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August 14, 2013
Alex Smith is learning from Kaepernick's old coach; "Very ironic," he says


ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- If you think Colin Kaepernick is ubiquitous these days, put yourself in Alex Smith's shoes. Not only is Kaepernick seated in the front row at award shows, featured in national ad campaigns and splashed across magazine covers, he's been making regular appearances in Smith's film study.

One of the Chiefs' new hires this year is Chris Ault, the former Nevada coach who invented the Pistol formation and perfected it when Kaepernick was the Wolfpack quarterback. Smith said Ault, who was brought in as a consultant, hangs out with the him and the other Kansas City quarterbacks "all day, every day."

"Very ironic," Smith says of the situation, wry smile on his face. "It's great to have him, though. Extremely knowledgeable. We talk a lot, all the time."

So, uh, how much does Ault bring up his former protege? "Yeah, we talk about Kap, for sure," Smith said. "We watch spread option stuff of Kap, or RG III a lot. Some Nevada film for sure."

Rest assured, there is no resentment from the new Chiefs quarterback toward his one-time 49ers understudy. He sat down for a half hour chat with The Merc's Cam Inman and me after the Chiefs afternoon walk-through at their training-camp home in St. Joseph today and talked about a range of issues, from Kansas City coach Andy Reid's similarities to Jim Harbaugh, to his lowest moment with the 49ers to the "small hands" jokes that have followed him - and will continue to follow him - for the rest of his life.

There were no hard edges with Smith. He was happy, at ease and enjoying his chance to help rebuild another storied franchise that's fallen on tough times, albeit one that is not nearly as terrible as the 49ers squad he took over in 2005.

Some highlights:

Was it evident right away you were in a good situation in Kansas City?
AS: Yeah, for sure. It's kind of a feeling, really. It's hard to describe. I think it's a healthy work environment. Just creating a healthy work environment where guys can come to work, do their job and the environment is to get better, that we're going to get better together. You don't have the finger-pointing and you don't have guys afraid to make mistakes. You come to work, it's a healthy environment and guys come in to work and get taught how to do it better. I think you can see that right away."

Did you know anyone here?
AS: It's totally different - like going to a brand new school. Absolutely. The one difference being the coaches were brand new. The got here a few weeks before I got here. But they were still learning, getting comfortable with a bunch of the guys. They were new, too.

Was the change of scenery exciting?
AS: It's still exciting. And even the guys that had been here were welcoming (the change). You could tell that, for whatever reason, there was some dysfunction here and it wasn't working. The guys had been through a lot and were excited for the change, were hungry for it and loved all the new stuff, were kind of eating it up.

Every time we see you on TV in practice, Andy Reid is right next to you ...
AS: ... A lot like Jim (Harbaugh). In fact, very similar. Literally, they stand in the same spot. They stand right behind you. Very similar in a sense that they're head coaches that coach hands on that much and especially positions and the quarterback specifically.

And you like a hands-on approach, right?
AS: Yeah, instant feedback. It's instant. And in the case here it's no different. Then you've got (OC) Doug Pederson there, too, standing right behind. It's instant learning. You're stepping in and he's talking to you and you kind of knock it out.

Did Harbaugh emphasize footwork?
AS: He was a big into-fundemental guy. Andy is even more, I think. Andy is very detailed about it. I've had a lot of coaches over the years, and as a quarterback your biggest pet peeve is that, you throw a ball too high and he tells you to get it down, right? It's like, 'Well, thanks. I could have told you that. We all know that.' Coach Reid's so great at why. Why did you throw that too high. And talking to you about that: 'Hey, you're standing up too tall and your front shoulder went up.' He does such a great job of doing that. Right there on the spot, he sees it.

What's the interaction with teammates? Are you looked upon as 'The Savior.'
AS: No, I never got that sense at all.

Did you have that sense with the 49ers?
AS: Yeah. When I first got drafted for sure. As a young guy. And it wasn't just teammates. But, yeah, I remember doing drills there my first year and looking around and having teammates watching me. 'What's he got?' And you're new and the first day of minicamp there were like 50 photographers out there taking pictures of us stretching. And so I think I kind of developed this, every single throw I'm going to prove it. I've got to be the No. 1 pick. I've got to be that much better. Just throwing check-downs, you're working yourself up and trying to do too much. So definitely felt like that.

So now you feel more comfortable?
AS: Yeah, and I think I'm better equipped. Now I just don't pay attention. Maybe they were watching. But I'm better at doing my job and not thinking about it.

You said it's apparent they love love the Chiefs here. How soon did you find that out?
AS: Walking around town and go out to dinner, they know (who I am). It's weird to me. I hadn't taken a snap.

Were you more anonymous in the Bay Area?
AS: Yeah. There's a lot going on (there).

Do you remember the 'small hands' rap you had?
AS: The rookie year thing. I battled that. ... It's still a family joke. My little sister still calls me 'small hands.' It won't ever die. If hands come up as a topic, someone's going to make a crack. ... But, yeah, I remember I had no idea how big my hands were when that came up.

Was the high point with the 49ers the 2011 playoff game against New Orleans?
AS: That season, that game in general, that's got to be the high. That year, in general. Even last year. For as frustrating as last year was, we went to the Super Bowl. There's still a lot of positive there, as a team, when you can achieve that. I've never B.S.'d that. There's a reason you play team sports and there's something special about putting the team first. As frustrating as last year was, it's certainly not a memory I'm trying to forget. Going to the Super Bowl and everything down there, it was a great experience.
Was the team's interest in Peyton Manning the low?
AS: No, definitely not. That was more of a bump in the ... that was more of a little blurb. For me, the most frustrating thing was, for sure, the first time dealing with my shoulder. As a youngster, I was trying to play through it. I'd do it so differently now if I could go back. It was frustrating at the time how it all got dealt with, how that all played out. That was really hard. I felt I was getting pushed to come back, then I did, and then it's, 'Well, you're not playing good.' As a young player, that was really hard for me to handle. That and 2010 was a long year. That was pretty frustrating just in general. To go through that first, what did we start (0-5), that was a long year. That was very frustrating because it was the exact same team the next year, pretty much. We had the rookie class that came in and helped. But other than that, it was an identical team, and how badly we underachieved. Frustrating for a lot of reasons. It was tough.

What's the best thing about being in Kansas City?
AS: It's great. It's early. For one, the environment, everything about it has been great, the area, the organization, the fan base. The first thing I heard when people found out I was getting traded, the first thing they talked about were the people of the Midwest, the people of Kansas City. It's been that way since I've been here, just humble, good people, supportive. That's been great. And the work environment. It's so fun to come into a healthy work environment where you can cut it loose and you'll get coached and taught to get better. Anytime I've had success it's been in environments like that - at Utah and even the last couple years in San Francisco, creating teaching environment where you don't get defensive guys and finger pointing.

Will you duck if Aldon Smith comes after you?
AS: Yeah, I heard that. So much is getting made of playing them. It will be a little weird. But you turn on the tape and they're good. Obviously I knew that. But I never sat and watched film of them thinking, 'How are we going to beat this? You never did that when I was there. It was weird to watch a little tape and be like, 'Where are the weak points?' There aren't many. It's pretty sound. They play good football. A lot of good players on that side of the ball. It'll be a great test for us to see how we stack up against the best in the league.

Did Joe Staley put you in touch with Eric Fisher early, and is he like Joe? (Both offensive linemen played at Central Michigan)
AS: That's the first thing Fisher said, 'I'm not going to be as funny as Joe. I'm sorry.' I said, 'Easy, Eric.' Different, but they're similar players, really athletic tackles. And they come from the same school. He had known him well before me and knew the process.

-- 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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