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February 4, 2010
Alex Smith knows what's wrong with the 49ers offense

****UPDATE**** The 49ers announced the hiring of Ray Brown as assistant offensive line coach. Brown, a former offensive lineman, played 20 seasons in the NFL, including six with the 49ers. He played until the age of 43. Brown served as an assistant offensive line coach with the Bills for the last two seasons. Prior to coaching in Buffalo, he spent the second half of the 2006 season as a special assistant on the Redskins coaching staff, working with the offensive linemen.

Say what you will about quarterback Alex Smith, but the guy is very smart and very self aware. During a 20-minute interview yesterday with KNBR's Ralph Barbieri and Tom Tolbert, Smith talked about everything from the perception he's not "red-ass" enough to Urban Meyer's famous prediction that he would be "non-functional" early in his career. What struck me most, however, is that Smith seems to know exactly what the 49ers' offense, which was desperately in search of an identity in 2009, needs in 2010.

In a separate interview with Comcast SportsNet's Mindi Bach, Smith said he was prepared to be more involved in fashioning the offense this season. That's something that Mike Singletary and Jimmy Raye had trouble pulling out of Smith as he took over at midseason this past year. Smith's input is important for two reasons. One, it puts him in more of a leadership role. Two, he seems to know why the offense struggled in 2009 and what needs to be done to fix it. I thought his answer to the first question below -- subtext: we let defenses dictate what we did in 2009 -- was very telling. Here are selected quotes from the interview.

On what he sees in the Super Bowl quarterbacks, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning:
A couple things. One, first things first, they're very accurate with the football. But they also have an ability, when you watch both of them and you watch their offenses play, every one of those (players) have a great understanding of how they fit into the offense. And it's very apparent from when you watch them. Everyone has that greater understanding, not just memorization or anything that, has an understanding of how they fit in, what they're their role is and you can see it. And that's why both teams are good at adjusting on the run, that's why both teams are so good in the fourth quarter because they make adjustments over the course of the game. ... They're both attacking. You don't see either of those two letting defenses dictate the tempo of the game. Both of them are the aggressors. And they set the tone.

On problems with the 2009 offense:
There is no formula for winning on offense. You can't go out there and say, 'Hey, we're going to run the ball 40 times a game and we're going to be three yards and a cloud of dust.' That's just not the way it is. Defenses are too good in this league. You have to be able to do both. You have to run and pass it. You have to be able to line up in different formations and be able to give defenses different looks and you have to be versatile. And I think that's where we're headed and where we need to be headed.

On criticism that he's "too nice, too bright, too cerebral, not enough red-ass, doesn't have the eye of the tiger, isn't mean enough":
It's funny - all those things are like good things when you're winning games. When I was in college, all those were great things. But lose a few games ... (laughter). It's part of the deal. You don't pay attention to it. I am who I am. I'm not going to fake it, I'm not going to be who I'm not. There are many different forms of leadership. We're all different. And I'm going to continue to be who I am within that.

On whether there's any truth to Meyers' "non-functional" prediction from 2005:
Looking back, there was even more truth to it, I think. When I first came out of college and into the NFL ... when you're not sure of something, I was very indecisive, and I played that way. I played slow at times when I wasn't sure of things and it showed up on film and in games. I think that's something I've gotten better with over time. I'm much better at handling that, going out and playing the games. Just because I'm so much more knowledgeable as a quarterback than I was five years ago. It's still there to a certain extent, but I think it's something I've overcome greatly.

On why the 49ers didn't try to get Vernon Davis the tight end touchdown record in St. Louis:
Good question. He hit the long ball for the touchdown that tied it, and we actually had a couple of opportunities there down late - I actually thought the (opportunity) was going to come. I was waiting to hear at least some kind of play action and a pass to Vernon. It's hard to say. I'm not the one making the calls and who knows whether we should be playing for records and things like that. I'm right there with you. I was waiting for it.

The 49ers signed CB Keith Smith to a future contract. Yes, that's the same Keith Smith who allowed a 32-yard pass to Deon Butler in Seattle that set up the Seahawks game-winning touchdown. ... If you're wondering, 'What, exactly, is a future contract?' here's the poop: Players signed to such contracts are being signed for the 2010 season even though the season officially begins March 5. Only players who were not on the active roster -- Smith was cut to make room for DT Derek Walker -- at the end of the season are eligible. Which is to say, players who get future contracts usually are prospective practice squadders and "camp bodies."

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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