49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

August 24, 2011
Starring in Back to the Future: Alex Smith

Alex Smith is a quarterback who needs smart, competent, detail-laden coaches around him. The 49ers knew that when they drafted him. Mike Nolan (and also Smith's college coach, Urban Meyer) noted at the time that Smith wasn't a precocious, instinctive, gunslinger-type quarterback like Brett Favre. Instead he was very much Favre's opposite - cerebral, methodical and an extension of the coaching staff.


The thought back then was that Smith and offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy would be an excellent match. McCarthy was known as a quarterbacks guru, and he and Nolan believed that Smith also was ideally suited for the West Coast system that McCarthy ran. No one thought that Smith would be good right away. What the 49ers believed was that, over time, the marriage between Smith, McCarthy and the other coaches would turn Smith into a very good quarterback.

Those plans, of course, evaporated when McCarthy left to be the Packers head coach. Smith has had a different offensive coordinator every season since. But this year, he seems to be back at square one when it comes to coaching environment. Like McCarthy, there's a coach above him who is known as a quarterbacks expert. And, of course, he's back to the West Coast offense he first learned as a rookie in 2005.

Here's Smith talking about his comfort level. If you read between the lines a bit, you can tell he's happier this year with an offensive staff that's full of expertise than he was in recent seasons when, well, you know the story ....

"There's so much good communication from the top down, coming from the coaches right down to us," Smith said. "We're always in there together. We're hearing the same thing, the same message, really one voice coming from all the coaches. And I think it starts there. Because that helps us communicate once we get on the field because we're talking the same language."

On his comfort level with Harbaugh:
"Meeting with him this offseason, I was excited to get coached like that, getting coached hands on and how he was talking about the quarterback position, the offense. No question, you guys can see it out there. We sure get it every day - the detail coaching on every level, not just in the film room but on the field. It never ends. That's what I wanted. No question it's intense at times and it can be a lot, but that's what I wanted and the way you want it as a player."

The 49ers stalled inside the red zone Saturday against the Raiders, a situation that offensive coordinator Greg Roman today said was partly due to the team not having the offense fully installed and partly because they want to keep things vanilla in the preseason.

By now, Roman said, the offensive installation mostly is complete. "I'd say our installation was a little different than normal with the offseason the way it was," Roman said. "We spread it out over time a little bit more. So, I'd say we're just about done with it, but it's been more of a gradual installation process than normal, just because a lot of it is stuff these guys have heard for the first time and we've had to take that into account. I'd say we're just about done with it."

Odds & Ends

* It turns out the new, seemingly random order to the 49ers' lockers isn't random at all. As offensive lineman Adam Snyder - he's one of the smarter guys on the team - pointed out, the order appears to go offense, defense, offense, etc. by number. For example, one stretch of lockers goes like this from right to left: No. 52 Patrick Willis, No. 78 Mike Person, No. 53 NaVorro Bowman, etc.

The idea may be to give players who normally wouldn't mingle more opportunities to get to know each other. Then again, it also gives them more space. Different units work out and meet at different times. For example, the offensive line typically will be at their lockers when the linebackers are not.

• Guard Chilo Rachal was on the practice field today, but he was wearing a baseball cap instead of a helmet. There's no word what his injury is, but he was not walking around with a limp. .... Carlos Rogers (Achilles) did not play Saturday but was going through individual drills today. ... Receivers Dominique Zeigler (knee) and Chris Hogan (foot) went through individual drills.

-- 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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