They say a leopard can't change its spots, but Alex Smith said he will attempt to turn himself into more of a gunslinger. Smith, who retained his starting job this week, said he would throw caution into the wind and play more fearlessly. It was a conclusion he came to last night during a long, post-game chat with Mike Singletary in which they discussed changing the team's mindset.
"There are times out there that I know I play too cautious, and I think that's when I find myself making those mistakes," Smith said. "It's funny - it's counterproductive. You'd think playing cautious will lead the other way. ... I think you see times when I cut it loose and play more fearlessly, and I think the results have always been better."
Asked if that change in mentality means a change in the 49ers offensive philosophy - i.e., not as many first-down runs up the middle, etc. - Smith said, not necessarily. "I guess what I'm talking about is ... it doesn't matter about scheme or play calling or anything like that," Smith said. "As far as players go, we've got to continue to go out there with the right mindset, and until we change that, you know, it's not going to get fixed."
Smith has indeed played his best in two-minute situations (e.g, the end of the first half in Indianapolis last year) or when the team has been behind by a wide margin (games in Houston and Green Bay last season). Another example occurred last night when, after he was momentarily benched by Singletary, Smith returned to the field to lead two touchdown drives and to cut Philadelphia's margin to a field goal.
Smith is echoing exactly what Steve Young said about him last week - that he needs to take more shots down the field and that, counter-intuitively, when he plays it safe, bad things happen.
The question, however, is whether Smith can pull off the metamorphosis. Smith is a cautious person by nature. Indeed, the reason why Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan drafted him No. 1 overall in 2005 is because he's not a gunslinger and that he wouldn't stray from the framework of the offense.
When Mike Singletary ripped into Smith on the sideline Sunday night, he said he wanted to see how Smith would react. That is, he wanted to see Smith get angry and take charge. "He said to Alex, 'Great quarterbacks don't give up, don't quit, no matter who it is,'" said Vernon Davis, who was a few feet away at the time. "If you're a great quarterback, you won't let a coach or anybody else take you out of the game.'"
After that challenge, it was Davis - according to Davis - who pulled Smith aside and told him he had to stay in the game. "I pretty much told him to stay in the game, I want him in the game," Davis said. "We need him in the game. Because he was down on himself, he didn't know how to handle the situation. I could see it in his eyes, but I took it upon myself to go up to him and keep him alive."
Singletary gave the starting nod for Sunday's game against the Raiders to Smith, but he said that decision is fluid moving forward. "You have to do what's best for the football team," Singletary said. "I think he (Smith) knows where we are. I think we're all being evaluated at 0-5."
He said that Carr wouldn't get any extra practice time this week. He said he expected Carr to be able to come off the bench and play well just as Smith did a year ago when he replaced Shaun Hill.
-- Matt Barrows