Every day after practice, Alex Smith goes into a room inside 49ers headquarters and watches himself, over and over, in super slow motion. There's a so-called "QB Cam" trained on him during the individual portion of practices, and Smith later pores over that film for the most minute details of his throwing motion.
"I've thrown, I don't know how many millions of times, and you develop things," Smith said after today's morning walk through. "And it's not like you're going to change things overnight. And these are very small things that I continue to work on. ... Sometimes at the end of practice - I don't know if it's fatigue or whatever - all of a sudden you kind of fall back on some (old habits) that you're doing."
The film study is related to a week-long session he had in March with throwing guru Tom House in Southern California. House is a former relief pitcher who primarily works with big-league pitchers. Barry Zito, for instance, is one of his pupils.
But beginning with Drew Brees in 2004 - Brees helped Smith meet House -- more and more NFL quarterbacks have been going to House for analysis and advice. One of the conclusions House made was that Smith's throwing motion, which had been excellent prior to 2007, was altered after shoulder surgeries in 2007 and 2008.
Smith compensated for weaknesses in the shoulder, and in doing so his mechanics changed slightly. House gave Smith an exercise regimen to get him back to his pre-injury form. That regimen ranges from very specific exercises designed to strengthen small muscles, especially in the back of the shoulder, to broad concepts like eliminating bench press from his routine.
Smith admits he never used to warm up his shoulder before practice. Now he goes through what he described as an "intense" warm up. "I can't tell you how many times I've walked out here and just started throwing," he said.
Smith said the fine-tuning is a work in progress. But offensive coordinator Greg Roman today said he's seen improvements in both Smith's accuracy and his arm strength. "His mechanics are better therefore he's going to perform better," Roman said. "The two go hand in hand at every position."
Smith suggested that perhaps his mechanics have been scrutinized a bit too much in recent years. A lot has been written, for example, of his habit of locking the knee of his lead leg when he throws.
"I know a big deal has been made of the front knee - which is true," Smith said. "But come football time, I'm not sitting on top of a mound. It's football, it's different. When 300-pound guys are running at you, you just react and throw. And those are times when no one cares about the mechanics. I don't care who you are - the deal is to get the ball to the guy before you get tackled. So it's a give and take, a fine line."
Still, unlike during last year's lockout-shortened offseason, there is time this year to work on fine-tuning his craft. "This is the time for me to really pay close attention. That's why I do spend a lot of time in there watching the film," he said. "... Because come training camp and the season when it becomes competitive, I don't want to be thinking about it, good or bad. It's more about production then."
-- Matt Barrows