Safety Donte Whitner was a guest on NFL's Total Access today where he said he thought Alex Smith could deliver a Super Bowl title to the 49ers. "I believe he can," Whitner said. "I believe he proved it with the fourth-quarter comeback against New Orleans. No longer can he be called a game manager.
"When you trust a tight end and throw that ball in tight coverage like that and you complete it and you throw for 300-plus yards*, three or four touchdowns in the playoffs against the New Orleans Saints, then you're no longer a game manager. He won 14 games this year, lost four. He threw five interceptions. I think he tied for an NFL record. And that's with no OTAs and limited training-camp reps. When we get him back, give him OTAs, training-camp reps, get him out there, I believe he can duplicate it and even be mentioned with some of the greats."
Smith is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agents in three weeks but is expected to sign a long-term deal with the team, perhaps before free agency begins.
Whitner was also asked about how close the 49ers came to the Super Bowl and how difficult it was to console Kyle Williams, who had two fumbles in the game.
"It was very tough," he said. "When you come into training camp, you set a goal. The goal is to reach the Super Bowl and win that trophy. And you're one, you know, a few plays away from making it to your ultimate goal. It's tough when you come up short and you feel like, you know, it was a routine play. It's a routine play. You catch it, you don't fumble it. But we did, we lose the game and our dream of going to the Super Bowl is gone with one play after all the work we put in all year. So it's tough."
Whitner said he and the 49ers felt like they outplayed the Giants and that "we would have beat the Patriots." The 49ers play both teams in 2012.
Fellow safety Dashon Goldson had an opportunity for two interceptions in the NFC Championship game and Whitner said he could have had two himself. "If the field was a little drier, I would have been able to get a little better traction, a little better break," Whitner said.
* Smith had three TDs and 299 yards against the Saints
The 49ers now lead the league in longsnappers. According to a league source, the team has reached a deal with free agent Ryan Pontbriand, who was released by the Browns this past season after several errant snaps. Pontbriand, 32, will be reunited with special teams coach Brad Seely, the Browns special teams coach in 2009 and 2010. Pontbriand, who also plays center, is the rare longsnapper who was drafted. He was taken in the fifth round of the 2003 draft.
Last month the 49ers signed Kyle Nelson, who is also a longsnapper, to a future contract. Their long-time longsnapper, Brian Jennings, 35, was picked to handle those duties in the Pro Bowl this year. Jennings is signed through 2014 and is scheduled to make $875,000 in base slary in 2012. Jennings was not happy when he learned the 49ers signed Nelson. You have to imagine the addition of Pontbriand has upset him as well.
-- Matt Barrows