Alex Smith said he hoped to be back at full strength when the 49ers hold their first minicamp in early May. The 49ers’ quarterback said he is progressing nicely from his December shoulder surgery and that he is doing almost everything he normally would in the weight room save a few “over the head” exercises. As far as throwing, Smith said that process has been very regimented and likened his situation to that of a pitcher. He says he has been throwing three times a week, starting with a few light warm-up tosses and eventually working his way to 40-yard throws. “I’m definitely not out there gunning it yet,” he said. As far as the throwing motion itself, Smith said it’s far smoother than what he was experiencing last season when the shoulder was separated and the ligaments holding the joint together were stretched out. Last season he would hear clicking noises when he threw. So far this spring, the shoulder sometimes feels a little tight, but the movement, he said, is much better than a year ago. “There was so much movement,” he said. “You could hear it and feel it. That’s definitely gone, which is good.”
Smith, of course, will be trying to hold off Shaun Hill and J.T. O’Sullivan for the starting job in 2008. He said he welcomed the competition and should be able to do everything that Hill and O’Sullivan do as they begin to learn the offense over the next few weeks. He said he already has begun working with quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner and offensive coordinator Mike Martz on the new offense.
As for his relationship with coach Mike Nolan, well, that also is on the mend, Smith said. He said he and Nolan have spoken several times about their feud last year and that both were eager to put the conflict behind them. If you’ll recall, Smith told the media midway through the season that Nolan was underplaying Smith’s shoulder injury and later said that he thought Nolan tried to undermine him in the 49ers’ locker room. Nolan, who has a low tolerance level for injured players, on more than one occasion referred to Smith’s shoulder problems as mere soreness and wasn’t happy that Smith took his problems to the media. On Thursday, Smith said the episode was “not a reflection of us. We’re better than that.” He said he and Nolan are intent on “erasing” what occurred last season.
Smith also said he was excited about running Martz’s offense. He said he wasn’t concerned that Martz’s system often leaves the quarterback exposed (Detroit, for example, allowed 54 sacks last season) arguing that he played in a similar system at Utah. Overall, he sounded excited, optimistic and eager to put his nightmarish 2007 season in the rearview mirror.
A number of you have been asking for a Takeo Spikes update. Spikes, it seems, is taking his time in choosing a suitor. The 49ers, Browns, Saints and Patriots all are interested in his services. The linebacker visited San Francisco earlier this month, and the 49ers were not scared off by the torn rotator cuff that ended Spikes' 2007 season prematurely.
I feel bad about Heath Benedict, the Newberry College offensive lineman found dead on his sofa Wednesday night. (Officials do not yet have a cause of death). Benedict, 24, was a member of Nolan’s South squad at the Senior Bowl and seemed to handle himself well against players from bigger schools. I have no idea whether the 49ers were considering drafting him, but he was projected to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick.
You never think a young athlete in the prime of his life is going to die, and the situation with Benedict brings back memories of Thomas Herrion’s passing in 2005. Herrion’s death raised all sorts of questions about health risks for 300-plus pound football players and I imagine Benedict’s sudden passing might re-raise some of those same issues.
-- Matt Barrows