterback in this league. So Singletary inserted Smith in Week 7 and wisely adapted his offense to suit Smith's strengths.
Smith operated out of Urban Meyer's spread attack at Utah and is clearly much more comfortable operating out of the shotgun, seeing the field and distributing the football quickly. So Singletary implemented a system much more friendly to Smith's comfort zone. He also does not have a huge arm, but is extremely intelligent and a much better athlete than many realize. Smith can really hurt a defense with his legs.
Playing quarterback in this league takes time, and adapting from the college spread and the speed of the game he faced at Utah surely further stunted Smith's growth. It also must be noted that this young man went through offensive coordinators and offensive systems with San Francisco at an alarming rate and also was derailed by injuries. He is only 25 and is now surrounded by an excellent supporting cast. Gore is very dangerous as a receiver, Vernon Davis can stretch the field better than any tight end in the game, and Michael Crabtree is going to be a star.
Am I a firm believer in Smith? No, and I could certainly understand why some are clamoring for San Francisco to get involved in the Donovan McNabb sweepstakes. But Smith was very impressive to me last season. The 49ers should be able to reinforce their suspect offensive line -- particularly at right tackle -- and the supporting cast around Smith is getting quite good. His arm strength and ability to handle the pounding at this level worries me some, but I see Smith as an ascending player overall.
The NFC West is there for the taking. If San Francisco uses its vast draft resources wisely, I expect the 49ers -- led by Smith -- to seize this division.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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