Smith starts over with a new fresh start


Smith starts over with a new fresh start

SAN FRANCISCO -- A year ago at this time, all Alex Smith wanted was a fresh start.Coach Jim Harbaugh was settling into his new job with the 49ers. And he began studying Smith, the team's harshly criticized quarterback, with an open mind.Smith, by the way, had already decided he needed to go somewhere -- anywhere -- after six unproductive years with the 49ers."I wanted to get to know him," Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh got to know Smith as much as possible -- as a person and as a player -- without completely obliterating NFL rules. He took him out on the practice field behind the 49ers team offices and they threw the ball around. They talked. They worked on mechanics. They developed a mutual trust."The things I wanted to know, boiled it down to one thing," Harbaugh said. "Did he want to start? Did he want to be in the fire? Or did he want to wear the ball cap backwards and backup somewhere?"In other words, was Smith content being a backup just to leave the pressure of playing for the 49ers, the team that selected him No. 1 overall in the 2005 draft? In 2010, Smith could not escape the loudest boos of his career from the fans at Candlestick Park.It would've been easy for him to leave the boos behind.It was the expected move. And nobody would've blamed him for escaping as quickly as possible an organization that provided defensive-minded head coaches and a new coordinator every season.
But Alex Smith choose to remain."That character of wanting to come back and do it here in San Francisco, which is pretty rare," Harbaugh said. "Probably somewhere between rare and extinct, not just for football players but for just about anybody. Most guys would say, 'The heck with that; I've had enough, time for a fresh start somewhere else.' And I thought we could really work with that kid. To me that was special."It was also a unique offseason all around football. The lockout lifted for one day because of conflicting court orders. But that one day window enabled Smith, unsigned at the time, to spend an entire day at the 49ers' offices gathering information about the 49ers' new offense.A month later, after sufficiently studying playbook, game film and PowerPoint material, Smith began teaching it to his teammates and organized two weeks of offensive get-togethers at San Jose State, known as "Camp Alex."His place as a leader was cemented during that time.Then, he went out and had the best season of is career, ranking ninth in the league with a 90.7 passer rating with 17 touchdowns and five interception. The 49ers offense tied an NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season, enabling the team to finish with a 13-3 record, an NFC West championship, and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.And, now, it all comes down to this. Smith takes the field Saturday for his first NFL playoff game.Most of the attention and intrigue is on the other side of the ball with New Orleans' record-setting quarterback Drew Brees and the 49ers' defense -- a unit that surrendered just 87 points in eight home games this season.It's all but a foregone conclusion that Smith will be back with the 49ers next season regardless of how he fares in his first playoff game.Smith got the fresh start that he desired a year ago -- and he did not have to leave town to get it. And this playoff game gives him another chance to strike from the ledger all that happened in his first six forgettable seasons with the 49ers.

49ers trade up, select QB C.J. Beathard in third round of 2017 NFL Draft

49ers trade up, select QB C.J. Beathard in third round of 2017 NFL Draft

Position: Quarterback
College: Iowa
Height: 6-2
Weight: 219
Selection: Third round, No. 104 overall

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers traded back into the end of the third round to select a quarterback to join Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley on the 49ers' roster.

General manager John Lynch's fourth trade of the draft netted the team the grandson of legendary NFL personnel man Bobby Beathard. His grandson, C.J., joins the 49ers after a four-year career at Iowa. Beathard completed 58.6 percent of his passes last season with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Beathard was not generally expected to be chosen within the first two days of the draft. He was the sixth quarterback selected, falling behind Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Deshone Kizer and Davis Webb.

"They won't regret it," Beathard said on a conference call with the Bay Area media.

The 49ers traded up with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings had the No. 104 pick, and called the 49ers to see if they were interested in a trade. After some consideration, the 49ers decided to move up from No. 109 while also giving the Vikings a seventh-round pick at No. 219.

"Might he have been there at 109? That’s what we had to weigh," 49ers John Lynch said. "But at the end of the day, we felt like it was worth it to be able to go to bed knowing that we had a player that we liked and want the opportunity develop at the quarterback position."

And that's what coach Kyle Shanahan plans on doing. He said Beathard is not coming to the team this season to compete with Hoyer for the starting job.

"We’re bringing him in here to develop him and give him a chance, but just like any other position, everyone competes," Shanahan said. "Brian is our starting quarterback and, right now, Matt Barkley is our second. And I look at him to come in and be our third with us only having three on the roster.

"By no means did we come into this draft thinking we’re going to get a guy to compete with Brian."

Shanahan said Beathard and Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman were the two quarterbacks in the draft who ran offenses in college most similar to the offense he will install with the 49ers.

"One thing that helps is being able to see guys play the way you’re going to ask them to play," Shanahan said. "It helps being at Iowa and watching the system he’s in. It’s easier to see to watch him over the years. He’s a three-year starter. He’s led his team to a bunch of wins, especially in 2015 when they had a better team and he played unbelievable."

As a junior at Iowa, Beathard completed 61.6 percent of his pass attempts for 2,809 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. 

"He’s a leader. He’s tough. He processes very well," Shanahan said. "He's extremely accurate and he lives and dies football."

49ers select CB Ahkello Witherspoon in third round of the 2017 NFL Draft

49ers select CB Ahkello Witherspoon in third round of the 2017 NFL Draft

Position: Cornerback
College: Colorado
Height: 6-2 3/4
Weight: 193
Selection: Third round, No. 66 overall

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers selected Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, a Sacramento native, in the third round of the NFL draft with the No. 66 overall pick.

“Being close to home is an incredible opportunity, as well as the type of defense they play -- press man, up in your face,” Witherspoon said. “When I came in for a visit, they were asking me if I’ve adopted that role and if I’d be willing to continue that. And I said, ‘Absolutely.’

“It’s an opportunity to play for such a great organization, close to home, with such a savvy defensive mentality. I think it’s going to be a great place for me.”

The 49ers were also scheduled to have the next pick, but traded the selection at No. 67 for the New Orleans Saints’ second-round pick in next year’s draft, as well as a seventh-round selection (No. 229 overall) this year. The 49ers now have 10 picks in next year’s draft.

The Saints used that pick at No. 67 to select Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara.

Witherspoon began his college career at Sacramento City. He played his final three college seasons at Colorado. He started 12 games last season and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors.

Witherspoon led the nation with 22 pass breakups. He recorded one interception -- a game-saving pick in the end zone to preserve a 41-38 victory over Oregon. A pre-med student majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, he said he aspires to be a doctor after his football career.

But Witherspoon said he is committed to football and promised the 49ers during his visit to Santa Clara that he will make huge strides over the next few years as he continues to develop as a player.