Alex Smith and the deep ball: 'It's a fine line'

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Alex Smith and the deep ball: 'It's a fine line'

SANTA CLARA -- Quarterback Alex Smith threw more passes of over 20 yards Sunday against the New York Jets than he attempted in the 49ers' first three games combined."It's funny -- you hate saying this -- but some days you hit all of them and some days you don't," Smith said on Wednesday."It's kind of like that with the long ball sometimes. It's such a fine line and they're not high-percentage throws. But, for sure, the more you do it, the better you get."Smith completed two of his six attempts for 51 yards, according to statistics supplied by Pro Football Focus, on deep throws Sunday in the 49ers' 34-0 victory over the New York Jets. Two of his deep passes for Mario Manningham were long. Manningham also caught a 26-yard pass from Smith in the first quarter.Smith said his first overthrow to Manningham was too flat. The second one, Smith said was a matter of about 6 inches too long -- "a fine line," he called it. In both cases, Manningham's progress on the route appeared to be impeded by Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson."It certainly affects it when you're getting held out there, as far as throwing the ball down the field," Smith said. "I'm not throwing to a spot, blindly. You're looking at the receiver, trying to get a feel for his angle, his speed and trying to hit him running."According to PFF, Smith is 5 of 10 on passes that travel more than 20 yards for 114 yards and one touchdown. He and tight end Vernon Davis have not seemed to have any problems connecting on the deep ball.RELATED: Alex Smith career stats 2012 game logs
"It's something he and I have a lot of work on," Smith said. "We've worked on it a lot over the years. He's someone I feel extremely comfortable with, letting he ball go. We have a good relationship. (I) definitely feel comfortable there, and getting there with the other guys."Smith said he generally made all the right decisions against a Jets defense that was taking away some of the underneath routes. After reviewing the film he felt secure with his decision-making."Sunday I thought I saw everything well," he said. "There wasn't much when I turned on the tape that surprised me."Really, a couple deep shots we had, just wish we could've hit them. We were close on all of them. And it's a fine line between hitting those and not."Smith spent time in Southern California before the start of the 49ers' offseason program working on his mechanics with former major league pitching coach Tom House. Now, he said his concentration is more on the week-to-week preparations to face the upcoming opponent.REWIND: Alex Smith enlists help from unlikely coach
When asked how his mechanics are holding up, Smith said, "I feel good. At this point, it's not something I'm thinking a lot about. I feel healthy. I feel really good. (My) shoulder feels great. My body feels good. That's the most important thing."Smith, who completed 61.3 percent of his passes a year ago during his best NFL season, has opened this season with a 67.3 accuracy rate through the first four games. His passer rating stands at 98.1."There's always room for improvement," Smith said. "You only seem to be as happy as your last game. As a quarterback, it's always, 'I could've done better' or 'What are the throws I could've made or what could I've done differently.'

"The bottom line is getting the win. Obviously, it was a great win (against the Jets). Looking to get better and move on toward the Bills."

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

The 49ers have graduated back to the phase of the offseason when offense-vs.-defense drills are allowed.

Because of the hiring of Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers were allowed an additional “voluntary” minicamp before the NFL draft. That meant the 49ers were permitted to skip from the two-week conditioning phase of the offseason straight to what is allowed under Phase III.

But after the three-day minicamp in late-April, the 49ers were forced to retreat back to Phase II, when on-field drills but could not include offense vs. defense.

Beginning Monday – and over the next three weeks -- the 49ers can get back to conducting the standard one-on-one, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 "non-contact" drills. The 49ers have the maximum number of 10 organized team activities scheduled. The official offseason program concludes with a mandatory minicamp scheduled for June 13-15.

The real competition does not begin until the pads go on during training camp. but here’s a look at the team’s most notable offseason competitions (one position you will not find is quarterback, where the depth chart of Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard appears clearly set):

Running back: Carlos Hyde, entering the final year of his original four-year contract, has a lot of competition to hold onto his role as the featured back. He is coming off his most-productive season, finishing just 12 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark when he sustained a knee injury with one game remaining. Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner lobbied for Utah running back Joe Williams in the draft. They clearly see a fit for him within the system.

Pass-rush end: The 49ers’ pass rush was among the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Arik Armstead will be given an opportunity to see if he can adapt to the “Leo” position. Aaron Lynch must earn the confidence of the coaching staff and front office. The 49ers added explosive, 243-pound pass Pita Taumoepenu in the sixth round.

Tight end: The 49ers confirmed Vance McDonald was available for a trade during the draft. After finding no takers, the 49ers brought back McDonald and he rejoins the competition among rookies George Kittle and Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

Cornerback: Rashard Robinson is the obvious choice to start on one side. And assuming Jimmie Ward remains at free safety, the 49ers have no other player on the roster who has started a significant number of games at cornerback. Rookie Ahkello Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, will have a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job, as long as he displays a willingness to stick his nose into the action and play with the requisite level of physicality. Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Will Redmond should also be in the mix to replace Tramaine Brock, who was released shortly after his arrest after an alleged domestic incident last month.

Center: Jeremy Zuttah, a Pro Bowl performer, was added in the offseason via a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Daniel Kilgore has been the 49ers’ center the past three seasons but injuries have limited him to just 23 starts over that period of time. Zuttah has position flexibility. The 49ers could determine the best thing for the offensive line is to move Zuttah to one of the guard positions – to challenge Zane Beadles or Joshua Garnett -- if he is not clearly better than Kilgore.

Weakside linebacker: The 49ers signed veteran Malcolm Smith on the first day of free agency, providing him with $11.5 million of fully guaranteed money. The 49ers ranked Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster as the No. 3 overall prospect in the draft. They traded up to select him at No. 31 overall. Assuming Foster is ready to compete at the beginning of training camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, it appears likely he would line up in that position and compete with Smith. The 49ers’ medical staff does not believe Foster will require any additional surgery, and Foster said he expects to be cleared for the opening of camp.

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan spent last offseason working with Tom House and Adam Dedeaux on his throwing mechanics.

Ryan went on to set career-bests in completion percentage (69.9), yards passing (4,944), touchdowns (38), interceptions (7) and passer rating (117.1).

New 49ers quarterback Matt Barkley worked with House and Dedeaux for the fourth offseason in Southern California before reporting to Santa Clara for the team’s offseason program.

“Kyle (Shanhan) is on board with what House and those guys are doing – I think, really, because of the year Matt Ryan had,” Barkley said on “The 49ers Insider Podcast” on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He’s a believer in that. He saw the benefits of what Matt did with some of his drops and the timing on routes, how he changed his feet on some things. So we’re kind of sticking with that plan. Everyone is a little different, but for the most part we’re all on the same page when it comes to what our drops are looking like, our footwork and how the ball is coming out.”

House is a former major league pitcher and pitching coach who founded the 3DQB training facility in Los Angeles. Dedeaux pitched at USC and is the grandson of USC baseball coaching legend Rod Dedeaux. Former NFL quarterback John Beck is a motion mechanics instructor.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer are among the NFL quarterbacks who have worked with 3DQB.

“I believe in those guys and what they’re doing,” Barkley said. “They’re at the top of their game, working with Brady and a bunch of other guys. They’ve helped me.

“He won’t change your throwing motion or really tweak how the ball comes out, but he’s going to try to maximize velocity and ground force production and torque -- a lot of sports science terms. But, really, just maximizing efficiency with your motion and making sure you’re sequencing is right.”

Barkley had never played for Shanahan before signing a two-year contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency. But there are two obvious connections. Barkley’s offensive coordinator last season with the Chicago Bears was Dowell Loggains, Shanahan’s quarterbacks coach in 2014 when Shanahan was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator. The other connection is House.

"It’s kind of funny, he worked with Atlanta’s staff all of last year, helped Matt Ryan, kind of build his base from the ground up and helped him a lot and he had an MVP year," Barkley said of House.

"There may have been talks down the pipeline, who knows. I don’t think that was the deciding factor by any means, but it never hurts.”