Steve Young, as well as anybody, can relate to the Alex Smith story.Young, who came to a team in 1987 that already had Joe Montana at quarterback, was not always the popular choice among 49ers followers. But Young persevered through a polarizing quarterback controversy and an unpopular Montana trade to the Kansas City Chiefs.He came out the other end as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and a first-ballot selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.So when Young's team record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception was broken Sunday, he celebrated Smith's accomplishment because of the noble path Smith chose to continue to follow."The thing I most respect about him is a year ago in the offseason, when Jim (Harbaugh) was coming on, it was rough," Young told CSNBayArea.com. "He could've easily gone and tried it somewhere else. It was hard to come back in many ways. It was not easy. It was the kind of challenge that could've turned south very fast."He not only managed that with Jim and got through all of that last year, he built people's confidence inside and outside the building. By the end of the year, people were like, 'This is our guy.' That's an accomplish because I've lived it. That's a heck of an accomplishment. It's something I really respect about what he has done."In 1989, Montana set the 49ers record for most pass attempts without an interception (154). Four years later, Young bettered the standard at 184. That mark stood until Sunday when Smith played his sixth consecutive regular-season game without throwing an interception."Very cool," Smith said. "Obviously, that's an elite group here that's played this position for this organization. It's definitely an honor to be mentioned with those guys."Smith's record does not even include the 68 attempts in the playoffs when he threw five touchdowns and no interceptions.Smith eclipsed Young's record on a day in which he completed 20 of 26 attempts for 211 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-22 victory over the favored Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field."I was ecstatic for him," Young said. "I've lived his pain a little bit just watching him. And to see this start to flourish with Jim and what he did last year and then continue it and have a great game on the road -- all that stuff. It just couldn't happen at a better time."It's perfect, right? You beat the Packers and you did this great thing. So I'm really happy for him."Smith has thrown 11 touchdown passes since his last interception. During that time the 49ers have also gone 26 consecutive regular-season quarters without a giveaway of any kind."It's hard just because some of it is actually out of your control as a quarterback," Young said of interceptions. "There are tipped balls and weird stuff that happens. Or somebody turns the wrong way. It's just not easy to stay clean like that."I think it's a big deal. It's kind of how I feel about the efficiency ratings. They're not a perfect sign of how you're playing, but if your rating is high, you're probably playing pretty good. If it's low, you're probably playing pretty bad. So if you have a streak like that with no interceptions, you're probably playing pretty good."Young, now an analyst on ESPN, sees a quarterback who is playing at a high level after a rough beginning to his career. Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, struggled with injuries, inconsistent play and a constantly changing supporting cast through his first six NFL seasons."Obviously, he's very, very smart and very, very prepared," Young said. "And now he's got a partner in crime to call plays that help him and put him in good spots. I feel he's getting more confident and he's starting to stretch a little bit. I don't think he's asked, yet, to just throw it around and go. But that's not the way the 49ers need to do it right now. I definitely see a lot more confidence and all good things from Alex. For what they're doing right now, he's doing it perfectly."Young said the only time he questioned Smith's physical ability was after he sustained a separated throwing shoulder early in the 2007 season and returned to action to start three more games. Smith eventually underwent season-ending surgery, and spent all of 2008 on injured reserve, too."I was afraid he was playing hurt, but I never questioned whether he could throw the football or whether he could move around in the pocket or whether he was smart enough and had the savvy and guile," Young said. "When he injured his shoulder, he actually had to play hurt. That just compounded the issues."Everything about Smith -- and around Smith -- is more sturdy these days, Young said."I think he's getting bigger and stronger. And his confidence . . . He seems stronger in the pocket. It all goes together," Young said. "If somebody is calling plays you like, you got confidence, you got a running back (Frank Gore) where every time you put the ball in his stomach everybody lights up, that's great stuff. And the defense hands it back to you."He's in a really cool spot with everything that's going on with the team and the coach. Really, this is the team to beat right now. There are the 49ers and everybody else. I know it's early, but that's just how it is right now. It's kind of a neat spot for Alex to be in. And he's earned every bit of it."AP Images
SANTA CLARA – Despite recording seven interceptions in his first two seasons and being named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Eric Reid said he believes he is now in a role that best fits his skillset.
Whereas in the past, the 49ers’ safety positions were considered interchangeable, there is a clear delineation this season under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
“Even dating back to college, this is the first time there’s a distinct strong (safety) and a distinct free (safety),” Reid said. “I’ve been used to the interchangeability type of role.
“(In) some situations, certain calls where there’s a motion, we might flip. There are a couple situations where I might be in the post in the free-safety role, but it’s not nearly as much as it has been in the past.”
Reid, who is listed at 6 foot 1, 213 pounds, said he is excited to be stationed closer to the line of scrimmage for run support while free safety Jimmie Ward patrols the deep middle of the field.
The 49ers offseason program concluded Wednesday, and Reid found himself in the middle of the action with an interception on a short Brian Hoyer pass over the middle. While he will still be counted upon for coverage, his biggest impact could come to assist a run defense that last season ranked among the worst in NFL history.
“I love it, being around the ball more,” Reid said. “I anticipate making more tackles, hopefully making more plays. I feel like I was made for this position with my body type, being a bigger safety. I’m excited about this year.
“I feel like I’m using what God has blessed me with, more, which is my size and being in the box in the run game. In the past, I felt like I could do more. And being in the post, I can’t use my size as much when it comes to the run game.”
After producing seven interceptions in his first two seasons, Reid recorded just one interception in 26 games over the past two seasons.
As a first-round pick in 2013, the 49ers picked up the fifth-year option this season for $5.676 million. He is scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of the season. Reid said the 49ers have not spoken to his representation about a long-term extension. That will come, he believes, if he lives up to his end of the bargain in his new, streamlined role.
“I look at it from a business standpoint,” Reid said. “I majored in business. They have me under contract. They don’t have any reason to talk to right now. I imagine if I play well in the first half of the season, they’ll reach out to me. Maybe they’ll reach out to me before training camp, I don’t know. It’s whatever route they decide to take. It’s a business. I’ll treat it as a business. I have a job to do, so I’ll do it.”
SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan always wanted to coach football with his father. But, first, he knew he had to prove himself without any boost from his well-known dad.
Once the son established himself as one of the NFL’s respected offensive minds, the Shanahans teamed up for four up-but-mostly-down seasons with Washington.
Mike, the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, hired his son to serve as his top offensive assistant in 2010.
“I thought we saw football similar, but we quickly realized after a few weeks that we saw it differently,” Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area in February. “We grew together. He gave me a lot of leeway while I was there. It was fun to try a bunch of different things, having to even incorporate the zone read when we got Robert (Griffin).
“We did our deal in Washington, and I wouldn’t take that back for the world, but that was pretty much the end of it.”
Kyle Shanahan broke into the coaching ranks under Karl Dorrell at UCLA. He moved onto the NFL to work with Jon Gruden on the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Gary Kubiak with the Houston Texans. But nothing prepared him for the scrutiny he would face as offensive coordinator under his father.
Kyle Shanahan adjusted the Washington offense to take advantage of Griffin’s skills as a dual-threat quarterback as a rookie 2012. The club qualified for the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
But things blew up the following season as the Mike Shanahan-Griffin relationship soured. Shanahan and eight assistant coaches, including Kyle, were fired the morning after Washington’s 3-13 season concluded.
Mike Shanahan has remained out of coaching, though he was a finalist for the 49ers’ head-coaching job after the 2015 season. The 49ers hired Chip Kelly.
Kyle Shanahan rebuilt his career with one season as offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns and two successful seasons with the Atlanta Falcons to enable him to become CEO Jed York’s choice to replace Kelly.
There is no official role for Mike Shanahan, 64, on his son’s staff with the 49ers. But the father has attended several of the team’s practices this offseason, including both days of the 49ers’ mandatory minicamp this week. Mike has been issued his own iPad that gives him access to the 49ers playbook and coach's film. He will likely visit for an extended stay during training camp. But Kyle said he believes his dad will mostly remain home -- only a phone call away -- during the regular season.
“He’s enjoying life right now,” said Kyle, 37. “He’s got a pretty good deal in Denver, where he lives. He can help me out in other ways anyways without having to be here every day.”
Mike Shanahan does not need to be in the building every day to counsel and have influence on his son as he tries to navigate his first season as the head coach while also maintaining the responsibilities of running the team’s offense.
“You’re going 1,000 miles an hour,” Kyle Shanahan said. “Sometimes to see everything you’ve got to really slow things down and take your time to look at stuff and you don’t always have that time as a head coach.
“It’s nice when someone you know who thinks similar to you has a similar background and he just sits in a room all day and watches stuff. He doesn’t have any other responsibilities. He can see some things that I’m not always seeing and just to bring things to light that maybe I missed or other people have missed.”
Mike Shanahan was a successful NFL offensive coordinator for seven seasons. He won a Super Bowl on George Seifert’s staff with the 49ers in January 1995. His dad believes his time around the 49ers has a lasting impact.
“When I was with San Francisco, Kyle was at the 49ers training camps in Rocklin,” Mike Shanahan told Fangirl Sports Network. “He stayed with me at camp and we talked about football every night.
“He had the opportunity to experience an organization that had won four Super Bowls in nine years. He also had the opportunity to be around some great people and leaders. He still tells stories and talks about people like Steve Young, Joe Montana, Harris Barton, Tom Rathman, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Deion Sanders, and many others. What a great experience to see how these men handled themselves on and off the field.”
The Denver Broncos hired him to become head coach shortly after the 49ers’ 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Shanahan went on to win two Super Bowls in his 14 seasons with the Broncos.
Kyle Shanahan was a wide receiver at Duke before finishing college at Texas, where he caught 14 passes for 127 yards in two seasons. He figured he would have a career in football and it would not be as a player.
“I’ve wanted to coach my whole life,” Kyle Shanahan said. “This is all I’ve known, just growing up around football. It’s almost all I’ve been into, too. Since I was little, it’s distracted me from everything I’ve done, especially school. I always tried to tell my mom, ‘Just be patient, it’ll play out for us in the long run.’ Fortunately, it did.
“Once I realized my genes were a little bit better as a coach than as a player, I pretty much locked into that – and that was about halfway through college. I haven’t looked back.”
During his short time with the 49ers, players on both sides of the ball have expressed amazement at how knowledgeable Kyle Shanahan is about the game of football. His dad told Fangirl Sports Network to succeed as a head coach he must always be dedicated to stuyding, learning and teaching the sport.
“He loves the game and knows it inside and out,” Mike Shanahan said. “My advice to him is to never lose the drive to study the game as he’s done over the last 13 years. To stay in the NFL as a head coach and have success for any length of time, you must never lose your drive to teach and stay abreast of what the top teams are doing every year: offense, defense, special teams. You must be able to coach all positions to really understand the whole game.”
Former 49ers president Carmen Policy said he remembers young Kyle serving as a ball boy during 49ers training camp in the early 1990s. Policy, who remains close to Mike Shanahan, has followed Kyle’s rise in the coaching ranks while playfully questioning the sanity of the family business.
Said Policy: “I used to tease Mike, ‘What kind of father are you to let your kid go into coaching?’ I said, ‘You should be charged with dereliction of parental duty.’ And he’d laugh and say, ‘Yeah, I tried talking to him and then my wife tried talking to him, but that’s his passion, and that’s what he wants to do, so I’m not going to dissuade him from it.’
“And, then, look at what happened. Here he is. He’s the head coach of the 49ers, and that’s just incredible.”