SANTA CLARA -- Alex Smith has a new view on the quarterback position from his first six years in the NFL.Literally.And he has a much better grip than earlier in his career, too.Smith's view on the field is more unobstructed that previous seasons -- dating back to his college days at Utah, when he wanted a little more face protection because of the volume of hits he absorbed. Now, he has one fewer horizontal bar on his facemask.
In the past, the top bar on his facemask came up to the bridge of his nose:2010
Now, the top bar runs lower just below the tip of his nose:2011
"I've been thinking about changing it for a while," Smith told CSNBayArea.com of the new facemask he debuted at the beginning of training camp. "It's a visibility thing. That goes back to college. I wore it in college because I ran so much. I just stuck with it. I've been thinking about changing it for a few years now and I finally did it."Has it helped?"There are less bars," Smith said. "It's different. I notice the difference. I have less stuff in my face and my eyes."
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Remember the early days of Smith's career when his hand size was being scrutinized because the ball would often slip out of his grasp like a wet bar of soap?Back in those days, the NFL rules allowed for the home team to provide the footballs for both teams. So Smith would show up for road games anxious to find out what kind of footballs awaited him.From that time in his career, Smith developed a habit that remains as part of his game-day routine.Every time there's a timeout or a change of possession, Smith is thrown a football near the sideline that he maintains in his hands until he tosses it aside to begin the next 49ers offensive possession."It goes back to what the NFL rules were when I first got into the league, when you didn't get to travel with your own footballs," Smith said. "So whoever was the opponent that week, the balls could be brand new. So I got into the habit of whatever the type of ball was, I'd get that type of ball on the sideline so I had it."Whatever I felt the ball was like from the first series, I'd go get a ball that was similar to it and just have it there with me. You'd never know. You'd practice all week with broken-in balls -- ones that were worn in -- and then the day of the game you'd be playing in St. Louis and it would be a ball right out of the box. Those were the balls they supplied."Now, each team is allowed to supply footballs for their own offense. During the week, the 49ers rub the sheen off new footballs with a mud similar to what Major League umpires use to get baseballs ready for game action."Our QB balls are similar to the game balls, so that's what I grab now," Smith said.Smith lost 13 fumbles in his first 30 NFL starts. In his past 36 starts, Smith has turned the ball over just five times on fumbles.Smith posted career-best numbers in helping the 49ers win the NFC West with a 13-3 record. He is the main reason the 49ers tied an NFL record for fewest turnovers (10) in the regular season. His vision and feel for the game coincidence or not -- are two of the main reasons behind the turnaround.